Saturday, April 18, 2009
cellophane, rain, Tunbridge Wells
It is raining steadily, but it is a gentle downpour. The Grove, as the buds open on every tree, is overwhelmingly green. It is deserted, but for me, and the bloke who helps behind the bar in the Compasses, who is having a quick puff outside the rear entrance of the pub, where some shrubs provide a little shelter.
It is not often that you find an article about the town where you live in a national newspaper. When you do there is a pleasant start of recognition - not quite your fifteen minutes of fame - but a link with the world beyond your accustomed territory. The article, in the property section, of this morning's Financial Times is headed "Delighted Tunbridge Wells". It is by a resident of Tunbridge Wells called Chris McCooey. The headline is a reference to the catch phrase "Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells", which the author ascribes to "indignant matrons" who signed their letters in this way when writing to national newspapers.
That may be correct, but I can offer an additional source for the phrase. When I was a child there was a comedy programme on the the radio called Take It from Here. Among the regular spots on the programme was one where Jimmy Edwards, a resident comedian on the show, would proclaim, every week, a pompous and angry protest about the state of the country or the world, in the form of a letter to the Press, which concluded with the words "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells". It was a point I looked forward to every week, because it set out to ridicule values that were stuffy and old fashioned; and, for a young person like myself, there were plenty of targets for such ridicule in a world, which still lay in the shadow of the Victorian era. I'm sure that the phrase, which must have been absorbed into the subconscious of the nation, helped to contribute to the myth of Tunbridge Wells as a stuffy place.
You cannot have lived in Tunbridge Wells for as long as I have without encountering a number of candidates for the origin of D of TW. One, I recall was the Rev John Banner, the former vicar of Christ Church in the High Street, who proudly made it, under this label, on to the magazine section of a Sunday newspaper. Another, more recent D o TW was my friend and neighbour, Tony Wade, who died last year. He was (conforming to the archetype), in fact, a retired colonel, and looked the part with his clipped, white moustache and matching hair. When a national daily paper sent a reporter down to interview him, some years ago, he couldn't have been more pleased. Never more so, than when he was able to show off a double page spread with the headline "The Original Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells".