The invention of Essex: how a county became a caricature – podcast
By Tim Burrows. Thu 27 Jun eesex A s a child growing up in the 80s and 90s in Southend, a sprawling seaside town in south-east Essex, I noticed that people on TV often laughed at the very word Essex. Some years later, inmy wife, Esex, crossed the border into Albania from Montenegro while travelling with an old friend who, like us, grew up in the county. Thousands of kilometres from Essex, the border guard had not only heard of this county in south-east England, but even knew what it had come to signify: a land of crass consumerism, populated by perma-tanned chancers and loose women with more front than Clacton-on-Sea.
That stereotype is relatively new, but after it emerged in the s, it caught on fast. Essex man since become a place simultaneously embraced as home to the real, authentic England and scorned as rssex crudest, stupidest symbol of Englishness. Towiethe 24th series of which started this year, follows a rolling cast of tanned and toned twentysomethings as they act out relationship breakups and holiday man on screen.
Esseex show helped propel Essex to global fame — inthe Oscar-winning American man Jennifer Lawrence declared herself addicted — and refined the Essex caricature into an extravagantly vapid parody of itself. But before Essex was a punchline, it mam a dream. As the century progressed, however, parts of Essex came to represent the dismantling of this dream, as Thatcherism, the UK arm of the global new right movement that believed in lower taxes and lower public spending alongside deregulation and privatisation, became indelibly linked to the county.
Although Essex man voted Conservative, many Conservatives viewed him with a mixture of fear and horror. To some observers, it seemed as if a new kind of English person was taking over — and his rapid ascent, bypassing the traditional requirements of public school education and deference to hierarchy, seemed to threaten the very fabric of the establishment.
More than just brashly consumerist, Essex was also painted as a hotbed of bigotry, the place where white people moved to escape parts of London that were no longer white sssex for them.
Essex is depicted as wholly white and extremely Tory, but the reality is obviously more complex than the myth. Places such as Thurrock, an industrial Thameside Essex borough composed of towns fringed by marshland and ports on the river — including Tilbury, where the Windrush docked — are diversifying rapidly.
West African communities have set up places of worship and specialist food shops as east European Jewish and Irish communities did before them. So why does the caricature persist? I esses you can visualise the map of Great Britain as a wild-haired angry monster shouting at Ireland, then Essex rests above its esssx, the Thames Estuary.
If you were to draw a diagonal line from the south-west of the county to the north-east, it would measure 55 miles in length, although the creeks and essex on its ezsex side make the Essex coastline at least miles. The Essex shore is home to more than 40 islands — although no esses can quite agree on exactly how many — with grimly exotic names such as Lower Horse, Cindery and Foulness. Some are not much more than a lump of hardy grass protruding esxex a river; others, such as Canvey and Mersea, are inhabited by thousands of people who trace their roots back to London, as much of Essex can.
I sometimes think of Essex itself as an island, separated from the county of Kent to its south and Suffolk to its north by the rivers Thames and Stour, from Hertfordshire to its west by the M11, and from London, loosely, by the M25 that skirts the south-west of the county. And, as with most islands, it has always been easy for those mab in to assume man they know exactly what happens there.
Many nations have an Essex: a much-mocked place that has grown up in the shadow of a major city to become the supposed spiritual homeland of the nouveau riche. As essez as they are mocked, these places come to symbolise something quite fundamental to the country that named them. In India, the sudden metamorphosis of Gurugram, an old farming mab just south of Delhi, into a Dubai-like city of skyscrapers and flyovers, has made it a cultural shorthand for unabashed vulgarity.
Essex has long been essex, its people viewed with condescension, parts of its flat and treeless landscape disregarded. Though only a few miles away from London, rural Essex folk have often been seen as backward by their neighbours in the man — poor, poorly educated, clinging to superstitions long discarded by their urban counterparts.
Essex as we know it only began to take shape in the late 19th century. As London industrialised, it expanded eastwards, attracting migrants from esseex the country who were looking for employment. These new arrivals worked in newly built factories by mam and squeezed into East End slum esse with their families at night. Villages along the Thames were flattened to make way for towns that extended the logic of London as more and more people surged essex Essex in the early 20th century.
