English Scheme



O'er grassy dale, and lowland scene
Come see, come hear, the English Scheme.
The lower-class, want brass (2)
Bad chests, scrounge fags.
The clever ones tend to emigrate
Like your psychotic big brother, who left home
For jobs in Holland, Munich, Rome (3)
He's thick but he struck it rich, switch (4)
The commune crap, camp bop, middle class, flip-flop (5)
Guess that's why they end up in bands
He's the freak creep in us all (6)
He's the freak creep in us all
Condescends to black men
Are very nice to them
They talk of Chile while driving through Haslingden (7)
You got sixty hour weeks, and stone toilet back-gardens
Peter Cook's jokes , bad dope,      (8)
Check shirts, fancy groups   (9)
Point their fingers at America  (10)
Down pokey quaint streets in Cambridge
Cycle our distant spastic heritage
It's a gay red, roundhead (11),
Army career, bread head
If we were smart we'd emigrate




1. A note from the Orange Lyrics Book in MES's hand:

RE: 'English Scheme'

"This was one of the songs that started it off, in a way, both 'Slates' E.P. and 'Lie Dream of a Casino Soul'. -'English Scheme' was one of the few songs I’ve written that have sparked off genuine reactions. Boys I’d known for years on and off but never talked to would come up and proclaim its accuracy. -This prompted me to look further into England's 'class' system. -Indeed, one of the few advantages of being in an impoverished sub-art group in England is that you get to see (If eyes are Peeled) all the different stratas of society--for free."


"Sic" throughout, as near as possible, including all quotation marks.

"Scheme" is often used in England to describe a publlic assistance program...people who live in public housing are sometimes referred to as "schemies":

From Chambers' Dictionary:

sch?'mie noun (Scot sl)
A working-class youth from a council estate


2. In other words, money.


3. It was common for building workers and others to go to Europe at the time as there was an economic slump and high unemployment in the UK. This was portrayed at the time in the TV series "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet."


4. At the word "switch," the subject of the lyrics changes from the "lower class" to the "middle class."


5. See also "2nd Dark Age" ("commune crapheads"). In a comment there, Mark Balance speculates that MES is thinking of Crass.


6. The orange lyrics book has "green piece," which may be some kind of pun on "Greenpeace" (which would fit the lyrics), but it does not sound like that at all. 


7. Haslingden is a town in Lancashire, about 20 miles north of Manchester. Note that "Neighbourhood of Infinity" mentions "Lancastrian patronization of blacks."


8. Peter Cook was an English actor and comedian who was at one time considered, if not a radical, at least a social critic. His comedy was risque and often directed at establishment figures but he also played working class archetypes.

The stone toilet might be literal, but Huckleberry suggests that "stone toilet might be a contemptuous description of concrete, imitation stone birdbaths which were fashionable in English gardens in the 1970s & 80s, and sometimes looked a bit like toilets?"

Could be actual toilets though, Dan and Dr. X O'Skeleton point out that "traditional working class terraced houses had toilets in a brick outhouse at the back" ("garden" in England means the lawn).


9. The orange lyrics book has "lousy groups." However, "fancy" seems to be what he always sings.


10. Junkman points out that the snare drum channel enters here, before that it is just heard through other mics into which it is bleeding (I think that's the proper term, Junkman's "ambient spill" sounds really sharp though).  I quote him now: "You can imagine the effect being discovered by accident, maybe the engineer noticing during a playback that the snare channel had been left muted and turning it on, and MES liking the effect. It does kick the track up a notch."


11. The Roundheads were the faction in the 17th century English Civil War that supported a constitutional monarchy, opposed to the absolutist claim of the "Cavaliers," or supporters of Charles I. More radical groups of the time, notably the Diggers and the Levellers, were also apparently associated with the Roundheads. Roundheads were "parliamentarians" and, furthermore, they were the proto-bourgeois opponents of the cross-class utpoian ideal of "Merrie England." They were driven by a presbytarian/puritanism which equated the efficient use of resourses with godliness (given that they believed the world was God-given, and thus goods and resources were not to be wasted in the manner of the aristocratic profligates). They were minimalist haters of the early Catholic baroque, and were against Christmas and theatre and decoration in churches. They were the forerunners of the Northern industrial barons who famously "knew the price of everything and the value of nothing," in Wilde's famous phrase. "Roundhead" is generally a term of abuse.  


Thanks to Frere Dupont for some of the above material.  



