A couple of days ago I suggested that the recent Defra minister Richard Benyon might be called a ‘toff’.  This was greeted by a stream of comments angry on the toffish ex-Minister’s behalf.  Let’s just get the meaning of this four-letter word out of the way first.

Toff a member of the upper classes, especially one who is elegantly dressed.

Wikipedia suggests that it is a mildly derogatory term for someone with an aristocratic background or belonging to the landed gentry.

It would be quite difficult to persuade me that Richard Benyon is not a ‘toff’ and yes it was meant to be mildly derogatory.  I’m confident that I have published more strongly derogatory remarks about myself here so I don’t feel too bad about it.


I’m sure that those getting on their high horses on Mr Benyon’s behalf were partly doing so because they wished to distract from his very ‘toffish’ Ministerial record.  Richard Benyon is a land-owning, game-shooting toff who:

  • opposed vicarious liability being introduced for wildlife crime (although it already exists in Scotland)
  • was the Minister for biodiversity when his department wanted to start research on culling buzzards because they eat a pheasant now and again
  • was the Minister when Natural England refused to make public the final resting places of satellite-tagged hen harriers – we will, I predict, find that many died on or very near grouse moors (Mr Benyon owns a grouse moor)
  • was the Minister in charge when NE dropped their legal case about Walshaw Moor, a grouse moor
  • presided over the almost terminal decline of hen harriers in England
  • was happy to review the licensing of cormorants because they eat fish (Mr Benyon is a fisherman)
  • refused to proscribe carbofuran (as it already is in Scotland)

On the other hand, Mr Benyon also:

  • maintained Defra’s contribution to the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

Please suggest other matters of  particular interest to toffs and whether Mr Benyon chose the ‘toffish’ route or ‘the route less-toffish’.

Ministers, and I mean Conservative Ministers, of a different, less ‘toffish’ background might well have made a different mix of decisions on these issues.  These were all decisions, or events (for we do not know what role the Minister might have played in all of them), which would have been welcomed by the Countryside Alliance, Moorland Association and Country Landowners’ Association.  They were not decisions made on behalf of the natural world, they were those most wanted by the ‘toffish’ world.

Wouldn’t it be good if a Labour Minister came into Defra and, by chance of course, was associated with decisions every bit as one-sided after the next general election.  Except it is very difficult to see a potential Labour Minister who would roll things back in the other direction.

I’ve been trying to think of the most ‘toffish’ Labour politician – I guess it would have to be Hilary Benn.  Lovely man, just like Richard Benyon.

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26 Replies to “Toffs”

  1. Thanks for delving into "toffs" a little deeper Mark. Genuinely.

    "....I suggested that the recent Defra minister Richard Benyon might be called a ‘toff’." [YOU]

    Your actual introduction to the subject (of his toffiness (does he play for Everton)) suggested he "looked like a (land-owning) toff".

    "I’m sure that those getting on their high horses on Mr Benyon’s behalf were partly doing so because they wished to distract from his very ‘toffish’ Ministerial record."

    I am not sure whether you regard me to be one of these pony-trekkers, (I doubt it) but if you do, I'd suggest that you're wrong in my case.

    I merely asked you what a toff looked like.


    You dodged the question twice, telling me (what you also said I already knew very well) what the point of the post was.

    You were right. I did (of course) know what the point of the post was.

    But that's not the question I asked.

    I asked what you regarded a "toff" to look like.

    Now you provide a definition (but not your own) - " who is elegantly dressed".

    So thanks for the answer Mark.

  2. Loving the fact that if one follows your hyperlink to the wikipedia page on "toffs" the website immediately states that "this page has issues".


    1. Wikipedia would appear to be in full agreement with Mr. Avery. The page now only states that it needs organizing and formatting a little better and that more citations are needed.

      1. "Has issues" still each time I look at it Stuart.

        Waittttt a minutttttte....

        Maybe it has issues with me!