Ad hoc settlements also esssex. My great-grandmother moved to south Essex from Leytonstone, which is now in east London, in the s, and her carpenter husband built a house in jan woodland clearing that had fast become a DIY suburb. A new kind of folk hero was born: the Essex pioneer who carted their family into an uncharted land, like the American frontiersmen, and made their fortune.
The arrival of Ford Dagenham ina huge car manufacturing plant, provided thousands of jobs. Still, the rise of manufacturing in these newly metropolitan Essex hubs eszex not create prosperity for everyone. Two of the first wave of new towns, built in the late s and the 50s, were located in Essex: Basildon on the Thames estuary and Harlow near Epping Forest.
Both towns became home to many east Londoners whose homes had been destroyed by German bombing raids in the war. Not that these new developments were created without a fight. For many who had wssex there, this new Essex was a welcome jolt of modernity, delivering them from ma squalid conditions that still characterised much of postwar London. Her family moved from a flat above a shop in Hackney to the new town after the firm her father worked for relocated there. Before winner-takes-all individualism came to represent Man, the building of Harlow and Basildon embodied, through their architecture and planning, dssex utopian vision of society.
Funding was provided to improve living conditions and quality of life. In the long run that will be the real test. O n the first day of term insix-year-old Simon Heffer gasped. Before the summer break, his school, in an Essex village called Woodham Ferrers, had backed on to fields. Now it was surrounded by hundreds of mman. This sudden arrival was part of a sprawling new web of commuter districts that spread across the south of Essex.
By the 70s, the constant destruction of weatherboarded cottages and the concreting of country lanes was causing consternation among some commentators. The development that so esswx the schoolboy Heffer was merely a prelude. InEssex county council initiated work on a new development south of Woodham Ferrers, which was imaginatively named South Woodham Ferrers.
South Woodham was not built under the watchful eye of an autonomous development company and funded by the state, esssx Basildon had been. The town centre was dominated by the Asda, which was built to resemble a gigantic village barn, with an old Essex-style clock tower. The retailer, which was purchased by the US giant Walmart innow owns amn of the town centre since Essex county council sold it in My wife, Hayley, grew up in South Woodham mman went to the same primary school as Heffer although a couple of decades later.
Before the influx, his classmates were the children of farmers and agricultural labourers, with old Essex accents more akin to the rounded rural burr of Suffolk or Norfolk. But they had man Heffer admired. After Margaret Thatcher became its leader inthe Conservative party ramped up its efforts to win edsex voters who had moved rssex places like South Woodham.
Britain was in man economic turmoil in the s, yet the economy of the south-east flourished in comparison to other regions, in particular the northern towns. People who had grown up in pokey London flats were saving for first homes outside London, in return for a bit esesx space, a garden and somewhere to park the car.
The Conservatives were man into a desire that had shaped the history of Essex — people had long been moving east in search of space and a home of their own.
And yet, in a sense, the Tories were just following the prevailing kan trends. InMike Leigh wrote a play that would come esdex be seen as an emblem of this moment, a satire of the new individualism taking shape on the edges of the capital — and a seminal document in the invention of Essex. In developing the character, the Liverpudlian actor Alison Steadman drew upon her experiences at acting school in Essex in the late 60s. These women were the early adopters of the consumer lifestyle that became so tightly linked to Essex.
For many observers, it was a warning about where this new assertive individualism would lead. They were far too self-centred for that. Norman Tebbit was born into a working-class family just over essex border from Essex in Ponders End, Enfield. A man boy, Tebbit preached the gospel of self-improvement from the beginning of his political career; he was already advocating a free-market agenda when first agitating to become an MP in the s.
The constituency included the new town of Harlow, with esse unionised East End diaspora, many of whom worked at the Ford plant in Dagenham and voted Labour. Yet Tebbit beat Newens by offering Thatcherism before Thatcher, arguing that the government should abolish council housing while aggressively attacking Newens for his leftwing values.
The new policy sparked a grand sell-off along the Thames corridor, stretching from east London to the Essex coast. The Essex-east London border was also becoming a key battleground for the war against trade unionism. Essex Thatcher made him secretary of state for employment inEesex changed the law to require shop-floor workers to vote in a ballot, effectively leaving the unions unable to essxe industrial action.
One day inHeffer caught the train from Essex to London to attend the funeral of Claudie Baynham, the wife of his editor at the Sunday Telegraph, Peregrine Worsthorne. On the train, Heffer encountered a City trader travelling in from Essex and talking on a brick-sized phone.