Comments (61)

  • 1. dannyno | 27/04/2013
The orange Lyrics book has "green piece" presumably the Parade is drawing on that, but given all the stuff in the lyrics about "commune crap" it's really either Greenpeace or a pun on Greenpeace.
  • 2. Martin | 29/05/2013
13 May 1981 Kijkhuis, Tilburg:

MES: "This is a loose description of the English class system."
  • 3. John | 02/08/2013
I hear "talk up cheerly while driving through Haslingden" on the live versions, but I'm not positive.
  • 4. dannyno | 14/11/2013
"green piece". Now I listen to this again, I'm hearing "creep creep". So "creep creep" is repeated.

And it's just "stone toilet" not "stone stone toilet".
  • 5. bzfgt | 08/04/2014
Yes, I don't hear "green piece/Greenpeace" at all, on checking.

John, I'm not sure about "talk up cheerly" on live versions, here it does sound like "Chile" and that fits well with the theme of the lyrics, whereas the former just sounds like a filler line.
  • 6. dannyno | 13/08/2014
From Steve Hanley's The Big Midweek (p72):

""one day Mark comes into the rehearsal space waving a tape at us. 'Listen to this!' he says, slipping it into his portable cassette player. It's a rough recording of chirping birds with an ice cream van in the distance. 'I was getting the milk off my window ledge and I thought, "Listen. That's the sound of the lower-class English summer, is that." We need to build a song out of it. Get on with it lads! ... <snip> Marc Riley started by inverting the sound of the ice cream van into a keyboard riff and we played along, creating an ironically golly little gem. Mark seems quite please. "English Scheme!" he says. "Play it again and I'll sing."...."
Hugo Lane
  • 7. Hugo Lane | 16/05/2015
It seems to me there may be something worth footnoting regarding the reference to Haslingden for those of us who are not well grounded in Lancashire political and socioeconomic geography. Just a thought
  • 8. Huckleberry | 06/07/2016
Only a thought - stone toilet might be a contemptuous description of concrete, imitation stone birdbaths which were fashionable in English gardens in the 1970s & 80s, and sometimes looked a bit like toilets?
  • 9. dannyno | 16/07/2016
I always thought it was referring to outdoor terraced-house toilets, but it could work that way too, I suppose.
  • 10. Zack | 11/01/2017
The meter and theme of the lyrics here were likely inspired by the poem "Slough" by John Betjeman. You can practically sing "Slough" on top of the Fall's tune:

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath. [...]
  • 11. dannyno | 22/01/2017
Zack, comment 10: the theme seems different to me. The rhyme scheme is very different too.
  • 12. Zack | 04/02/2017
Dannyno, comment 11: In a very broad sense, "English Scheme" and "Slough" are both about how 20th century England was not all it was cracked up to be. The rhyme scheme is different, sure, but the meter is a perfect match in places - too perfect to have been a coincidence. Read the "tinned fruit, tinned meat" part and tell me you don't hear Paul Hanley's drum fills.
  • 13. bzfgt | 04/02/2017
Zack, it's plausible, but it's iambic tetrameter which is hardly uncommon, no?
  • 14. bzfgt | 04/02/2017
Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,

  • 15. bzfgt | 11/02/2017
Fuck, bad example, the stress is on the first syllable in those lines! Hoist on my own petard!!
  • 16. Lloyd | 24/03/2017
Fancy groups, isn't it?
  • 17. bzfgt (link) | 01/04/2017
Yes it seems not to be "lousy" as far as I can tell. I checked 5 or 6 versions and I'm pretty sure you're right. It contradicts the book of orange, though, so I had to put a note. If anyone hears any different let me know, I'm bad at hearing lyrics but as I say I hear what you do.
Dr X O'Skeleton
  • 18. Dr X O'Skeleton | 17/05/2017
I always heard "talk of telly while driving through Haslingdon", which is more banal and in keeping with the proletarian drudgery in other lines. Chile might have been a subject for left-wing intellectuals.
Dr X O'Skeleton
  • 19. Dr X O'Skeleton | 17/05/2017
Stone toilet back gardens is a reference to the fact that traditional working class terraced houses had toilets in a brick outhouse at the back
  • 20. dannyno | 17/05/2017
Comment #19: see my comment #9.

