Rita on the other hand is an eccentric scouser who speaks with her broad, regional accent and speaks almost completely in regional slang. The other major difference in the play is the difference in ‘class’ of the two characters. As mentioned, Rita is a young working-class woman and Frank is an older Middle-Class man. Frank has the highly respected profession of a university professor whereas Rita is a local hairdresser. Today, anyone watches any television they feel like, conversely, in the 1970’s there were only two television channels available to the minority of the public who owned a television.
These were BBC and ITV. BBC was, and still is, a government run television channel, which was designed to educate the public. It was aimed at middle-class people who felt the need to learn prioritised over the need to be entertained, as was the view of the BBC. This is the channel that Frank will have watched. ITV however, was designed purely for entertainment purposes, it was, and still is regarded as an entertainment channel. It was created to entertain families on Saturday nights and in the evenings. This was Rita’s preferred television channel.
We learn of the characters television preferences when Rita says to Frank “It’s all BBC with you isn’t it? “i Frank is seemingly taken aback by Rita on her arrival, unsure of how to respond to her. This is clearly expressed by his first words to her “Erm – yes, I Suppose I always mean to… “ii. This will be because Frank will have spent his life around middle-class people and the majority of students at university in the 1970’s will have been middle-class. Rita however has not had such an upbringing and has a very different lifestyle to that of a typical 1970’s student. She is wildly eccentric and has a very loud personality.
We learn of her poor upbringing and how she fell victim to both peer pressure and the government education system. In the 1970’s, the education system in Britain was extremely different to the one that we are used to today. At the age of eleven all children took an exam known as the 11+ exam, and depending on the results that a child got in these exams, they went to either a Grammar School or a Secondary Modern. Frank, will have passed these exams and proceeded to the Grammar School, where he would have been given a very good education and would have had the option to take O level exams and then A levels.
Being successful in both of these external exams, Frank then moved on to University and graduated with a degree. With a degree, Frank along with every other person who earned one, was then given the one thing vital to a ‘good’ lifestyle. They all get a ‘choice’ of what they can do with their lives. However as the audience soon learns Frank has failed to use this to his full potential. He ends up suffering from depression, and being an alcoholic, thus making his life a misery, something which, he could so easily avoid.
The alcohol, despite being Frank’s greatest joy has also, ironically, been the unequivocal cause of his personal self-destruction. Rita on the other hand will have taken her 11+ exams under severe peer pressure from her friends. They were not bothered by school, and if Rita wanted to remain friends with them she would have to fail the exam and move on to the Secondary Modern. We become aware of her struggle with peer pressure when she says “I would have had to have become different from me mates, an’ that’s not allowed. “iii She gave into her peer pressure, failed the exams and veered off the path to Higher Education.
At Secondary Modern’s, students took a more vocational course of education, there were very few, if any external exams and no 6th form, meaning Higher education was not an option. This was the most common route for teenagers in the 1970’s as only 5% of the population went on to Higher Education, with 95% of pupils leaving at 15 or 16 and moving into the world of work. The children who came out of the Secondary Modern, were sent straight into the world of work and did not have the choice of a better lifestyle, that the Grammar School children were given, due to their lack of qualifications.
Rita is one of many people who was forced down a set route, with no chance to turn back. This is when she becomes to determined to turn her life around. Until the 1970’s once you had finished school, there was nothing you could do to get a qualification. However, Howard Wilson (the Labour Prime Minister whose terms in office ran from 1964 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1976), helped set up the Open University, which allowed people of all ages to get a degree and improve their lives for the better.
When it first opened, it was free, open to anyone and no qualifications were needed, thus making it the perfect opportunity for hundreds of people to turn their lives around. This is Rita’s path to her education, which is how she meets Frank. Both Frank and Rita are involved in relationships throughout the course of the play, however neither of them are going well. For different reasons, their relationships are crumbling. Rita is married to Denny, a working class man who is perfectly satisfied with his life. However, once Rita joins the O. U. he begins to get wary of her.
He doesn’t want Rita to change. He wants the two of them to settle down and raise a family. Whereas Rita wants to get her qualifications and turn her life around before raising a family. Denny, unable to see why Rita is so fond of her education, gets more and more frustrated with Rita, we learn of this when Rita says “he’s wonderin’ where the girl he married has gone to”iv eventually has enough and leaves Rita. Alternatively, Frank has already been through what Rita experiences in the play. He has been married but was divorced because of his alcohol addiction.
He is currently in a relationship with one of his former students, however like his marriage, this relationship seems to be crumbling due to his unprecedented addiction of alcohol. At the very beginning of the poem, Rita struggles to get into Frank’s office, when the door will not open. “It’s that stupid bleedin’ handle on the door. “v When first watching the play, the audience will see this as nothing more than a bit of humour, but as the play progresses it can be seen that the room is a metaphor, for education and one major difference between the two characters is their opinion and view on the room in which the play is set.
Frank sees the room from a very negative viewpoint, he feels trapped in it, like a prison and cannot escape, where as in the opening of the play Rita cannot get in to the room. This emphasises the determination of Rita and how much she wants a change. While Frank, despite the obvious poor state that he is in, is complacent with his life and does not want to change. Change is the main focus of the play and there are two very thought provoking quotes, both of which show change from a different perspective. The first “we could sing better songs”vi is said by Rita’s mother.
It shows her craving for change in a metaphorical sense, as one can see the songs as being their lives, and how they could be living better lives instead of living on a council estate, spending evenings in a pub. This quote seems to encourage Rita to change her life for the better and make life better for her family, something that Frank has no interest in whatsoever. However, the second quote regarding Change is said in Act 2 Scene One by Frank and is in relation to the office and its metaphorical purpose.
“If you must open the window”vii The window symbolises escape from the room and a way out. Soon after this quote, Frank claims “It hasn’t opened for generations”viii which further emphasises that Frank is trapped in the room and can’t escape, and at the beginning of the play Frank claims that he “sometimes gets an urge to throw someone through it”ix this could be seen as Frank ‘saving’ his students from becoming like him and helping them expand and use their choices wisely.
Another difference regarding the office, is that Rita is excited by the prospect of being in there, and even says “I’m gonna have a room like this one day”x Again, on first viewing, this will seem like Rita talking about her life after education. However, on another level, it is Rita talking about how she will fulfil her goal of becoming an educated women, and that she will be like Frank, an educated, respectable middle-class citizen. Frank, however is bored by the room but due to his complacency and his failure to use the choice he has, he seems to have become part of the room itself.
However despite this he has grown so used to the room he even fails to notice certain things. This is shown at the beginning of the play when Rita points out a picture to him and he replies “Actually I don’t think I’ve looked at it for about ten years” I conclude this essay by saying that Frank and Rita have many differences, furthermore, their biggest difference is their aspect on change. Rita feels as if she can ‘sing better songs’ and change her life for the better, whereas Frank is complacent with his life despite his obvious state of depression.