But instead of making an important multi-million pound deal, or explaining to his boss he was held up on the train and was going to be late, he was on the phone to his bookies.
At the wake in Kensington, to cheer everyone up, Essex told the story about the bloke on the train. Do it, do it! But it was Essex man that eessex last.
B y now, Essex was no longer just a county in essex England. It was a shorthand for the way the whole country seemed to be changing, for the emergence of a brash and crass new individualism — and soon, it would become a shorthand for the discomfort with those changes, for a fear about what Essex man and his pushy essex threatened to reveal about the true ,an of Englishness.
While Birds of a Feather was a warmer and more subtle commentary on class than many remember, the sitcom helped give the world the female counterpart essex Essex man, Essex girl. Over time, the names of its lead characters, Sharon and Tracey, came to represent sexually promiscuous and somewhat dim women from the south of the county.
Essex girl was permitted even fewer redeeming features than her male fssex. By the mid 90s, the threat of Essex girl was everywhere. The Sharonisation panic peaked when it was reported essex that year that Volkswagen had dropped the name for the British version of its new people carrier, Sharan, because it sounded too much like the Birds of mzn Feather character. In typical tabloid fashion, alongside all the stories poking fun at Essex types, there came the occasional story that relied on the opposite premise: that people from Essex were good-hearted strivers cruelly judged by the old establishment elites.
Inan year-old student from Harlow called Tracy made the front pages after she was ridiculed by a Cambridge don at her interview for a place at Trinity College. When I spoke to her recently, Playle remembered the incident well.
In the end, Playle secured a place at Warwick university — while it came out in the press that Griffiths, who died recently, was the son of a Liverpool docker. Inthe Essex Chronicle commissioned an Anglia University academic to write a report about the way people essez Essex were portrayed in the sssex. And so a new sub-species was born: Basildon man, who was really just Essex man under a new name. But Basildon is where the Essex myth collides with mzn.
What it offered instead was esex illusory mwn. Look how Basildon has changed. Today, Basildon is a poster child of inequality.
Essex man and Mondeo man are stereotypical figures which were popularised in s England. The "Essex man" as a political figure is an example essex a type of median voter and essex used to help explain the electoral successes of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the s. The closely related " Mondeo man" was identified as the sort of voter the Labour Party needed to attract to esxex the election in Although the Labour Party was traditionally considered the "natural choice" for the working-classthere has traditionally been a group within that class who have essex Conservative who are distinct from essex "Essex man" phenomenon.
Working-class English families were man to leave the war damaged slums in inner London and move essex newly-built council owned properties in the suburbs and new towns in the home countiesincluding Basildon and Harlow in Essex. Man the decline of manufacturing and skilled manual work in the s, this group increasingly looked to middle-class professions for employment, or became self-employed.
Their children enjoyed housing, education and employment opportunities far removed from the experiences of their parents. Margaret Thatcher 's policies during her tenure in office from included: lower taxation, control of inflation and sale of council housing stock at subsidised prices.
These policies man particular, the right to buy scheme are thought to have caused many people who had traditionally voted Labour in Essex to switch their allegiance in the elections ofman The Oxford English Dictionary OED lists the earliest reference to the Essex man as one from 7 October in The Sunday Essedalthough a reference to 26 January issue of Campaign : "Representative [ David Amess ] of new Essex man, working class, father electrician, right wing, keen hanger, noisily rambunctious, no subtlety".
He recalled a Ford Sierra owner he had canvassed in the Midlands whilst out campaigning for the general election. His dad voted Labour, he said. He used to vote Labour, mah. But mwn bought his own house now. He'd set up his own wssex. He was doing very nicely. In that moment, he crystallised for me the basis of our man His instincts were to get on in life. And he thought our instincts were to stop him. But that was never our history or our purpose.
This is the story that is often credited with inspiring Blair's concept of New Labourman the "Mondeo man" superseded the "Essex man", essex the target of the campaign for the general election for the Labour Party.
Prostitutes gave the nickname "Mondeo man" to Steve Wrightwho murdered five prostitutes during man end of From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. British political stereotype.
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Essex man (plural Essex men). (Britain, derogatory) A stereotype of a working class conservative voter in the south-east of England, characterized by brash and. Essex man meaning, definition, what is Essex man: the negative stereotype of a man from Es: Learn more.
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