Comedian Mark Steel and his thoughts on Sussex towns
PUBLISHED: 11:43 12 June 2019
Comedian Mark Steel has spent the last decade exploring the UK’s quirky towns and cities – but there’s always one place he loves coming back to
With Trump in the White House and Brexit dragging on, it's no surprise that some political comedians are getting angry. But Mark Steel has found an alternative path. "I find it quite funny," he says, midway through his latest tour Every Little Thing's Gonna Be Alright. "I don't get particularly cross about it - other people tell me I should, but it's such utter chaos. Nobody knows what they're doing."
He says he's "not a militant remainee going on second referendum marches" but blames an ingrained sense of British superiority for some of the ridiculousness. "People say, 'Don't talk down Britain, we survived a war, we can survive this' which doesn't stand up to much argument. There are always people who get cross - and it's usually about something you wouldn't imagine." The only complaint he's had in nine series of his BBC Radio 4 show Mark Steel's In Town came when he went to Glastonbury. "It's full of dream-catcher shops and ways of communicating with the spirits," he says. "The only shop you would recognise in the high street is [bookmakers] William Hill. I said they were taking a chance, with all the psychics in town." The complaint, from a practising pagan, went all the way to the top of the BBC as it concerned religious belief.
In Town, which began in 2009, grew from the opening bits touring comics do about the places they're playing. "Frank Skinner said the optimum time to see a comic is on his 20th show as he's worked out how the show goes and he's still loving it," says Mark. "With the shows after that the most fun bits are about the town." Each In Town episode takes between three and four weeks to put together - built from visits, lots of background reading and meeting people. They are recorded live in front of a local audience.
Lewes was only the second place Mark ever featured. "I think if I did it now I would have gone to the fireworks," he says now. "I've been twice since. It's great, it's they break every Health and Safety regulation. The year before last I got a picture on my phone of a child in a pushchair aged about two holding this massive flaming torch. She looks barely old enough to hold her own bottle!"
Mark's latest series took in Hastings - where he discovered the acronym FILTH (Failed in London, Try Hastings) and counted 70 different businesses with variations of 1066 in their name - including a builder called William the Concreter. "With every town I go to there's someone who everyone knows - they're more famous than Beyoncé in their town," he says. "We had this lovely fella called Glenn [Veness] who hosts gigs in his back garden. All of the audience had been to one of his shows." Cut from the broadcast was the story of Grey Owl - a Hastings resident from the early 1900s who became so obsessed with Native American culture he moved to North America and pretended to have been born into a Canadian tribe. Despite being exposed as a fraud - partly because of some fancy piano playing - he still toured Europe peddling the same lie.
Mark has an affection for Brighton, which has been his home for many years. "My favourite places are the pitch and putt in Brighton Marina, the Duke of York's Picturehouse, the beach at Shoreham and their great Ropetackle Centre and the cafes - The Hidden Pantry in Hove," he says. "I love sitting in the Regency Fish Bar having my breakfast looking out over the sea - it's lovely even in the winter."
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