Monday 4 June 2018

Mark Easton, Ilkla Moor Baht 'at, Morris Men in Somerset and BBC bias

Your everyday Somerset man (according to Mark Easton)

And on it goes...

Tonight's BBC One News at Six featured the latest Mark Easton report (presumably to be repeated later), and it took off exactly where he left off four years ago - promoting English regionalism to counter English nationalism.

He began: 
Beneath the veneer of national identity, England is a rich tapestry of ancient allegiances and rivalries.
So, yes, English national identity is a "veneer", apparently (well, according to the BBC's Mark Easton at least).

And, given that four years ago I titled one of my pieces about Mark's last pro-regionalism foray around the counties of England Mark Easton Baht 'at, I found it amusing (alarming?) that tonight's Mark Easton piece from Yorkshire featured a brass band playing On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at

(Seriously Mark? Why didn't you go the whole hog and cuddle a ferret whilst taking your clothes off and popping on a cloth cap and walking up a steep cobbled hill with a loaf of bread humming the theme from In Loving Memory?)

The "richness" of Yorkshire was described by R Mark, and his vox pop said he'd sooner be a Yorkshireman than an Englishman.

In response to that I'd cite the oft-reported graphic following the 2011 Census:

And, just as he did four years ago, Mark then touted England's urban centres (like Newcastle) as another kind of regional identity. 

As I thought at the time, last time round, that this fitted in very cosily with established Establishment thinking (Labour then Conservative) about promoting regional/metropolitan devolution in England to counter English nationalism (despite heavy 'populist' votes against it in some local referendums). 

And then it was onto Somerset. 

And if you (meaning me), as a non-metropolitan Northerner, felt offended (almost to the point of calling the ever-eager police) about Mark Easton employing (sackable? racist?) stereotypes by using a brass band playing On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at to represent Yorkshire, then please pray, with all your heart and soul, for our poor south-western friends in Somerset (and Sue beyond in Cornwall),....

....for, yes, I kid you not, Mark Easton of the BBC really did feature morris dancers from there. And talk of dragons and wassail. 

(The only thing I think he missed here - and this is truly unforgivable, especially given how hard he'd been trying to go for the tried-and-testedly stereotypical before - was to feature The Wurzels singing I Am A Cider Drinker).

This, of course, is in keeping with his his earlier reports this week. To represent the pro-Englishness side of the 'pride in Englishness/no pride in Englishness debate' in his previous TV report he'd gone to a pantomime-like St. George parade in Nottinghamshire, with people dressing up and drinking beer - and juxtaposed them with serious Cambridge students and opinionated ethnic minority Londoners. 

Mark obviously likes to keep things simple and stereotypical when it comes to reporting about regional identity in England, even while he's (quite obviously) still promoting English regionalism. 

Still, what was his closing point this time? 
England is crisscrossed by invisible ley lines of belonging, identities knitted from strands of history and mystery, timeless, yet fundamental still. Mark Easton, BBC News, England. 
Well, at least that sounded pleasingly poetic. St. George alone knows what it actually means.

Transcript: Mark Easton's report on BBC One's 'News at Ten' (4th June)

