Mr. Jeremy Kyle — “Jezza” to his mates, apparently — is Britain’s current answer to the stateside TV schlock-peddler Jerry Springer. This sounds like it should constitute at least one redundancy, because Springer, London-born, is extremely popular with UK audiences, in their blind rush to embrace all things Americanisher. This Yankee-loving impulse leads to puzzling sightings, such as the ubiquitous presence of Coors Light in pubs (having appropriated the tap that once might have issued Theakson’s Old Peculier or Charrington Toby), and British Burger Kings offering “Diddy Do-nuts,” a product concept Sean Combs probably thought of and rejected years ago, at the start of his career.
Back to Jezza. I caught a bit of his act last week on the ITV network, and he was singing loudly from the Maury Povich hymnal that morning, letting us know the true DNA-confirmed identity of the baby-daddy would be revealed only after prolonged shrieking and scowling by the momma, a spotty fat girl with lank hair, who offered up a chain of memorably East-end utterances. One I cherish is: “It weren’t like he were a proper father, then, weren’t it?” (I’d attempt to provide a link to the episode, but I suspect we’d all end up transfixed for the entire working day, staring at Jezza’s human train-wreckage, stuck wondering about what it all means.)
The unappealing girl’s Hogarth-inspired appearance and Dickensian syntax recalls the mighty old unapologetic Great Britain of yore, increasingly scarce these days. You can get an excellent cup of coffee and a nice plate of risotto anywhere in the country, and other formerly scarce commodities are plentiful, but the time-honored British shite, the tea-cozy, the Ford Cortina, and the musical recordings of George Formby, have all gone away somewhere. Where?
The brief time spent with our Jezza sent me out in search of other artifacts of bygone England, which is a way of justifying how I wound up spending part of a Saturday afternoon in Blackpool, Lancashire. What little I previously knew of Blackpool was from the great Kinks’ song, “Autumn Almanac,” where Ray Davies, in some sort of character, sings: “I like my football on a Saturday, /Roast beef on Sunday’s alright. /I go to Blackpool for my ‘olidays, /Sit in the open sunlight.” Never a more perfect description of each of the eternal English verities.
I can report that the seaside resort on the Irish Sea is likely the same in 2009 as it was previously, except that there are fewer visitors and possibly a greater proportion of female beach-sitters wearing black robes to preserve modesty — as prescribed by their religion, one presumes. It’s a traditional delight, is what it is, and they don’t even put quotation marks around traditional while they’re trying to sell you traditional Blackpool Rock, traditional three-quid fish ‘n’ chips, and a collection of some of the grubbiest-looking traditional B&Bs seen outside of the area of Paddington Station in the 1970s.
The souvenir shops sell last season’s T-shirts pledging loyalty to Everton FC (Blackpool’s local squad, the Seasiders, have struggled since the transfer of Sir Stanley Matthews, back before Hogarth’s day), and pink cowboy hats, which seem to be purchased and worn by groups of drunken young women in the Yates Wine Bar, a popular spot to drink, scream, and fall down, during the course of those pre-wedding hen parties. The fellers, off from Liverpool, Leeds and Bolton on their separate stag outings, appear in T-shirts custom-made for the occasion, affixed with suitably misogynous slogans. Plenty of affordable fun for the whole family.
This is a scene designed to make progressives queasy, and nostalgics all wistful-like. Donkey rides on the beach. A big clanking roller-coaster. Jellied eel and jars of lager. All in counterpoint to what is going on everywhere else in the land, where the old ways belong to the last millennium.
The previous evening, we’d stumbled into the Trafford Centre in Manchester, a truly grand post-modern retailing showplace that provides some unusual visual touches, including, in a food court, a convincing recreation of a pre-Katrina New Orleans street scene. Here’s your vibrant new Britain, packed with the prosperous young seeking out Gap clothing, 10-pin bowling, first-run American movies, and other modern good-life accouterments. We dined inside the mall at a chain tapas joint, taking our time with a decent bottle of Rioja. It was a nice evening, but one we might just as well have experienced in Dubai, or Duluth.
Blackpool, on the other hand, has strippers, and lewd comedians. It was pointed out to me somewhere on the promenade that, on certain street-corners, the eastern European sex-trade workers are as common as seagulls. Couldn’t tell you about that. I can attest, however, that Bass ale and Carling lager are still vended openly in pubs, and that pinot grigio and Mojitos are not the potables of choice, as is the case one hour’s drive south. I raise a glass of something to good old Blackpool, where I’d guess that any early school-leaver on the dole can still get blotto and go off onto the beach after last call, with some bloke she can barely see, and show up on telly a year or so later, appearing on the Jeremy Kyle program to await the result of a DNA paternity test — providing persuasive evidence that, in spite of appearances, maybe there will always be an England.