Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Bloody North

The North. Of England, I mean. Obviously. A few weeks ago BBC Four devoted a whole season to The North, celebrating the way, since the 1960s, both how it has been depicted in popular culture, and how it has contributed to this culture. You see, prior to the 1960s, we in the South had culturally oppressed the North. As if it wasn't bad enough that we had all the money, whilst they just had dark satanic mills and down trodden workers, we also dominated popular culture: books and plays were all written by Southerners and set in the South. Likewise films. As for radio and television - well, what can I say? All those posh accents and received pronunciation. There wasn't any respite in the Music Halls - all dominated by cheeky London chappies like Max Miller. Even when the North was the subject of popular culture, it was depicted as a caricature - all flat caps and whippets - through the eyes of Southern writers, performers and directors. Even since the North's cultural rediscovery in the 1960s, it's been an uphill struggle for them to get their programmes on the telly and voices on the radio in the face of those hostile Southern media elites.

Of course, the only flaw in this argument is that, for as long as I can remember, popular culture has actually been dominated by Northerners. If I and my fellow Southerners are culturally oppressing the North, how come is it that I rarely, if ever, hear anybody on TV or the radio speaking with an accent like mine? Even during regional opt-outs on TV, I usually only hear received pronunciation, not my local accent. And there you have part of the problem - the confusion of 'The South' with 'London'. They are two different things. Most of the alleged 'Southerners' dominating the media and popular culture are actually from London and the Home Counties. Those of us in the real South - West of Surrey, South of the Thames - have been as 'culturally oppressed' as the North. In fact, we've suffered far worse. As I've already mentioned, there is a distinct lack of our accents in evidence in the media, and virtually every 'gritty' TV drama, soap opera or sitcom I see is set in some grim Northern industrial city, with which I don't identify. The best we can hope for is the odd Thomas Hardy adaptation or repeats of Wycliffe on ITV 3. Things like Eastenders and Only Fools and Horses don't count - they're set in London.

To be honest, I thank God that Ian Holloway is currently managing Blackpool in the Premier League - it at least means that I get to hear someone with an accent similar to mine speaking on primetime TV. Even if he is a bit of a nutter. Apart from him, who else have we got? Bill Bailey, Russell Howard and Justin Lee bloody Collins are the only other names that spring to mind.
But, of course, it's all our own fault for being so affluent and middle class. Which are the usual reasons given for the howls of protest you get emanating from the North whenever the South is featured in TV drama, or the weather forecast starts by telling us how much it rained in Cornwall today. "If it happened in the North, it would never had made the national news", is the usual Northern lament I hear. Really? All I ever bloody seem to see on the TV are stories from the North! You know, we do have poverty and low wages in the South, you don't have a monopoly on misery up North - the rural working classes get shafted just as much as the flat cap brigade. OK. we don't have the heavy industry down here, but we do have low paid agricultural workers living in tied cottages. It's just as bad. Don't get me wrong - I actually like the North, I've often been on holiday there. They're generally pretty nice people. I'm just sick and tired of being inundated with their popular culture, then being told that I'm the one culturally oppressing them! Oh, and their beer is like piss.

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