Comment #18 - sounds like Chile to me, and fits with the condescension in the previous line. This is not in fact a song that is only or primarily about proletarian drudgery at all. In fact the "lower class" appear explicitly only once, early on, and much of the rest of the songs is actually a comment on a certain kind of middle class type in bands.
  • 21. bzfgt (link) | 16/09/2017
Yes well I think when he says "switch" he switches off the poles and onto the middle class. I should probably put that in the note.
  • 22. Neil | 27/01/2018
A couple of things I've always heard differently: the wonderfully scathing 'freak creep' in line 11, and 'army career breadhead' towards the end. The final section does seem to be a semi-realised attempt to describe the social elite, or upper classes (in typically sardonic terms.) Or maybe it's just great poetry.
  • 23. bzfgt (link) | 12/02/2018
Yeah those sound right and I changed a few more words too (it's "if we were smart," not "if we was smart," and there was something else).
  • 24. Martin | 20/03/2018
Small typo of the kind which I unfortunately tend to notice:

"Its a gay red, roundhead"
Raging Ostler
  • 25. Raging Ostler | 20/03/2018
As just posted on the page for "Hey! Student", the chant at the beginning is:

I said ah wok-a-to-ma
I said ah hey student
I said ah hey student
I said ah hey student


i.e. it's the chorus from "Hey! Student", three years after it was dropped from the set, and thirteen years before it dropped back in again.
  • 26. Junkman | 22/03/2018
A wee production note - in the mix the snare drum channel isn't turned on until "point their fingers at America". So before that you're only hearing the snare drum via ambient spill into the other drum mics.

You can imagine the effect being discovered by accident, maybe the engineer noticing during a playback that the snare channel had been left muted and turning it on, and MES liking the effect. It does kick the track up a notch.
  • 27. bzfgt (link) | 31/03/2018
Martin, it's quite fortunate that you noticed that--please don't refrain from pointing out typos due to some misguided notion of fortune...
  • 28. bzfgt (link) | 31/03/2018
"i.e. it's the chorus from "Hey! Student", three years after it was dropped from the set, and thirteen years before it dropped back in again."

I'm not sure what that means--it's the chorus when they did not play it?

Anyway I hear "Walk some more" at least some times on MCR but "woka-to-ma" on other versions...
  • 29. bzfgt (link) | 31/03/2018
Oh sorry Ostler, I see that we're not on "Hey! Student" now, so your comment means something different than I thought. You mean he says "woka-to-ma" here?
  • 30. bzfgt (link) | 31/03/2018
He seems to be saying "eege, ook" more than "woka-to-ma" here
russell richardson
  • 31. russell richardson | 28/04/2018
note 8

hadn't revisited this page for a while, but I think the 'stone toilet back gardens' is quite literal
Haslingden was used by my parents (along with Todmorden) to denote the utter backwardness of some Manchester suburbs, real dark ages stuff

and even into the 60s, some of the terraced housing will have had communal toilets out back (not one per house, even, and certainly not indoors. No hot water, either, as in the house where I grew up in the early 60s.

thus 'Chile' makes perfect sense, as the intellos would be wringing their hands about post -Allende poverty, while blissfully whizzing through industrial villages that hadn't changed since the 1840s.

see much later on in a few songs 'Hebden Bridge' which was / is a bona fide abandoned (or severely underpopulated) village just over the border in Yorkshire that was settled by smart media types from London in and around the late 70s.

some of the folk were very nice, of course, but the snobby incomers also trod on a lot of persons' sensibilities.

this was long before the BBC decamped to Salford keys (quays) which at that time 79-84 were sump oil pools of deserted masonry, lone pubs like the last tooth in a drunkard's mouth.
  • 32. Tengard | 02/10/2019
‘NOT very nice to them’
  • 33. bzfgt (link) | 06/10/2019
It's hard to say, there's a little noise there but it's hard to say if it's meant to be "not," anyone else want to check it out?
Crocked Hail
  • 34. Crocked Hail | 29/11/2019
I always though the title was literal, i.e. up north, where we all chew leather... a scheme is a council estate. One who hails from there being a schemie (derogatory).
Crocked Hail
  • 35. Crocked Hail | 13/12/2019
'ARE very nice to them'. not 'NOT very nice to them'
  • 36. bzfgt (link) | 21/12/2019
Does anyone have anything definitive about "scheme"? I mean documented? It is extremely relevant if that's what a housing estate is called. All I can find are references that use the word seemingly to mean a public assistance program (and then, perhaps by extension it's applied to the resulting physical infrastructure? so not exactly literal)

Can someone say something definitive about this? If it is the word for housing I can't believe no one has submitted that until now...so I want to make sure what I say is correct
  • 37. bzfgt (link) | 21/12/2019
Yeah I think there is an "are"
  • 38. bzfgt (link) | 21/12/2019
I did find "schemie" though, which is gold right there. I need some kind of confirmation if it refers to the physical housing itself, or just the programs.
  • 39. dannyno | 21/12/2019
A scheme is just a plan or programme or project. A social housing scheme would just be a probably government or local authority plan or programme for developing social housing. There were probably council housing projects which were called schemes and may have been referred to locally and colloquially as "schemes". But that wouldn't be universal.

