Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Almost Educating Joey Essex

Joey gets glacial: Copyright Lime Pictures
Enjoyed watching Educating Joey Essex where the former Towie star was in Patagonia on an "Essex-pedition." Now it's quite possible that Joey secretly has an Oxbridge degree, but assuming his lack of general knowledge is genuine, it's surprising what a good travel show presenter he makes. Essex knows so little about everything, that upon finding out a kernel of knowledge his enthusiasm is utterly infectious. The show began with a trip to Billingsgate where Joey mugged up on Patagonian fish with his Uncle, who declared knowingly: "Salmon is the Essex bird of fish, while the Bermondsey bird is more of a trout."

Some of the more memorable moments included Joey asking if a glacier was a woman, his thinking that penguins' beaks are made of wood and his wilderness instructor Lolo saying, "If I left him out here alone he'd survive for about an hour, he'd be eaten by a penguin or something." Equally amusing was Joey's bemusement that there are places in the world where there is no mobile single, his terror at diving into icy water where he might be eaten by a sea lion and the Chileans' utter bafflement that this man is a TV star in England. Also rather enjoyed the listing of all exotic destinations by their distance from Chigwell. Michael Palin look out.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Russell Brand and the People's Front of Judea

Grays' most famous son Russell Brand has been getting a bit of grief from the Sun for supporting the New Era estate tenants, under threat of being priced out of their homes, while paying £76k a year to a dodgy landlord himself. #TheSunLogic has now gone viral with lots of people pointing out that it's hardly fair to attack him for supporting a campaign against profiteering, tax-dodging landlords because he pays rent to some of them himself. As he points out on The Trews, he simply pays his rent to an estate agent ("it's not Rigsby!") and has no idea about his landlord's tax practices. And it's surely not wise for the Sun to take on an Essex Man armed with his native wit and well-capable of satirising Rupert Murdoch. As Brand says: "The Sun must have massive resources and what they've come up with is 'his landlord don't pay tax': It's like that bit in Life of Brian when the Roman Garrison goes into the People's Front of Judea's flat and comes out with one spoon!"

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Thurrock: what a load of rubbish

ITV's Countrywise featured Thurrock Thameside Nature Park this week. For 50 years barges dumped London's rubbish there. There's 28 metres of rubbish still rotting away beneath the surface, but now the land has been reclaimed and is covered in grasses and wildlife, such as birds, newts, insects and spiders. Capping the landfill involved putting a layer of sail or chalk, then a rubber membrane to prevent the methane escaping, and more chalk and soil. Looking at it now, you'd never know that part of Thurrock is literally a load of rubbish. Situated between East Tilbury and Stanford-le-Hope the park now has a visitor centre and is great for bird and ship watching and views over the superbly-named Mucking Flats SSSI.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

I'm A Celebrity Get Me Back to Essex

Reality TV is still being dominated by characters from God's own county. Pixie Lott has done well on Strictly while Mark Wright is proving quite a charmer on the dance floor, and like many ex-footballers, is proving quite good at dancing. While Towie's  Gemma Collins has got more press headlines than the rest of the celebs put together after walking out on I'm A Celebrity. Viewers have been entertained by her terror of helicopters ("I've cracked at the first hurdle but it's like the turtle and the slug or the horse and rabbit or whatever it is, the slug has won in the end") colourful descriptions of her bowel movements, her self-diagnosis of malaria, and the admission that her ideal man is the "old school" Ray Winstone type (now there's a perfect Essex match). She also announced that she's never returning to Australia and prefers the forests of Essex where there are no wild animals. She's apologised for causing any "agg" and is now looking forward to surviving the jungle of Brentwood High Street and glamping in Epping Forest.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

California comes to Hornchurch

Good piece in the Guardian on Saturday about the fact the Rom skatepark in Hornchurch has become Europe's first listed skatepark. Iain Borden makes a convincing case for Essex's very own Moonscape. He first skated on it in 1978 and writes: "All around were the Fords, repair shops and semi-detached houses of Hornchurch. But I didn’t see them. For this wonderful moment, in my head, I was in California." And it can't be often California and Hornchurch are linked in the same sentence…

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Wilko lives!

