New Book out now
Mark's new book is out now.
On the way to a show in Skipton, in North Yorkshire, I noticed a road sign to a town called Keighley. So later, during the show, I mentioned this, asking the audience, 'Is that your rival town?' And the room went chillingly quiet, until one woman called out with understated menace, 'Keighley is a sink of evil.'
Based on his award-winning BBC Radio 4 series, Mark Steel's In Town, is a celebration of the quirks of small-town life in a country of increasingly homogenised high streets. Steel's bespoke observations on the small, sometimes forgotten, towns of Britain go right to the heart of British culture today, championing the very people who shape the places we live in now.
“As everywhere hurtles along a route towards being identical to everywhere else, it seems any expression of local interest or eccentricity is becoming a yell of defiance. Scrape away the veneer of Wetherspoons and Pizza Hut-inspired uniformity, and the march of Tesco's towards being reclassified as a continent, and Britain is as magnificently diverse as ever, and ready to celebrate each distinct community. The elements of a town that make it unique are what make it worth visiting; they change a journey from being functional to being an experience. For example, one drizzly dark February afternoon as I came out of the station at Scunthorpe, I got in a minicab, and the driver didn't even look at me, but kept staring straight ahead as he said, 'I don't know what you've come here for, it's a fucking shit-hole.'’
Unearthing some of Britain's most unusual tourist attractions, and noting local quirks and habits, Steel's journey takes him through the backwaters of England, up to Scotland and across to Ireland, where he encounters a country united by a peculiarly ingrained sense of pride, no matter which village, town or city, to give a refreshing take on Britain, its people and its places.
Like many of my generation, for a long time I was sceptical of internet technology. Whatever the potential, the main purpose seemed to be for bored office workers to send e-mails such as "Can people take only ONE MALTESER AT A TIME from the chocolate tin as some of us haven't had any while others have had FOUR!!!" Or "Has anyone seen my elastic band?"
Website forums, which promised unprecedented global debate and discourse all seem to degenerate into the same nine people slagging each other off, like Eastenders with exclamation marks. There's probably a forum for astro-physicists, in which every thread ends with someone calling themselves Black Hole posting "So - Quantum Boy upholds the possibility of string theory in a parallel universe! Why aren't I surprised? Face up to it, your theory's are anti-matter you tosspot sub-atomic loser."
But gradually I've come to accept that, whatever anti-social habits it encourages, it also opens up many wonderful possibilities it would be stupid not to embrace. So this is my website, only about ten years late. I hope it will play a tiny part in relaying ideas that can help to resist the corporate monstrosities, compulsive warmongers and unfeasibly vacuous celebrities that darken our world.
To be honest, it's more likely to inform you where I'll be performing and what other bits of stuff in public I'll be doing. Soon it should be possible to download from this site the series of lectures I did on television which, for a series of contractual reasons that leave me utterly bamboozled can't be sold as normal DVDs. And I'll be able to post bits of writing, including articles such as the one The Observer asked me to write but then refused to print.
But mostly, like anything else a comic does, it will serve as an instrument for my own ego-mania. After all, every tatty florist, trainee busker or local ant-keeping society now has their own website. So someone better look at this one from time to time, even if three of you take turns once a week.
Mark Steel, February 2008