It's all about bouncing back

Friday, June 27, 2008

Spring Break in Slough; Thanksgiving in Torquay? Are you having a laugh?

VisitBritain has recently launched an effort to promote the locations of past British sitcoms as tourist destinations. According to the Times: "The tourism body, which had success last year with its campaign to encourage “set-jetting” to locations of blockbuster films such as The Da Vinci Code, says that 40 per cent of all visits around Britain are inspired by scenes shown on TV and in films.

The most visited places for comic nostalgia are expected to be Torquay, location for Fawlty Towers, Holmfirth in West Yorkshire, setting for Last of the Summer Wine, Turville in the Chilterns, the parish made famous by The Vicar of Dibley, Norwich, home to Steve Coogan's I'm Alan Partridge, and Cricket St Thomas, Somerset, the village where Peter Bowles and Penelope Keith filmed To the Manor Born."

Look: I'm a ridiculous Britcom nerd. I admit to being over-the-top addicted. If I didn't have a family to raise and a job to hold, I would certainly and happily waste the rest of my days away -- "Spaced" in front of the television -- watching reruns of Fawlty Towers, Give My Head Peace, the Mighty Boosh, the Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, I'm Alan Partridge and Black Books -- and that would ideally be before breakfast.

But here's the difference between me and the promoters of these tour plans: I was paying attention while watching these shows. I recognized that, in the original Office, a central theme was the characters' flailing inability to escape from the dreary life of Slough. Likewise, Fawlty Towers wouldn't have been quite as brilliant if it were set in an exciting seaside resort so that the inn might occasionally attract fun or interesting guests. (Okay -- "the Germans" would be funny in any setting, but that's just because of the funny walk . . . ) The show is better because Basil is stuck in Torquay. As a proud British citizen, he refuses to admit that it's not exactly the Cote D'Azur -- but that denial only further fuels the premise.

Point being: these spots are not hidden gems of holiday excitement.

I will say, however, that the campaign's website -- although sporting a very goofy design -- is actually chock full of useful info for folks like me, including links to where one can find comedy clubs and festivals around the island. I could have used this last time we were in London and I was whining to my long-suffering spouse that I didn't want to go to the Comedy Store OR Sohoho again. They even reference and link to the Blue Lounge in Thirsk -- which I might actually visit someday if only because I think that Greg Proops' "Back in the UK" was partially recorded there (though mostly taped in Sheffield and Edinburgh). And how about this description: "Giggling Badger Comedy Club, which opened in 2006, is one of the biggest Sunday night comedy clubs in the Midlands." (Please Note: In February 2008, a second Giggling Badger club opened at the Royal British Legion club, Melton Road, in Syston. This venue now hosts a comedy night on the second Wednesday of every month.)

Wow: the biggest of *all* the Sunday night gig venues in the Midlands?? Now you almost have to go, right?

It also has an index of outing spots organized by comedy hero. My favorite part about this index is that it links the reader back to pictures of the places mentioned. These show glowing pictures of the getaways -- all of them sunny, bright and cheery. Here is the picture they show of Torquay:

And, granted, I visited there once and the place certainly has charm. It's cute. Looks like you'd think an English seaside village would look. But, honestly, here is how I remember it:

That picture was lifted from the "boy was this a bad marketing strategy" Torquay webcam -- visit it and judge for yourself!

Note: no picture posted for Slough. We wonder why? Probably best summarized by the first stanza from the famous John Betjeman poem -- remember when Brent read aloud from it?

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town-
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
For twenty years.


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