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 councillors took a different approach. In an effort to shake off decades of negative associations, Staines, best known for urban sprawl and Ali G, officially changed its name to the more genteel Staines-upon-Thames.
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.
"There is no doubt that the name Staines lends itself readily to humour," said Spelthorne borough councillor Colin Davis, who has spearheaded the name change. "We are actually a green and leafy town, with lots of old buildings and a beautiful Thames frontage. Then Ali G came along and there was a lot of negativity."
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 a "s***hole". One of Staines real former residents, Richard Archer of the rock band Hard-Fi, called it a "ghost town". Cllr Davis and representatives from local businesses said such negative perceptions might be driving down property prices and keeping business away.
The grand plan was to re-brand the town based on its ancient roots as a Roman river-crossing on the road 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. This time, however, some of them are angry.
"It's pretty pointless," said Anne Damerell, secretary 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 has been the local football team, Staines Town FC. Far from being embarrassed by Ali G, the club's supporters call themselves the "Staines Massive".
Neither the town society nor the football club will be changing their names.
Residents of other towns with unfortunate names wear them as a badge of honour. In Crapstone in Devon, locals organise an annual festival, casually called Crapfest.
Staines-upon-Thames could also learn a thing or two from the stony resolve of the good folk of Shitterton, Dorset. Fed up with sniggering tourists stealing their sign, they decided to replace it with a heavy stone version. "We just wanted to make a sign that was less portable, really," said Eddie Butterfield, Shitterton's blacksmith and craftsman.
Back in Staines-upon-Thames, some have noted that the new name is actually more open to mockery. "It sounds like an oil slick," one resident said.