The late comedian Kenneth Horne, master of the double entendre, used to tell a joke about a town in London's commuter belt with a somewhat unfortunate name: "How to get rid of unsightly Staines – blow up the bridge and burn the cinema!"
Yesterday, the Surrey town's council took a different approach. In a bid to shake off decades of negative associations, Staines, best-known for its urban sprawl and Ali G, has officially changed its name to the much more genteel Staines-upon-Thames.
But not everybody is happy about it. Critics have called the name change "pointless" and "pretentious".
A handful of protesters turned up at celebrations to mark the switch, dressed as the town's most famous (fictional) resident, Ali G – whose association with Staines since the late 1990s has, allegedly, done more to tarnish the town's reputation than anything else.
Sacha Baron Cohen's spoof rapper called Staines home and although he always demonstrated admirable civic pride, the 2002 film Ali G Indahouse referred to the town as "s***hole". One of Staines's real former residents, Richard Archer of the rock band Hard Fi, called it a "ghost town".
The grand plan was to re-brand the town based on its ancient roots as a Roman river-crossing on the way to London. The town was known as ad Pontes, "at the bridges", before becoming Staines. How the townsfolk responded when that name changed is, sadly, not recorded. But this time some of them are angry.
"It's pretty pointless," said Anne Damerell, of the Staines Town Society. "These suffixes are designed to distinguish one town from another but there isn't any other Staines."
Another bastion of resistance to the council's plan has been the local football team, Conference South stalwarts Staines Town FC. Neither the town society nor the football club will be changing their names.
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