Newsreader: The people of Yorkshire believe they live in God's Own Country. In Lancashire, they're proud of their Red Rose County. Kent boasts that it is the Garden of England. But which county in England has the strongest identity? For the first time, BBC News has tried to map the local and regional loyalties across England. Our home editor Mark Easton has been exploring people's sense of belonging and local identity. 
Mark EastonBeneath the veneer of national identity, England is a rich tapestry of ancient allegiances and rivalries. In Yorkshire, the medieval emblem of the White Rose is still glorified as a symbol of county pride. As the Tour De Yorkshire cycle race speeds across the East Riding, local schoolchildren are taught what it means to hail from Yorkshire. There are lessons in welly-wanging, pudding races and tug-of-war. 
Dawn Joy (Cherry Burton Primary School): The amount of children that have said "What's welly-wanging? what's the tug-of-war?" Well, actually, it's tradition in Yorkshire, so it's just to show them that and have a fantastic day. 
[to the strains of a brass band playing Ilkla Moor Baht 'at] Yorkshire, with its own unofficial anthem, has the strongest county identity in England. Locals refer to Yorkshireness - straight-talking, hard-working, friendly and supportive. The Yorkshire identity is rich with the values of resilience and community. 
Yorkshire Vox Pop 1: We all stick together and have each other's back. We're nice, kind people. We get on with anybody. Yorkshire Vox Pop 2Good sense of humour. Yorkshire Vox Pop 1: Good sense of humour, yeah, that's a big part of it. Mark Easton (to Yorkshire Vox Pop 3): Are you proud to be a Yorkshireman? Yorkshire Vox Pop 3Yeah. I'd sooner be Yorkshire than English. 
England's urban identities, forged in the Industrial Revolution, are felt equally strongly, none more so than in Newcastle. Iron bridges and brown ale, industry and solidarity. 
James Bridgewood (poet): I'm proud to be a Geordie. It means so much to me. I bask in wor uniqueness. Here's a grand old place to be. We are a separate entity, neither Englishman nor Scot. There is no place I'd rather be. Newcastle has the lot. 
The strongest identities tend to be those laced with struggle and grievance. 
James Bridgewood (poet)We're bonded by hard work and humour in hard times, and I think that brings the community together. John Bridgewood (father of James): Identity has been created by hardship, absolute hardship. 
The Newcastle identity's not just about who you are, it's about who you're not. Nowhere in England feels a rival more intensely than Newcastle, and the place that comes second - well, that's a city just ten miles south down the coast...Sunderland. 
Geordie Vox Pop 1: I think it's always been there, even more so at the minute, in a funny kind of way, because they've obviously just been relegated! Mark Easton (to Geordie Vox Pop 1): Not that anyone's taking any pleasure from that! Geordie Vox Pop 1: No, not at all! 
In parts of England, the roots of identity drink from the waters of the ancient. In Somerset, the Mendip Morris Men dance on the land of the summer people... A dominion of apple blossom that predates England itself, where cider and cheese, dragons and the magical orchard wassail are all part of the story. 
Somerset Vox Pop 1: You bless the trees by making a lot of noise to scare the evil spirits away, and then you sing a chant. Mark Easton (to Somerset Vox Pop 1): Of course you do. Somerset Vox Pop 1And that will ensure a good crop for next year. Mark Easton (to Somerset Vox Pop 1) And it works? Somerset Vox Pop 1Yes, so far, so good! .
Somerset Vox Pop 2With the rebirth of the wassails, I think, to some extent, people are kicking back against this globalisation and want to be seen as being part of something that's important to them that they can identify with. 
England is crisscrossed by invisible ley lines of belonging, identities knitted from strands of history and mystery, timeless, yet fundamental still. Mark Easton, BBC News, England. 


  1. It's grim on the Easton front isn't it?

    Deconstructing identity is an easy game to play. It's difficult to define any identity (although it's often obvious in contrast to other identities). You could play the game with an individual's personality just as much are your likes and dislikes conditioned? ... are your ego and id in conflict? your social persona in conflict with your inner being? you feel different on a Monday as opposed to a Friday?...well maybe all those things, but you are still you.

    These things reside ultimately in our consciousness and our memory.

    Englishness is a huge river of influence in our lives. It embraces our language and history, our landscape, our music, commmon law, literature, sport, democracy. It's not ethnically based - anyone can be influenced by it. It looks back because that's how all cultural identity works but it is constantly changing. 300 years ago Englishness didn't much embrace gender equality or secularism, but now it does, and that stands in strong contrast to the cultural identity of many more recent arrivals in these islands.

    Despite Easton's straining at the gnat of English identity, the regional differences within England are quite petty compared with many other countries such as Italy, Spain or France. It's difficult to argue that regionalism in England is something more than identification with place, which is really what Easton is trying to convince us. He'd do better arguing there are serious cultural identity differences between the Shetlands, Glasgow and the Borders and tell us (brave man if he did) that Scottish identity is a mere veneer.

  2. English culture is multiculture.
    English identity is diversity.
    Anywhere man Easton is a nowhere man.


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