The Glory of the Smelly Old Codger
For all the talk about giving Yorkshire
a new image, there something endearing about the old 'un.
Television has never really had much time
for the suave sophisticated northerner. We're not supposed
to be educated and urbane. In our Sunday best we're blunt
moody young aristoes who only go out to shoot a few peasants.
At worst we are pigeon fancying, smelly old gits who seem
permanently rooted to some glass of Old Cows Bladder Bitter.
I blame the Bronte Sisters.
When Mr Lockwood was foolish enough to visit Wuthering
Heights he received a gobful of Yorkshire invective from
a grumpy bugger called Heathcliffe. Lockwood observed
that.." His reserve springs from an aversion to showy
displays of feeling" just moments before Heathcliffe
gets bored and sets the dogs on the poor sod.
Ever since then Yorkshiremen have never
really gotten a fair deal on the telly, so we've had to
suffer all manner of clowns and currs in the search for
an honest character. We've even taken pride from this
one-eyed approach to the typical northerner. We've adopted
Dick Turpin, Robin Hood and Guy Fawkes for their attitude
to the southern jessies. We've revelled in the two fingered
Harvey Smith gesture and the two-fisted Geoff Boycott
wicket stance. We've even glorified Arthur Scargill and
Paul Sykes for their ability to bore the pants off everyone
and their apparent inability to laugh at themselves alone!
When Bill Owen stomped all over our
Sunday evenings we loved him
for it, in spite of the character being a smelly scruffy
a'porth with the attention span of a nine year old. He
was our own version of Wilfred Brambell's Albert Steptoe
let loose in the countryside to frighten the horses. Love
it! And then there was another one - "Oh No, it's
Selwyn Froggitt", a big grinning idiot with a catchphrase
- "Magic" and an all-thumbed approach to life.
Then there was Nora Batty with her humourless
invective, clobbering all and sundry with a rolling pin.
"Gerarrtovit!!". Ivy in the Cafe was just as
scary and we loved her anyway. Both of 'em were like Hylda
Baker without the wit and well-armed with kitchen implements.
In Emmerdale Lisa Riley's Mandy Dingle was your worst
blind-date nightmare and she was a sex symbol for the
millennium! And Biff and Zack the rest of the family egged
her on. Love it!!!
Now were all revelling in the Royle Family - a portrait
of northern family life that makes Roseanne Barr seem
like Jackie O. Slobbery of the highest order and the kind
of witless homespun homilies you can find on any Yorkshire
council estate any night of the week. And we love that
I know it's all great fun,
and we can stand half-naked in blizzards, baring our guts
for the Match of the Day telly cameras and revelling in
the stereotype. I know it's great to see ourselves sent
up by southern comedians like Paul Whitehouse, Harry Enfield
and Steve "Bag o'shite" Coogan and we laugh
But the laugh will be on us if we keep hiding behind
the grinning thicko and happy slapper all the time. We
have more wit and intelligence in our comedy and in our
drama and we've got to show the world another side.
Here we have to learn from the Irish, who eventually
had to fight to break out of their 'thick paddy' stereotypes.
As a nation whose children were leaving the old country
in their thousands to widen their horizons, Ireland had
to change itself and grow. Now these children have grown
up and now the image of the Irish is more complex, more
Yorkshire needs to find newer, brighter, sharper humour.
Newer brighter, sharper stars for the world to see. Then
we will shine even more brightly.
The slobbery stops here.