Fantastic news that Wilko Johnson, having been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer 18 months ago and told he had just ten months to live, is now free of the disease. Wilko's had some radical surgery, having his tumour ("the size of a baby, man") removed, and he is now cancer-free. The former Doctor Feelgood legend revealed the news while picking up a Q Icon award and making a very funny and moving speech. Wilko's outlook has also had something to do with his beating death. He was always positive and decided to give life one last scattergun solo, producing Going Back Home a great album with Roger Daltrey in the process. Check out his biography Looking Back at Me too for the stories of a great Essex man. I'm also proud to have included a Wilko live gig in Canvey Island in my book The Joy of Essex. He does it right.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Suits you, sir: Grayson takes on the Default Male

Enjoyed a very entertaining performance from Grayson Perry in conversation with Miranda Sawyer at the Royal Institution of Great Britain last night. Perry was discussing his essay on the “Default Male” (ie middle aged white men in suits) in the current issue of the New Statesman, which he guest edited. Perry is certainly very perceptive in his take on how the suit denotes authority and seriousness, but is also a way of attaining invisibility and concealing how Default Man's values dominate society.

Grayson was certainly not in a suit himself, as he was wearing orange platform shoes with pink tights and one of his ‘Bo Peep’ dresses designed by St Martin’s School of Art Students. He spoke about growing up in Chelmsford and how his Dad left at four, followed by a bad relationship with his step-dad and mentioned the perpetual unease of an Essex Man like himself when confronted with Default Males in suits, thinking, “I shouldn’t be here I’m just a geezer!”

Indeed, it was nice to hear Perry’s accent frequently veer into familiar Essex glottal stops. A couple of years ago he confessed: ““I have a thick crust of Islington but if you cut me, you find Essex there. The tone of my taste decisions is often very Essex, but I put an Islington spin on them. That might be the deciding fact in my entire oeuvre.”

Other confessions included the fact that he is a “domestic patriarch” in his home, not doing as many chores as he should, and that when he went cycling, he discovered that he was “a very competitive Alpha Male.” He was also very funny about being both a personality and an artist. When art people start complaining that he’s too accessible, he says, “I have to remind them they’re in the leisure business!” As A A Gill quipped, “Let’s make Grayson Perry King and Queen of England.”

Monday, 13 October 2014

Made in Dagenham: the musical

Our extended family certainly enjoyed Made in Dagenham at the Adelphi Theatre on Saturday night. The show sticks fairly closely to the film's plot about "the Essex Girls who changed the world", but the songs, such as the sixties-pastiche of Everybody Out and Dagenham Girls are very catchy and encouragingly the Adelphi was sold out. The sets are striking too, with a house seen through the letters of Made in Dagenham and some imaginative car plant and sewing machine backdrops and a parody of Miss Saigon with a helicopter scene. Gemma Arterton does well in the lead role of Rita O'Grady, while Mark Hadfield and Sophie-Louise Dann excel as a dancing and singing Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle. Never thought I'd hear a West End musical referencing Warley and Dunton either. Loved the sexist 1960s cinema adverts shown at the end of the interval and in a nice spoof song about America there's a not to Billy Bragg with "We've for Route 66, you've got the A13…" One to celebrate with a trip to a Berni Inn.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Clacton stations

Rarely can Clacton have been subjected to such a media frenzy. The by-election caused by Douglas Carswell defecting to Ukip has seen unprecedented coverage of the Tendring Peninsula. The Daily Telegraph reported that street artist Banksy had been to Clacton and painted a mural of a group of pigeons holding banners telling a green migratory swallow to "Go back to Africa, keep off our worms"and "Migrants not welcome." Tendring and District Council didn't see the political joke though and promptly painted over the mural, saying they had received a complaint that it was "racist and offensive." Strange, as in Essex people usually know the value of money. By deleting the Banksy mural the council had lost the chance of flogging the mural to some metropolitan types for up to £400,000 or cashing in on a tourist boom of Banksy lovers.

Meanwhile Clacton featured again in the Evening Standard in Michael Collins' piece, "Don't sneer at the real England beyond the M25", concluding that Clacton housed "the original Essex Man and those native Londoners exiled from a capital they no longer recognise… It might be unfashionable but for the moment Clacton is in the spotlight and relevant."  And on Radio 4's Today this morning there was a long profile of the "frightened and fed up" in the constituency, taking in the poverty of Jaywick Sands and the affluence of Frinton, where one boutique owner, who had moved to Frinton from Buckhurst Hill, complained of "no-go areas" in Ilford. In today's Guardian John Harris visits Jaywick, writes about a Ukip meeting in Clacton that attracted 900 people and looks at the emotional appeal of Ukip's politics to voters who feel abandoned.