"Schemie" seems to be Scottish slang (I've not come across it, despite the types of building it references being common, or formerly common, where I live) for an inhabitant of a "housing scheme", specifically the modernist council-owned (or at any rate originally built as public housing) blocks of flats such as those exemplified by for example Martello Court, Muirhouse, Edinburgh:



Although it's not a word I've heard where I live, it's not impossible "schemie" might have been used elsewhere than Scotland, and perhaps even Salford/Manchester. But most of the documented use is Scottish.
  • 40. dannyno | 21/12/2019
From Chambers' Dictionary:

schē'mie noun (Scot sl)
A working-class youth from a council estate
  • 41. dannyno | 21/12/2019
The reference to "English scheme" could then perhaps be seen as an application of the Scottish colloquialism to an English context. I've tended to feel "scheme" is used there not as a synonym for "public housing project" but for "system" in a broader sense, and the song makes sense without interpreting "scheme" in that way. But on the other hand "scheme" as "council housing estate" is not implausible, and might be a better interpretation.

As I say, I don't know if "scheme" was used in Manchester/Salford for council housing estates (particularly of the big tower block type), perhaps someone local will tell us. I wouldn't be surprised if it was.
  • 42. dannyno | 21/12/2019
"If we were smart we'd emigrate"

An echo here of a comment by James Callaghan in 1974. He was foreign secretary at the time, but was later to become prime minister.

From When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the seventies, by Andy Beckett.

In the winter of 1974 , the then foreign secretary Jim Callaghan attended an informal meeting of Cabinet ministers at Chequers. 'Everyone was free to express his views on the medium term outlook,' he records in his memoirs. 'I was feeling particularly gloomy: "Our place in the world is shrinking: our economic comparisons grow worse... The country expects both full employment and an end to inflation. We cannot have both unless people restrain their demands. If the [government-backed pay ] guidelines are not observed, we shall end up with wage controls... even a breakdown of democracy." Callaghan, like Healy one of the government's central figures, concluded his remarks with a 'joke' which had the air of a barely disguised truth. 'Sometimes when I go to bed at night,' said the foreign secretary, 'I think that if I were a younger man I would emigrate.'

I don't know how widely known this comment was in 1979/1980, and therefore whether it could have been something MES had in mind. Certainly Barbara Castle was recorded referring to it later in 1980, but I haven't found anything earlier.

But the mood is the same.
  • 43. dannyno | 21/12/2019
Quoted elsewhere as "'When I am shaving in the morning I say to myself that if I were a young man I would emigrate. By the time I am sitting down to breakfast I ask myself 'where would I go?'" Which I think is Barbara Castle's recollection. Callaghan's own report is clearly slightly different.
  • 44. bzfgt (link) | 21/12/2019
I don't think "scheme" as housing project would replace "system," the latter is still in play and the broader sense as, indeed, the implication that there's something a little shrewd or shady, as in "scam" (which could be etymologically related but I don't think it is). In any case I'm standing pat for now, until there's more confirmation (or otherwise) that "scheme" is extended to the actual buildings.
  • 45. dannyno | 25/12/2019
Indeed, and in note 1 you have a quote from MES that refers to the English class system, so you could read "English scheme" as referring simply to that.
  • 46. Tengard | 29/03/2020
'ARE very nice to them'. not 'NOT very nice to them'

Right you are. Can hear it now.
  • 47. Lloyd | 24/04/2020
“Your future dream is a shopping scheme” - so, yes, a plan or project.
  • 48. ASASASA | 21/11/2020
The bit at the beginning is

'I said water, I said H20, I said H20,I said H20, I said H20'

I never knew what this meant.
  • 49. Leon (link) | 15/01/2021
I just listened to the Woodcraft Folk version of this (which is great, brings out a melancholy): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTeraRBboG8

It’s a fabulous song.

I would add:

"scheme" is another word for a con or scam. This suggests English people on the make, a recurrent MES theme, I think. So everybody trying to escape England through whatever means, contrasted with the traditional bucolic merrie England. It's a song about how the image of something is nothing like the reality.

Always heard "Chile" in the Haslingdon line – it’s funny and fits in with a song of contrasts.

Also, the genius of "the clever ones... he’s thick" around the note 4 "switch"/
  • 50. Leon (link) | 16/01/2021
Also, also, do the opening lines suggest Songs of Innocence?

