Our Friends In The North
Being a Londoner, this blog inevitably gets Londoncentric, but I have a great affinity with the North. Londoners trot out lazy, obvious prejudices about much of the North, forgetting that it was the great Victorian driver of international commerce, through industries like wool, shipbuilding, steel, coal and china. Every major city had grand civic buildings constructed to reveal their social standing to all visitors.
The tragedy is in seeing the squandering of these riches, either through neglect by centralised government, or through the planned obsolescence favoured by Margaret Thatcher. If you want to see some of the wonderful buildings that were lost, check out Gavin Stamp’s astonishing ‘Lost Victorian Britain’.
Northerners, it was noted, were blunt, no-nonsense and honest. They liked their food solid and their homes spotless. They had a dark, dry wit and a natural warmth. They were wealthy and poor and helped each other according to socialist principles. Southerners saw them as shiftless layabouts, thieves, drunks. It didn’t help that Liverpool and Newcastle did little to discourage the stereotypes and turned their cities into bear-pits of cheap booze and bad behaviour.
Northerners have long tempered their humour with a light-hearted attitude to sex, death and illness. Writers like Alan Bennett, Victoria Wood, Bill Tidy, Keith Waterhouse, Peter Tinniswood and David Nobbs have a linguistic adroitness that marries the subjects.
Les Dawson on women: ‘My wife has run off with the man next door. I’ll really miss him.’
Jenny Eclair on booze: ‘Some men are funny about women drinking. If we didn’t get pissed you’d never get a shag.’
Ena Sharples in Coronation Street: ‘Hospitals are always serving boiled fruit. It’s alright for them as like it. Me, I like summat that has looked over a wall.’
Julie Walters on shopping: ‘I’ve scoured this store from top to bottom and can I find a side-winding thermal body-belt? Can I buffalo.’
So, your starter pack on the North should include:
‘Northerners: Portrait of a No-Nonsense People’ by Sefton Samuels
‘The Wit & Widsom of the North’ by Rosemary Jarski
‘Up North: Travels Beyond the Watford Gap’ by Charles Jennings
For reading Northern humour in fiction, try ‘Billy Liar’ by Keith Waterhouse, ‘I Didn’t Know You Cared’ by Peter Tinniswood and ‘The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin’ by David Nobbs, whose biography ‘I Didn’t Get Where I Am Today’ is a joy.