As I wrote in The Joy of Essex the Tendring Peninsula feels a very long way from London and its isolation is summed up the railway level crossing gates that shut Frinton off from the outside world. Poverty and lack of investment are the biggest problems rather than immigration and the EU, though Ukip's appeal is accentuated by the lack of authentic principled Labour politicians. But if Carswell does get elected as a Ukip MP we'll be hearing a lot more about this no-longer forgotten Essex seaside town.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

John Cooper Clarke: Essex is God's Own Country

Nice to see the Guardian's interview with punk poet John Cooper Clarke headlined with, "Essex is God's country" — a line not too dissimilar to the subtitle of my book The Joy of Essex. Despite that distinctive Mancunian lilt, Clarke has lived in Colchester for 25 years and says of his adopted county: "There's plenty of banter and friendliness… It's 50 minutes from London and 45 from Clacton-on-Sea so there's something for everybody really. Nice neighbours, keep themselves to themselves. One quibble you can't get meat and potatoes in fish and chip shops. All things considered though, Essex is God's county."

Monday, 29 September 2014

Harwich Radar Tower: No one likes us we don't care…

Essex has won the title for the least visited tourist attraction in Britain. The Independent reports that the Radar Tower at Harwich, known as Beacon Hill Fort, attracted a total of just six visitors last year. It was built to detect German E boats in World War Two. It's a not very attractive hexagonal lump of concrete, but does have 21-foot scanners and has been fully restored by the Harwich Society. Would like to offer a bit more background information, but I haven't been there either… Still, if you do fancy a visit click on the link.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Doctor Who in Essex

My new e-book Whovian Dad: Doctor Who, Fandom, Fatherhood and Whovian Family Values is now out, and there's quite a few references to Doctor Who in Essex. The final chapter is on my interview with Mark Campbell, author of Doctor Who: The Complete Guide, held at Loughton Library as part of the Essex Book Festival. We discussed some of the Essex connections in Doctor Who and Mark mentioned the Matt Smith episode The Lodger being set in Colchester, but filmed at Cardiff. The department store that the Doctor and Craig shop in is surely meant to be Williams and Griffin, which has a crashed Cyberman spacecraft underneath it, in case you didn't know. The same story reveals that Amy and Rory had gone to live in Colchester. 

Mark Campbell also revealed that one of his all-time favourite stories, Jon Pertwee’s Carnival of Monsters, was filmed on Tillingham Marshes. While in the 1964 William Hartnell story The Keys of Marinus, companion Ian Chesterton looks at the Tardis scanner showing the sandy planet of Marinus and declares: "Well, it doesn't look like Southend!" Another possible Essex reference is in the David Tennant story Planet of the Ood when the Doctor asks Donna Noble where she learnt to whistle and she answers, "up West Ham!' With so many Essex references in Doctor Who it would be no surprise to find that Trenzalore is a suburb of Basildon… Whovian Dad can be downloaded for £2.48 via the link above.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Clacton stations

Plenty about Clacton in the media today following the defection of local Conservative MP Douglas Carswell to UKIP. The seafront has been awash with TV journalists doing vox pops and today's Guardian editorial, headlined "Schism-on-Sea" describes Clacton as: "A failed North Sea resort area, parts of it synonymous with deprivation, inhabited by a mainly white population that has missed out on Greater London boom times, Clacton could have been designed as a prime Ukip target seat." Of course, the Tendring Peninsula was once more welcoming to European adventures, hence the famous joke, "Harwich for the continent, Frinton for the incontinent." Meanwhile the existing UKIP candidate in Clacton has been on Radio 4's Today refusing to stand down, which threatens to turn it all into a right old Essex bundle.

Friday, 8 August 2014

This is how the world will end in Essex — not with a bang but a Wimpy…

What is it about Essex and Wimpy restaurants? The brand was created by American Eddie Gold in 1934 and the first 'Wimpy Bar' was opened in the West End by Lyons in 1954. For a time they thrived as Britain's first only fast food restaurants. Indeed some of my childhood was mispent visiting the Wimpy in Brentwood High Street. But then McDonald's arrived in the 1980s and I'd assumed they'd all been closed down. Yet during my recent visit to Upminster I spotted the Wimpy there still prospering. A bit of a Life on Mars moment. I've also come across branches at Barking, Romford, Basildon, Grays, Colchester, Maldon, Witham, Wickford, Braintree and just about everywhere else in God's Own County. Wimpy Mania is something I first remarked upon in my book The Joy of Essex. The Benfleet Wimpy was even chosen as the site of a relaunch by new owners Famous Brands in 2007 featuring, somewhat improbably, Geoffrey Hayes of Rainbow dressed as Mr Wimpy. When Essex falls in love with something it remains incredibly loyal to the brand. In fact I'm sure there's a few Neolithic axehead shops still thriving in the backstreets of Grays…