  3. ...and on the other hand! The rest of us are labelled as plebs (mildly derogatory) when we are in work and work-shy scroungers (nothing like mildly derogatory) when we are not. Some contributors to this blog object to the term 'toff' because they identify with the label or the policies whereas whilst I am unconcerned at being called a 'pleb' I do object to being called a scrounger. During a widely varied career, one theme that I have seen is underlying work being pulled out from under me (and often, never to return) and unlike what certain politicians (of all parties) would like you to believe, unemployment is not a choice. Quite a lot of you pressed the dislike button after my comments pointing out attitudes to the north and I am not sure why- was it that it was an uncomfortable truth? The north (particularly Cumbria, Northumberland, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire) were homes to the industries that built the banking empire in the Square Mile (along with slavery of course but you won't want me to point that out). The last of that industry was dismantled in the early 1980s and shipped out piecemeal to India, Pakistan, Bangla Desh, Thailand and China. Despite the dirty and unhealthy environment we lived in, the land has recovered and is once again useful for agriculture. The problem with this is that unsufficient jobs have been created to replace what we have lost and to have a toff label the area as the bleak north and then substitute the northwest for the northeast was not a lot of consolation. What is it that he was talking about? Of course, it was shale gas extraction. An industry that even putting aside the environmental concerns and alarmist stories, is unlikely to generate many jobs and direct all the money out of the region - again.

    A lot of Mark's pointers show that the Right Honourable Gentleman's career was aimed at appeasing quite a small number of people but had the incidental effect of being seemingly beneficial to regional needs. I am well aware in making my pro-north defence that there are other areas of the country as bad if not worse off such as North Wales and even the West Country but Mr Benyon has now given the West Country something to cling to, to feel that they are being catered for. It is no joke that a rumour emerged from Westminster that certain people wanted London to be independent from the rest of the country. Evidently, the rest of us are surplus to requirement despite the fact that the Bank of England's wealth is shared by everyone (in theory). It amazes me that the government ignored science on the badger cull and there has already been quite admission that something is going wrong and no doubt when the situation continues to deteriorate, someone (even the football-playing badgers) else will be blamed. Rest assured, when this point is reached (and it surely will) the West Country will quietly be ignored just as the north was when the last of the textile mills was closed. Far from being moaning scroungers, northerners have been there, done it and bought the t-shirt . The Welsh have been ignored for so long they don't even bother speaking up anymore because they know it is a waste of time. What has this to do with conservation? Everything, Mr Benyon's initiative was not in any way regional; if you look at it in more detail, it was aimed at promoting the interests of small minorities some of whom just happen to be regionally clustered.

    Enjoy yourself clicking the dislike button, I would consider it a singular insult if you didn't but believe me, I am far from being regionalist with my dual family background (Scottish urbanites on my father's side and Welsh/southeast farmers on my mother's side).

    1.   Ian.
      To start... I have “liked” your comment (not that that means anything really) but I recognise an awful lot of what you say and agree with almost all of it (North, mining, industry, shale, rugs etc...) In fact if I could agree twice I would.  

      But. If I could pick your brains:  
      On the subject of “toffs” and “plebs”....  
      Really? I must have been living in a cave all these years.
      Who genuinely (actually) calls who a “pleb” these days (other than playground jibes.... “Johno gis’ us back our ruler, you pleb”.... type thing?
      Likewise, who actually still calls people “toffs” these days? I thought when we stopped thumbing through The Beano; we stopped using those sorts of words.
      Clearly not. I am wrong it seems (not for the first time.)
      I really must get out of this cave!      

      For the record. I (personally) objected to Mark using the phrase “looks like a toff” more through disappointment than any self-recognition.  
      If you look on MY blog’s “links section” you’ll find I link to Mark’s blog with a summary as below: “Mark Avery blog – a man who often knows exactly what he’s talking about” (or words to that effect). And I stand by that notion. Generally.
      So. I was anticipating an interesting view from Mark on the shuffling of the packs the other day.

      I didn’t realise that interesting view would pretty-well consist of Benyon looking like a toff. Dan Rogerson probably liking the EU. Giving these two Cornwall MPs a fair chance.... and finally Mary Creagh’s replacement being called “Eagle” (ho ho).
      Not that interesting. Well.... not really illuminating.
       Pretty disappointing I thought.

      Maybe I set my expectations of Mark too high...   (The shrine does need a little brasso as it happens) but I decided to ask him about the most disappointing part of his blog (as far as I was concerned).... his opening gambit of Benyon “looking like a toff,” more through disappointment in Avery... rather than recognition of Dodds.  

