How to beat up chavs

Tim Black reports on the London gym offering people lessons in headbutting hoodies and duffing up ‘the scourge’ of society.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics Politics

Outside the exit to Holborn tube station in central London, there is a prominent advert for a nearby gym, Gymbox. Nothing unusual in that, you might think. Only this advert is promoting something far more frightening than ‘step aerobics’ or ‘pilates’; it is promoting lessons in how to beat up ‘chavs’.

For those who don’t know what a ‘chav’ is, it is usually working class, drinks alcohol from the depths of its hooded top, and scares the respectable classes witless. It is to be found almost entirely in the more febrile regions of the middle-class imagination. And it is this fear of ‘chavs’ that Gymbox is keen to exploit. ‘Don’t give moody grunting chavs an ASBO, give them a kicking’, explains its website. ‘Forget stealing candy from a baby. We’ll teach you how to take a Bacardi off a hoodie and turn a grunt into a whine. Welcome to Chav Fighting, a place where the punch bags gather dust and the world is put to rights.’

Clearly a bit of clever PR, right? Or maybe a ‘gymick’? After all, judging by the range of other courses on offer, Gymbox seems to enjoy poking holes in political correctness. Women, we are told, can pole-dance their way to the ‘body of a stripper’, or hone ‘calves of steel’ though the ‘Stiletto Workout’ at their local Gymbox. And men can take out their pent-up aggression at colleagues/family members/strippers in the ‘Warrior Workout’. Add to this ‘Boob Aerobics’ or the cheerleading courses and you have something about as offensive as Carry On Up the Gym.

Gymbox‘s anti-chav logo

Now, on top of the risqué laddism of the rest of Gymbox’s offering, we have the cartoon vigilantism of ‘Chav Fighting’. However, there’s a problem: the chav-fighting courses are not a joke. According to Gymbox itself, this is a serious course with serious intent. In other words, it is genuinely meant to equip the lawyers, media-types and office workers who frequent Holborn day in, day out with the muscles and skills to fight chavs. The manager of the Holborn branch of Gymbox told me the course teaches basic ‘street-fighting self-defence’ and even ‘how to throw haymakers’ and ‘how to headbutt’.

It gets worse. I asked him why the professionals of Holborn need street-fighting lessons, and he replied: ‘There’s a need for [chav fighting] in society.’ Mentioning ‘the rise in knife crime’ as an example, he said chavs were the ‘scourge of modern-day Britain’. And the answer, it seems, is headbutting and haymakers.

Does he not worry that Gymbox runs the risk of upsetting the people it brands as ‘chavs’? His answer was revealing: ‘It’s not offensive because even those we think of as being chavs wouldn’t categorise themselves as such’. That is precisely the problem with the notion of chavs. They exist principally in the minds of those whose fears and prejudices Gymbox is keen to tap in to, namely the white-collar workers that pour forth from Holborn station every day. Today’s panic over crime, in particular knife crime, is largely a politically driven, media-sustained creation of the panicked middle classes – and chav-fighting lessons look like its brutal logical conclusion.

Gymbox is not alone in perpetuating this scum-hating by another name. Earlier this year, the green-leaning travel firm Activities Abroad promised its clients ‘chav-free holidays’ (see ‘A nasty little piece of smug-class warfare’, by Brendan O’Neill). Like Activities Abroad, Gymbox seems happy to take this hooded, chain-dragging, knife-wielding phantasm for a reality. Content to vilify and scapegoat as much as any seventeenth-century inhabitant of Salem, this updated witch hunt, or chav hunt, is getting out of control.

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.

Previously on spiked

Brendan O’Neill revealed the snobbish holiday firm offering chav-free holidays and said that ‘dangerous dogs’ was code for underclass Britain. Rob Lyons noted how Keith Allen’s defence of the ‘lotto lout’ came with some prejudices of its own. Neil Davenport wrote that Prince William wearing Burberry showed how chav-bashing is mainstream. Or read more at spiked issue Life.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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