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Good moos from Havering

Havering Council has made headlines on ITV and Radio London for using Red Poll cattle to graze the 215 acres of Bedfords Park. Apparently they're cheaper and more sustainable than employing humans to cut the grass and free up staff to work elsewhere. And all they need is a Red Bull for refreshment. The placid breed of cows help to preserve the park's 155 species of wildflowers, which suffer from traditional hay or grass cutting. The cattle are also less likely to disturb or kill mice, voles, amphibians and reptiles. Last year Havering used Suffolk Punch horses to clear woodland and it is now claiming to be London's greenest borough. Clearly a bovine triumph for the council's steer-ing comittee.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Tilbury meets Frankenstein

And talking of Tilbury, just discovered that Tilbury Fort gets a mention in Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. Frankenstein the scientist (the monster is never named) describes sailing from Rotterdam to England where: "The banks of the Thames presented a new scene; they were flat but fertile and almost every town was marked by the remembrance of some story. We saw Tilbury Fort and remembered the Spanish Armada…" Another monster literary triumph for Essex.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Tilbury: Are you Grimsby in disguise?

Tilbury is doubling  as Grimsby says a report on Sacha Baron Cohen's new film Grimsby in the Guardian. Tilbury might seem a bit run-down and once had what the Sun termed "the hardest pub in Britain", but at least it's not as bad as Grimsby it seems. Tilbury had to have a makeover to increase its Grimsbyness, with extra litter, graffiti and burned types being added.

Nice quote from Tilbury resident Bethany Casey, 19, in the Thurrock Gazette upon finding all the shops now had 'Grimsby' written on them: "I thought I was drunk. I tried to get to the off-licence and thought ‘what’s going on here?’ so I went to the other one further down and noticed a run-down park had sprung up – but I didn’t think anything of it because, if they did put a new park in Tilbury, it would get wrecked straight away.”

Still, I'm sure Grimsby doesn't have any hidden jewels among the containers like Tilbury, such as the superb defences of the thoroughly recommended Tilbury Fort (pictured) or Coalhouse Fort, the Bata building or the famous port terminal where generations of immigr
ants first arrived in Britain…

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

We are sailing at Upminster Windmill

Just spent a very enjoyable Sunday afternoon at Upminster Windmill. Built in 1803 the windmill is one of the best-preserved in the country and is a striking relic of 19th Century Essex. The Friends of Upminster Windmill conducted a free and very illuminating tour up and down the windmill's narrow stairs. 

We learned how hard the miller had to work climbing the stairs around 30 times a day and also what an advanced piece of technology it was. The interlocking giant cogs that turn the quern stones that grind the flour are fascinating, as are the beams, pulleys, wooden hoppers and massive sails. The best white flour had to ground seven times, though the coarser and cheaper wholemeal flour was actually healthier, we now know.

We started off in the cap, that still rotates. From the small windows you can see the City skyline and the more modern wind turbines of Dagenham. The mill was run by the Abraham family and one of the fascinating human aspects is the Victorian graffitti left by their 16 year old daughter on the mill's machinery.

The windmill ceased production in 1934 and then became derelict, with the council demolishing the outbuildings in 1960. It was only the dedication of the Friends of Upminster Windmill that saved it and allowed the windmill to be restored and opened to the public in 1967. 

Several buildings once stood by the mill and the Friends of Upminster Windmill have undertaken some fascinating excavations. We were guided round the cellars of the miller's house, demolished in the 1960s. An ornate blue china floral lavatory basin is one of the star finds.The foundations of the workers' house, and the stables have also been rediscovered, giving an impression of just what a thriving industry this once was. All very Time Team.

All this was followed by tea and cake in the Victorian chapel opposite in St Mary's Lane, which is also worth visiting. If you want to step back to a time when Upminster was an agricultural village then this is a great afternbon out. Click on the link for open day dates and membership details.
The basement of the miller's house

Monday, 7 July 2014

Essex c'est magnifique

“Essex has never looked nicer,” declared the ITV co-commentator as Le Tour De France moved through Essex, before he then eulogised about the “ripening fields full of wheat and barley.” Indeed, ITV’s coverage was one long travelogue for Essex.

