Friday, February 28, 2014

5 Norwich

In... Nicholas Country

Not many people go to Norwich, but I'm fairly confident that tens of millions of Brits believe that Norwich is in Anglia. They wouldn't have looked in an atlas or zoomed in and out of the satellite photos on google earth to know this locational fact. Nor would they have had to have paid much attention in schoolroom geography lessons to get the pin set correctly in the map.

Gazillions know Norwich is in "Anglia" ...because the telly told us this was so... every Saturday evening.

Anglia is a regional British television station... among many others. And Anglia's most renowned telly show of all time (the nineteen seventies that is) was intimately bound with Norwich. It was introduced thus...

"Live. From Norwich. It's the Quiz of the Week..."

Just as we've got the jist about where New York sits because of The Apprentice and Kojak and Hill Street Blues cop shows, so the same is true with our English jewel in the incredibly near east crown of Anglia. Norwich. Sale of the Century.

However, instead of featuring a brash whacky haired Donald Trump or a pool ball smooth headed Kojak, on Anglia's Sale of the Century and were given the ultimate in fingers down your throat, slickly coiffured English, question masters;

"And here's your host...Nicholas Parsons."

"Norwich" to English families watching Saturday evening telly in the 1970s meant back then Nicholas Parsons. I would suggest it will still mean Nicholas Parsons today, so great is the Nicholas factor. Norwich means Nicolas Parsons running down the stairs. Norwich means Nicholas posing a tricky but not too tricky question for contestants to allow them to win the kitchen knives. Norwich means Nicholas announcing that even more kitchen knives are coming up on an Instant Sale. Norwich means peroxide bimbos draped over lounge suites or perched on a "complete set of family bicycles - sixty five pounds" in the final mega Sale of the Century.

Norwich means a strange electric organ played by ….. (someone please remind me of his name, Peter Fenn?) building up the anticipation and tension for our Nicholas to arrive through an ocean of grannies in the live audience, every pensionable one of them delighted to have got free tickets and to be on a group outing.

My paternal grandparents lived just outside Norwich in Ormsby St Margaret. It's a smashing village marooned in an ocean of pea farms and quite close to the Norfolk Broads. Olive and Frank fitted like a hand in a Morrissean glove into the Sale of the Century audience demographic. They drooled over the kitchen knives. Nicholas Parsons was their patron saint. Their retirement bungalow was a mere one hour up the country lanes from the "Anglia" TV studios.

In school half term holidays my dad's folks treated me and my sister to a trip to the shops in Norwich's city centre and a tour of the frightening medieval armoury in Norwich’s castle. We'd pass the TV Studios on the way in. From the back seat of their Morris Marina we'd pipe up with the fanfare and intro music to "Sale of the Century". Christ almighty.

However, those very same buggers at Anglia's TV studios that provided Archbishop Nicholas were also responsible for me failing idiotic school geography tests, those that test your memory to correctly label the English counties on a whitened out map. What use is this going to be in later life... I questioned, and repeated, on my way out into the corridor for yet another 15 minute session against the wall.

If you've been to Norwich and were paying attention you'd know that Norwich is really in the county of Norfolk. Norwich is actually the county town of Norfolk, though I forget what it is that makes a "county town" a "county town". Probably in the corridor for the explanation of that one.
It was the telly that implied around Norwich there was an "Anglia". And telly is more impactful than a road sign. It is why Saatchi and Saatchi have no qualms paying millions for a picture of an air hostess to feature for one second on their latest ad but can't find twenty pence to sponsor a sign outside the biggest hypermarket in the country.

In my later years I also came to realise that, worse still, "Anglia" is a figment of our English cultural imaginations. Anglia doesn't exist. Wessex doesn't exist. Camelot doesn’t exist. They’re made up, they’re fictitious spaces. Labels used to make us feel something about an English past when the jolly workers shared common lands and the landlords were nice at Christmas. Or something.

"Anglia" was created for the telly people just as "Wessex" is a Thomas Hardy-esque handle for the posh literary crowd to have a bank holiday near Dorset. Suffolk (the county south of Norfolk) nearly, so very nearly, remains Suffolk. But some of us know that Suffolk is increasingly and sickeningly becoming marketed, and is under threat of a re-name for the oil painting appreciating tourists as "Constable Country".

Thomas Hardy, he gets a county, all Arthurian and providing turn of the 20th Century scenes for Hovis commercials when kids delivered bread on bikes.

Shakespeare. He gets a county in the Midlands.

Then there's Emily Bronte. Her county is up in Yorkshire I believe. And Wordsworth has got his spot in the Lake District.
No doubt Postman Pat and Harry fuc'king Potter will be assigned a swathe of Britain in years to come. If they haven't already.

But Norfolk, as far as I know, still remains Norfolk. "Norfolk is Nicholas Parsons Country" as a cultural-geographical-pull-in-the-punters-label probably won’t happen. And that's a shame. Nicholas is as much a part of Britain as any bloke dibbling his palette knife in his oils or any writing lass twiddling her quilled pen.

Surely Nicholas' Instant Sale Steak Knives are as culturally relevant as Constable's horses and haycarts stuck in the rivers, or the baird's plays performed by sixth form students.

In my dreams I would like to see this hegemonic county labeling shattered into tiny Gramsciian pieces. Come the revolution I would like to see that the committees relabel our counties with the earthy 1970s labels that meant something to us workers, when we were kids. I would propose to the comitern that they use county boundaries and labels that meant something was kicking off on the telly;.

Granada, land of Coronation Street. Yorkshire, home of Emmerdale. Tyne Tees, the place of incomprehensible weathermen. Central, Crossroads Motel Country. Thames, Eastender World.

But of all the local television networks it is Anglia that tops the lot and lands spontaneous top of mind awareness and salient associations. Anglia has the best intro music and the best logo. The Anglia logo gives us a proper cultural history and presents us with proper Norwich-ness. The Anglia logo is a cracking stainless steel knight wearing full Norwich Castle armour. The knight even has a silver flag flapping on the top of his lance. What's more, the whole lot revolves on an automated cake stand (Instant sale price ...pause... four pounds). 

 That's what Britain's about. Steel. Black Princes, Henry V, Jousting. Anglia. Norwich.

"Live. From Norwich. It's the Quiz of the Week."

Play it again Anglia!

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