Nearly 65 miles from London on the East Anglian coast, Frinton (population 5,500) is Essex's own Stepford, adhering to a chipper air of net-curtained respectability and yesteryear values. With six churches, no pub and a Bible-belt feel, Frinton was the town where the true blues could take solace in last weeks local elections: the Conservatives romped in with all three seats, Labour trailing behind even the independents. Frinton makes a career out of bucking national trends.
"The thing about Frinton is that it's very tidy and full of old people," says a former resident, Paul Carpenter, 26. Indeed, no appraisal of Frinton would be complete without mention of pensioners, who make up 51 per cent of the population. "Harwich for the Continent, Frinton for the incontinent" is the town's most famous epithet. Living in bungalows, retirement homes and low-rise apartment blocks, they supply a buttress of well-heeled villadom and the prevailing character of the town. A poster campaign aimed at attracting tourists in the late Seventies featured Southend with its funfair and Clacton with its pier, while Frinton was illustrated by a sedentary old woman next to a potted plant.
Eschewing the usual seaside theme of fun, the elderly have created a town of slow-paced tranquillity built on the word "discreet". You could even be forgiven for not realising the beach existed since, in the best traditions of British modesty, they don't like to make a fuss about it. Far more celebrated is the "greensward", a mile and a half of grassy borders stretching the length of the seafront. Meanwhile, the sand is hidden, as best it can be, behind two tiers of beach huts, vigorously regimented between equidistant breakwaters. Placards are placed every few yards, giving would-be hedonists their first taste of a long list of restrictions.
Frinton's local legislation is legendary, enthusiastically tackling all areas of non-conformity. There are by-laws to prevent radios on the beach, picnics on the greensward, food being sold within 200 yards of the seafront, walking about shirtless, hanging washing out on a Sunday afternoon and parking cars facing on-coming traffic.
This Singaporean joy in social order shows no signs of waning. "We've got laws to keep things the way we like them," comes not from a crusty colonel or blue-rinser but a twentysomething in the library. That is the surprising thing about Frinton: its Enid Blyton wholesomeness and golden- oldie mindset have filtered through the whole population. Comb the streets, search the beach, hang out on the greensward and you will not find one plaid-clad teenager reeking attitude. "Disaffected youth is not a term Frinton knows," says Paul Carpenter.
Two women sporting shaved heads and Lycra, who look like they were young once, turn out to be day-trippers from London and as baffled as I am. "I've seen a couple of arms with tattoos," says one, "but that's the nearest they've got to life." Eventually, I find Sarah, a meek 16- year-old. "If you want excitement, you get out," she says.
Peace and quiet come at a price, however: a bungalow inside Frinton gates costs £75,000 - £7,000 more than one in an outlying village and £15,000 more than in downmarket Clacton. The west side of town carries the most social clout.
Locals and newcomers alike revel in Frinton's old-fashioned cach, a relic from the time the town, which grew rapidly in the Twenties, was visited by Wallis Simpson, Winston Churchill and Princess Margaret. Margaret Thatcher used to travel up especially to buy her shoes."Places like Croydon have high streets," sniffs one local "We have Connaught Avenue."
Boots and a few banks provide the only corporate names among thriving independent small shops used by people with wicker baskets. The launderette is the Jolly Useful Launderette, the gift shop is Nice Things and the chippy is Nice Fish and Chips.
The chip shop was the site, three years ago, of the town's last great battle of polite hostility, many locals having mixed feelings whether a chip shop was exactly what Frinton needed. The council demanded many modifications until the finished restaurant looked more like a tea shop than a fast-food joint. Its owner, Billy Jones, who moved into the town 12 years ago, has since consolidated with a pizza outlet further along the avenue. Again there was a certain amount of protest. "They said that an open front would spoil the character; but once I promised that I wouldn't be selling candy floss outside, they were all right. Candy floss is the lowest of the low in Frinton terms."
It's pretty, it's clean, it's tedious, and the residents love it. In an age of inner-city tension and teeny-crime, Frinton is what many people want: a homogenous white middle-classness, whose members commute daily to provincial law firms or make the arduous journey to the City's banking institutions.
"Crime is no problem whatsoever," says PC Bray, of Walton Police Station (Frinton's own station having closed in the Eighties through under-use)."I'd like to live there myself," he says, wistfully. There may be nothing to do, runs the local philosophy, but at least you don't have to worry about your car being broken into while you're not doing it.
"You don't need to be constantly stimulated, surely?" says Peter, a builder in his fifties, who grew up in the town and can remember both donkey rides and marching bands being hounded out. We are sitting in the Glencoe Hotel, Frinton's only free house (the Grand Hotel and Frinton Lodge having both been converted into old people's homes).
Peter's friend, David, butts in, passionate about the place. "Best move of my life," he sighs, having come up from Romford a year ago. Doesn't he find the atmosphere a little oppressive? "No, no, we all mix in together."
This is true to a point. The friendliness of local shopkeepers verges on the creepy; this level of warmth is usually only encountered from recruiting cultists. Even the ultra-pukka tennis club, with its oiled wood smell of Empire, welcomes me: "Look around. Make yourself at home." Yet stories abound of the first Asian family moving in 10 years ago and four houses in the same street being put on the market a week later. David looks shocked. "No, no. We've got coloured families here, they're fine," he protests. "It's just gays I don't like." "Gays are all right," chorus Peter and landlady Margaret. "What's wrong with gays?" David looks unconvinced but keeps quiet.
Underlying all the order is a tangible sense of community responsibility: no one in Frinton has to be reminded to cut their hedge. In fact, the only thing that raises local hackles is the number of day-trippers who come in and use the beach and the greensward without spending any money in the local shops. Frinton is inured to its bad press, defensive about its contentment, smug about its out-of-kilter feel. No one wants a pub, no one wants a rave, everything's just all right the way it is and that's the way it will stay, thank you.
"I've lived here all my life and it hasn't really changed," says Peter. "It's just other places have changed around it."Reuse content