Every person in Saffron Walden appeared to be on the streets and its thatched houses, beams and yellow cottages can rarely have looked finer. The helicopter camera gave us great aerial views of Audley End and a long extended advert for Felsted School, where four of Oliver Cromwell’s sons attended and girls were only allowed in the Sixth Form in 1970.

The commentators seemed very keen on churches, enthusing about St Mary’s Church in Saffron Walden (the largest church in Essex), William the Red granting St Michael’s to Great Sampford, and enjoying the tile and lead roof of St Mary’s in Radwinter.

It was great to see a giant Essex flag as the riders entered Chelmsford and credit to the farmer in Rayne who managed to etch “Rayne Welcomes TDF” on his field. We even had the rare sight of a prang on an Essex road without the threat of fisticuffs, as two of the riders at the back had a minor collision but just carried on cycling.

“And the riders continuing their pastoral journey cross Essex,” enthused the commentator as the race neared Epping Forest. The golden fields and hedgerows of Essex looked fantastic and the organisers must have been impressed by the turnout. Not so much Le Grand Depart as Le See Ya, Mate. Never mind Yorkshire, this was a great day for Essex.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Le Tour de Essex

Good to see that Essex is finally being recognised as a world-class sporting venue. The Tour De France comes through God's own county on July 7. It will certainly prove to TV viewers that Essex has lots of nice country lanes to offer in addition to leopardskin and sticks to the prettier parts of Essex, taking in Saffron Waldon, Rayne, Felsted, Chelmsford and Epping. All very scenic, particularly when the four-wheel drives are off the roads, but my mischievous side would like to see Le Tour tackle some grittier Essex roads. Perhaps the subways and avenues of Harlow or maybe have the cyclists riding through the Festival Leisure Park aka Bas Vegas and then whizzing round the Hollywood-style Basildon sign on the A13 before reaching London and taking on the East Ham and Barking by-pass and the East India Dock Road… or failing that a nice jaunt down the Southend Arterial.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Towie told to folk off in Leigh

Just read a very entertaining piece by the columnist, playwright and actor Sadie Hasler on Towie applying to film at the Leigh Folk Festival. She wasn't too keen to judge by lines like these… "So when I heard that the dimwitted clothes-horses off TOWIE planned to stage a day trip, a diarrhoeic diaspora to film with the Folkies, I got a bit riled. BOG OFF, YOU BOTOX-CLOGGED NUMBSKULLS."

She is at one point almost nice about Joey Essex writing: "I know I sound a bit harsh. I’m sure they’re not all completely deplorable deep down. Some of them are probably even a bit alright. I hear ‘Joey Essex’ in particular is quite cute and a bit heartbreaking. But by god’s great balls I would wrestle him to the death in a vat of cold beans to wrest my county’s name from his moniker for the greater good."

Not sure if the producers of Towie will want to take her up on the cold bean offer, though it sounds like good TV. Hasler ends her column with the news that Towie were denied access to the Leigh Folk Festival and ends by making a moving plea in defence of non-stereotypical Essex: "The no is important. Essex gets maligned and misrepresented enough. Essex gets taken over by lots of forces we can’t control, quite often by the wearying potency of television, and it’s important to defend and exercise what power we have when we can. We are not the tired old tripe, the blinkered lazy stereotype. We are not the shit on the box. We are not that Essex. No." To read her complete uncensored column click on the link.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Jamie on not sounding like a nob

Interesting interview with Jamie Oliver in the Observer, including the revelation that he's now worth a stonking £225 million. No interview with Oliver can occur without a mention of Essex, of course. Writer Carole Cadwalladr describes him as, "recognisably still the fresh-faced, mop-topped Essex boy with a lisp and a habit of babbling words" and that in the US "even Oliver's cheery Essex boy charm couldn't make much headway. There's also a recognisably Essex sentiment from Oliver himself: "He's also, as he tells me later, 'a very strange brand, a celebrity disruptive force'. Though moments later, he says: 'It's a really weird thing to try to convey without sounding like a nob'." And perhaps that is part of Oliver's success. Money is ok is Essex but it's also very important to be down to earth and even when trying to change the nation's diet, not sound like nob. There's a lesson for us all there.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Made in Dagenham: The Musical

