Citizen Smith - Episode 3
ON Air: Tuesday 29th January 2008 - BBC4 10pm
I am unfashionably patriotic; I love England, and I’ve always felt very proud to be English; for me England is not just a place, or a disappointing football team, or a war against the Gerries; its not the knee jerk reactions of Daily Mail readers, Little England’s fear of Johnny Foreigner, or sentimental nostalgia for steep streets off Hovis adverts; England is an altogether higher and more progressive ideal, the promise of a fairer and better way of life, and the nobility and romance of the English dream swells my heart with ridiculous pride… the problem is, whenever I try to untangle what being English actually means, it tends to unravel and disappear before my eyes.
This problem bothered me; it eventually became the impetus for a BBC series where I set off round the country to solve the riddle. It was a journey into England and all its contradictions and paradoxes, and a search for Englishness in some of the places you’d expect to find it most, and some of the places you’d expect to find it least, and some of the places where the two lie together as strange bedfellows…
It was a journey round places where our past is in trouble with our present, where the two live cheek by jowl and occasionally get into fisticuffs… to places like Hartlepool, my home town, where the industrial revolution was born and got killed off, and the old working men’s world of the docks have been cannibalized into shiny new marinas, replaced with drive-in retail villages and family orientated Heritage Centers.
I found a brave new England that seems packaged, digestible, cuddly; less threatening, less interesting, anaesthetised by New Labour, new diets, new high street chains.
But I also found that stubborn streak of eccentricity, that old spirit of liberty that was so crucial in shaping England’s greatness. Everybody supposes Englishmen are quirky and eccentric; my journey went past that, to places where England was playing up, being contrary, difficult and downright weird… to the places outside the loop, beyond the retail parks and heritage centres, places like Dungeness, England’s only desert, where there’s nothing there to “regenerate”. Dungeness is ungentrifiable, lawless old bandit country that still attracts mavericks and artists like the late great Derek Jarman.
It’s places like these where I think we can uncover the soul of England at its most vital and inspiring, where we find the Englishness we should be celebrating most; that journey opened up my eyes, made me take a lateral look at England; it was a search to re-discover who we are, what we might be in danger of losing, and what it might mean to call ourselves English today.
Before I started the programme that question used to bother me, and during filming it terrified and elated me. Now we’ve finished I still don’t have any hard, black and white answers, but I’ve come to the conclusion that’s partly the point about being English. They may not be in black and white but the answers I found were good ones(2007)
Citizen Smith - Episode 2
ON Air: Tuesday 22nd January 2008 - BBC4 10pm
Citizen Smith Episode 4
Citizen Smith Episode 3
Citizen Smith Episode 2
Citizen Smith Episode 1
Who I'd like to meet:Citizen Smith
- Status: Single
- Zodiac Sign: Aquarius