      Yep.  Maybe my standards or expectations are too high.  
      My mother in law kept on saying that to me until I finally resorted “And that’s precisely why I asked YOUR DAUGHTER to marry me – no-one else would do!” She hasn’t mentioned my “high” standards again.        

      All that above said, I have been known to occasionally wander through a local Waitrose, in my comfortable grey corduroy trousers after work occasionally, to pick up my wife’s and I favourite treat of chicken livers.
      So now  I’m wondering if people are looking at me schlepping about in my cords, from outside the supermarket car park and  are labelling me as a toff (under their breath of course – for unfortunately I am blessed with the physical appearance of Hellboy rather than Robert Redford) .


      Maybe I’ll stay in my cave after all....       


        Incidentally (though of course you are under no obligation to reply as we all know).... Dennis.

      You must know Mark better than I do.  Wouldn’t be difficult. I don’t know Mark at all. In a comment from you the other day you maintained that Mark” does not think in class terms”. I’ll just have to take your word on that I guess ... as recent blogs from Mark might suggest (at least) to someone (like me perhaps ...  who admittedly doesn’t know Mark as well as you), that that isn’t actually the case at all.

      1. Doug - I notice you haven't given us a list of 'man of the people' decisions made by ex-Minister Richard Benyon in regard to anything to do with birds of prey, shooting, grouse moor owners, fishing, pheasants, buzzards etc. I could only think of the one - maintaining the status quo on Defra funding of combatting wildlife crime. There may be others but I'd like to be reminded of them please.

        I don't mind toffs, but when they are Ministers they are supposed to serve us all. Richard Benyon looked quite partial to the views of other toffs to me. That is a serious policy point. Indeed, at the risk of being pompous, it is a serious point about how democracy works. Just as MPs, once elected serve all their constituents, of whatever party, creed, colour etc, so Ministers are there to implement their government policy and make the world a better place. The Conservative Party manifesto was very clear (well, quite clear anyway) on badger-culling. It didn't say 'we are going to defend the interests of game-shooting above those of nature conservation' although that appears to be the direction in which it has leant.

        1. Mark.
          Did I give you the impression that I was defending Benyon's policies?
          If so, I gave you an incorrect impression.

          I was purely (soley) (only) interested in knowing what is was about Benyon that made him look like a toff to you.

        2. Irrespective of what Richard Benyon and his mates look like and irrespective of his (biased or otherwise) policies – it was you who introduced and 'banged-on' about 'toffs'; this is not very grown-up and in your usual loony-left leaning - not to say stubborn – attitude you are again (as promised) being typically 'classist' – don't you see?

          It says more about you Mark than it does Mr Benyon!

          And as to you hiding behind the phrase 'nature conservation' in respect of Badger TB – the government rightly chooses to puts the lives of cattle and humans above that of diseased vermin.

          Will the Real Mark Avery now Stand Up for Nature ?

      2. Doug, I DO know Mark and it may surprise you to know that I am mildly surprised that Mark is a Labour supporter. That says an awful lot of about the perceptions that have been instilled in us and not a lot about reality. What I mean by that is that I have been a contributor to various Internet forums for something like 15+ years now (long before I worked at the RSPB)and it amazes me ho divisive this world has become despite better communications than when I were a lad. I notice that Mark has correctly pointed out that the true role of central (and local) government is to serve the people and the people's needs. Ask yourself (not just you Doug but anyone reading this) when was the last time any political figure consistently did this across the board? Richard Benyon has done both good and bad but he has served quite a limited number of interests. This is (mostly) a conservation blog so it is right that we discuss these issues in detail but that happens to be unfortunate for Mr Benyon. If we were discussing unemployment and related subjects as I do elsewhere then it may well be IDS and Mr Osbourne that we were talking about. [for Labour in power - substitute your own names past and future]

        As may be gathered, I never knew Mark's political leanings until reading this blog because we never talked about our backgrounds at the RSPB - only how we took the steps into conservation and there are some lovely tales there too. We all still have those backgrounds and thus, our own political sympathies but I have been equally critical of Labour's past conservation record and I am sure I will be will Mark. What is sad about Conservative policies is that they seldom have proper conservation interests involved although party conference speeches may or may not refer to certain key words. Labour and the Lib-Dems do have the policies in place but they often get shoved onto the back burner, which brings me to the gist of things.