Piping down the valleys wild
Piping songs of pleasant glee
So I piped with merry chear,
So I piped, he wept to hear.

(I’m probably reaching here).
  • 51. bzfgt (link) | 21/02/2021
I like the Blake connection insofar as it seems to be aping a kind of pastoral celebration of the English countryside in poesy, though maybe not that specifically
John Howard
  • 52. John Howard | 19/05/2021
Seems sorta relevant.

Class composition

Under an English scheme, creditors must be divided into classes, depending on their rights and interests. One class schemes are often desirable as they reduce the prospect of minority blocking stakes. However, it is often the case that different creditors are treated slightly differently (albeit for good commercial reasons) and so the question arises as to when those differences are sufficient to result in separate classes.
  • 53. Ivan | 18/06/2021
Love the way he changes the lyric in Bonn, Germany in 1981, 'the clever ones tend to emigrate' becoming:

The clever ones come over here.

Geographical correctness! Imagine if all lyrics were subject to that.
  • 54. plastikman | 18/09/2021
The very last line, to these ears, should read...
"If we was smart we'd emigrate"
Also, it would be a typically Smithsonian way of putting it.
  • 55. MO | 22/09/2021
Given the preceding line, 'gay red' is likely a reference to the Cambridge Spy Ring, a scandal that rocked the British establishment in the 1950s-60s. At least five members of the ring, who had all been recruited as Soviet spies while they were students at Trinity College, Cambridge in the 1930s, were revealed to have passed on large volumes of information to the Soviets during World War II and the early Cold War as they worked in various roles in the British intelligence and diplomatic services.

Several of the group were gay or bisexual, which, along with other spying cases of that era, such as that of John Vassall, led to an unfortunate association of their 'treachery' with their sexuality in the public's mind. This was a time, should it be necessary to remind, when homosexual sex was still a crime in Britain, which made gay men an easy target for blackmail—and which made discretion and secrecy a necessary part of how they had to live their lives.

The scandal rumbled on throughout the post-war era, with Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean the first of the group to defect to the Soviet Union, followed by Kim Philby (the 'third man') in 1963. Around the same time, the other two members of the group, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross, confessed, but their involvement was kept a secret.

However, around the time The Fall wrote and recorded English Theme, the scandal had erupted anew, as it was in late 1979 that Blunt's involvement, until then kept hushed, finally came to light. As well as being a member of MI5, Blunt was a widely respected art historian, and, as Keeper of the Queen's art collection, was as close to the establishment as it was possible to get.

The scandal caused something of an identity crisis within the British class system, and was thus ripe as a reference point for the 'upper class' section of MES's English Scheme. Of course, it was also the stuff of multiple books, movies, and tv series - Netflix's The Crown most recently devoting an episode to the Blunt exposé.
  • 56. MO | 22/09/2021
Ha, and for well nigh 40 years have been hearing: "the lower class won't grass, fat chance, scrounge bags..."
  • 57. Sumsiadad | 18/07/2022
"Scheme" for a council housing estate is 100% a Scottish thing - in fact there used to be a very self-consciously working class rock band in Glasgow called Scheme. I very much doubt scheme is used in that sense anywhere in England, I've certainly never heard it.

Something I've just thought of. MES was, I believe, a fan of MC5 and on the second MC5 album there is a (excellent) track called, "The American Ruse", I wonder if MES was paying homage to that song with the title, "English Scheme"? Just a thought!
  • 58. John | 15/02/2023
My cloth ears always assumed the lyric was 'It's a Gay Lib, roundhead/Army career breadhead'. I bought Grotesque in 1981 and Gay Lib was a 'thing' then (as the young folks say), fits the narrative in terms of being a cause that some might perceive as trendy, and doesn't 'need' to rhyme with roundhead.
  • 59. John | 15/02/2023
PS totally agree with the first paragraph of comment 57. and was going to post similar, including the bit about the band with that name. I assume 'schemie' got into the Chambers dictionary because of its use in Trainspotting.
  • 60. dannyno | 19/02/2023
Comment #58. For what's it worth, it's "gay red" in the Orange Book (bearing in mind the texts in there are demonstrably not always accurate as to what is on record).
  • 61. dannyno | 19/02/2023
#57 and #59. "Schemie" seems to be a Scottish term, but housing schemes of the type were common throughout the UK. But as discussed earlier in the comments I think "scheme" here probably just means "system" rather than a housing scheme in particular. The lyric isn't specifically just about working class people on council housing estates, nor is it solely concerned with the North, let alone Scotland, given the reference to Cambridge. You can make the Englishification of a Scottish term work if you really want to, but there's no real need to do so.

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