Back in 1968 the chances of the word Dagenham being up in lights at a West End theatre would have seemed as remote as West Ham not always having three players in the England side. But the relentless march of Essex across the cultural panorama continues with Made In Dagenham: The Musical at the Adelphi Theatre, based on the successful film. It opens on October 9, is directed by Rupert Goold and stars Gemma Arterton. The website already has a recording of Everybody Out, a nice combination of sixties-style music and Gemma's best glottal stops. The show makes much of the Essex link, with the trailer announcing "Meet the Essex girls who changed the world…" and introducing the plot as "Essex, 1968" rather than London. I'm looking forward to booking my tickets. Click on the link for details. Yesterday's industrial disputes are now the musicals of tomorrow. It can only be a few years before another Essex striker makes it to the West End and we have Bob Crow: The Musical…

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Gaius in Harlow

And thanks to Richard Wilson for sending my daughters two signed pictures of himself as Gaius in Merlin following our meeting in Harlow. What a gent…

Sunday, 25 May 2014

One foot in Harlow with Richard Wilson

Spent a very pleasurably day in Harlow on Friday being interviewed by the great Richard Wilson for his new ITV series Going For a Drive With Richard Wilson, on air this autumn. In the show Wilson drives classic cars around the UK following the old Shell guides for motorists. He’s now come to film in Essex and after trips to Saffron Walden and Colchester he arrived in Harlow in a Jaguar. A couple of chancers from Yates Wine Lodge asked if they could sit in the driving seat, only to be rebuffed by the TV crew on insurance grounds. A very Essex moment

Richard interviewed the man who runs the pet shop market stall (pictured) and then we sat on a bench talking about my book The Joy of Essex. We discussed the history of Harlow mentioning the UK’s first tower block The Lawn and the impressive collection of highbrow sculptures by the likes of Henry Moore, before moving on to the history of the Essex Man stereotype and why Essex, with its castles, Roman walls, forts and bigger coastline than Cornwall should be on many more tourist itineraries.

As we filmed Wilson revealed that the one bit of advice he gives all actors is “listen”. We also got on to Doctor Who when I congratulated him on his role as a doctor in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. He revealed that he’s friends with David Tennant, who is a real fan because his house is full of old dvds of Doctor Who, and that he knows Peter Capaldi too and he’s also a real fan of the show. Wilson dealt with several requests for pictures with Harlow locals with much charm and even offered to send my daughters a picture (and when they realised he’s Gaius in Merlin they were truly impressed.) Talking about Essex and Doctor Who in one afternoon. Doesn’t get any better than this.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Is Essex Man now Ukip Man?

Plenty of Essex headlines generated by Ukip’s gains in Basildon, Castle Point and Southend. “Has Essex Man become Ukip Man?” asked the BBC’s Nick Robinson; the Evening Standard’s headline read, “Essex Man is backing Ukip.” Nigel Farage was busy being snapped drinking a pint of IPA in Benfleet, the BBC ran a vox pop in Basildon and numerous TV reporters besieged the new towns.

The first thing to say is that Essex is not one homogenous area and that Ukip has done relatively well in traditional East End overspill areas. While I don’t in any way agree with Ukip’s policies – based on exaggeration of immigration figures, Europhobia and benefits myths — it’s not hard to see why they might appeal to disillusioned and suffering people in Estuary Essex.

In Essex they don’t like pomposity or anyone selling them a pup. The MPs’ expenses scandal fuelled people’s disillusion, as has Labour’s timidity in standing up to the banking industry and the coalition’s austerity policies. In my book The Joy of Essex Harlow’s MP Robert Halfon told me of his Essex-tailored manifesto, which made it very clear he wasn’t on the take and it seemed to work with his constituents: “I do NOT claim for a second home, as I have only one home in Harlow. I do NOT employ a relative. I do NOT claim for a newspaper allowance. I do NOT claim for first class train travel. I do NOT claim a large food allowance.” 

Essex Man and Woman likes to think of themselves as anti-establishment and perhaps part of Ukip’s appeal is the fact that Nigel Farage keeps insisting they’re not spin doctored and have real people saying off-message things. At the other end of the Essex political spectrum, the late Bob Crow earned respect for simply saying what he meant in an on-message age.

And Essex Man likes to think politicians have experience of the real world, yet too many politicians, having spent their entire lives at Westminster, look like they couldn’t could run a market stall in Harlow or Basildon or be decent company in the pub. Both Labour and the Conservatives could learn from this if they want to get their seats back.