        I mentioned this divisive world we now live in (it is worse in the unmoderated world of Facebook fan pages BTW) but I wonder if all the readers of this blog have considered that their pet political parties do not want us to agree. Heaven forbid that people from different walks of life started to agree with each other because that is the true stuff that revolutions are made of not as some of my socialist Facebook friends believe by suggesting social disobedience. Divide-and-conquer is a firmly established way of controlling civilisation - the only democracy we have is in being able to criticise policies.

  4. Mark as well as these wonderful like and dislike buttons could you add 'toff' and 'pleb' buttons?

  5. Whoah Gentlemen, stop and listen to yourself's firstly Doug if you read the whole of the wiki page you'll see the origins of the word and how it was used to describe a certain type of person, "often a well dressed gentlemen who took snuff, often a small amount of snuff would leak from the nose, a "toffee" coloured substance resulting in the person to hold his nose in the air"...slight paraphrasing but roughly accurate but more importantly pretty suitable description, the only/sole reason the page you visited is saying a the top what you said is a)because it needs re-editing and b)more information to be submitted, it's standard "wiki" speak for more info required.
    Now lets look at the word CHAV= Council Housed And Violent, sure the term was picked up by mass media just before the turn of the century, however I first heard the word on the train back from England V Scotland in 1996 when some "posh" kids called me and my "slightly" drunk mates Chav's so obviously well in use before papers picked up on the term, it is said the word originated in Eton, then Oxford (Oxford English dictionary was quick to define the term, not so quick with deregatory words of the upper class) to describe people like myself, if you carry on reading the "wiki" page for Chav the Fabian society even views it as deregatory, so I guess what I'm saying is everyone has a term for everyone but give the origins of the words what's more offensive/which one would you be upset at being called TOFF or CHAV? I reckon if you ask Benyon do you mind being called a toff, he might just revel in the term

    1. Douglas.
      The wiki page that "has issues" tickled me as it "had issues" rather like people might "have issues"?
      I wasn't really interested in the specific formatting issues of the web page.
      I guess you had to be there.

      Once again. Finally.
      I wasn't originally objecting to the word "toff".

      I was objecting to people being described as "looking like toffs".

      This has now been explained.
      An elegant dresser (sounds like summink off "cash in the attic") and now perhaps (I see) someone with their nose in the air.

    2. Douglas, the etymology of the word 'chav' is not accurately known but it definitely predates the police label that it is attributed to. Indeed, there is claim that it is a shortened name from certain posh Gloucestershire ladies referring to certain young men as 'Cheltenham average'. I quite like that but I fear the 'council house and violent' idea is probably closer to the true origin so in a way, I am glad the origin has been lost.

      Certainly, you are correct about the origin of toff because we all knew as children that it referred to toffee-nosed. As for the term 'pleb' is is not really a derogatory term at all and simply means 'unskilled worker' from the Roman 'plebian' although as most were from the lower classes, it has come to mean much the same thing.

      1. I like the idea of being an etymologist so I could go wording in the Stornoway library in the hope of seeing an unusual word

        1. And whilst on Lewis you could pick up a natty woollen sweater to wear on Countdown.

        2. You'd be a hard bitten committed worder then, Filbert, traveling the length and breadth of the country in search of rare words - not one of those casual weekend word-watchers?

          1. No wimpy worries about all them emissions getting there but I would be well hacked off if someone had shredded it just before I arrived

  6. D M D,answer is simple,yes I think I do know Mark perhaps at least as well as anyone on this blog who comments simply due to the fact I was probably first or one of the first to comment and follow his rspb blog.
    I often think you delight in being picky,let me explain."Mark does not think in class terms".
    I meant that if Mark met a toff and myself he would talk and treat us exactly the same,that is one of the things that I respect probably as much as anything in a person.
    Mark has had plenty of chances to poke fun at me but has never done so.
    We all understand what toff means and Mark will always take the chance to provoke comments.
    Do you seriously believe Mark has no toffs as friends,surely you are not naive.

  7. Well seeming as we're all using terms that are derisory to both the upper class and working class, why haven't you lot used some to describe yourselves-the middle class here's a few for you to chew on over your dinner party whilst digesting your latest house purchase
    In Australia they use the term: Chardonnay Socialist
    In the USA: :Limousine Liberal
    Italy: Gucci socialist
    France: Gauche Caviar


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