Northampton is the latest UK town to suffer from an unflattering TV depiction

Channel 4's new drama Not Safe For Work is about to undo Northampton's tourism office's hard work

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The Independent Culture

Pity the staff at Northampton’s tourism office (yes, there is one), because Channel 4’s new drama Not Safe For Work is about to undo all their hard work. Fresh Meat’s Zawe Ashton stars as Katherine, a London-based civil servant who is horrified to discover she’s being transferred to the Northamptonshire town, described in the show as “a dumping ground for the worst staff from every team, like evolution in reverse. Like Australia, but not as racist.” On arrival, she finds her new home consists mostly of overcast skies, anonymous industrial estates and under-served bus stops.

Northampton is just the latest UK town to suffer from an unflattering TV depiction. The grim crime drama Happy Valley derived that ironic title from its West Yorkshire setting. and it was a running joke on Da Ali G Show that Sacha Baron Cohen’s ghetto poseur actually hailed from the boring commuter town of Staines. But perhaps nowhere got it quite as bad as Slough did in The Office. Admittedly the Berkshire town already had an unglamorous reputation, thanks to some ugly post-war architecture and that Betjeman poem, but The Office’s success spread this reputation around the world. It was perhaps in an attempt to escape the association that Crossbow House, the building which stands in for Wernham Hogg on the show was eventually demolished in 2013.

TV doesn’t always work against the regional tourist offices, however. No tourism brochure would ever dare make a location appear as idyllic as some shows do, for fear of breaching trading standards guidelines. So picturesque did Dorset’s Jurassic Coast and bluebell woods appear in Broadchurch, that prospective visitors were able to overlook the dead bodies in the background. Yet such depictions don’t necessarily appease local residents. Four years into the filming of Cornwall-set Martin Clunes series Doc Martin, villagers in Port Isaac began to complain about how the influx of tourism had ruined their peace. It is precisely the all too-bucolic depiction of country life on BBC’s Countryfile which irritates real farmers, according to irate tweets using the hashtags #Townfile and #Countryfool. “Some farmers feel that the real farming issues and the struggles they are facing are not presented,” said the Farmers Guardian’s head of news, Ben Briggs. “It’s almost as if they take a London-centric view.”

Perhaps the real insult television pays the regions is neither the unfair unflattering depictions nor the absurdly flattering ones, but the lack of any attempt at fully-rounded realism. Since TV is mostly produced by metropolitan types, residing in London or Manchester, only these big cities are depicted regularly enough to produce a full picture. In the absence of a variety of alternative perspectives, television’s lying cameras can make a heaven or hell of anywhere. Something to bear in mind if you find yourself at home, enviously (or smugly) watching the Glastonbury coverage over the weekend.

The censors have lost the plot

Once upon a time swearing on live television was considered pretty shocking. The Sex Pistols’ use of expletives on a 1976 episode of the Today show ultimately cost presenter Billy Grundy his career and Shaun Ryder’s sweary TFI Friday interview resulted in a Channel 4-wide ban on him appearing live. That era ended for good this week, when 66-year-old, mild-mannered cardigan-wearer Alan Titchmarsh was caught out effing and blinding during a gardening chat on BBC Breakfast. Well, sort of. He referred to the practice of double-digging to control weeds by its alternate name, ‘bastard trenching’, prompting a subsequent apology from presenter Louise Minchin. If this is what now passes for offensive language, real rock ’n’ roll rebels will have to find some other way to alienate Middle England.

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