❚ IN THE SPACE OF TWO MONTHS The Only Way Is Essex has become “totally must-watch TV”, an addiction and an education for anybody who does not live in Essex. The huge county lies along the north bank of the Thames estuary, stretching from the east of London to the coast, and socially it might as well be another nation. “I compare Essex to LA — we live the same lifestyle, we’ve got as much money and got the same tans,” says hunky reality-star and club promoter Mark Wright, 23.
“The boobs may be fake” say the opening titles but the cast of 20-somethings are “real people” thrust into to this enhanced reality show that is the jaw-dropping hit of the season. They’ve given the English language new buzzwords spoken in their unique variant on Estuary English: “jel”, “vajazzle”, “shu’ up”, and “whatta we like?” Get up to speed with YouTube’s clips ahead of series two, plus the fight-back from authentic East-End Londoners.
The 10-episode series was filmed mainly in the towns of Brentwood where the The Sugar Hut bar is located, Gants Hill, Chigwell, Buckhurst Hill, and The Manor House nightclub in Woodford Bridge. It was shot only days before being broadcast, presumably so cast members had little chance to object to the odd scene where they might have felt like prize twerps. Unsurprisingly, ITV2 has received plenty of complaints for the show’s “negative representation of Essex”. Surprisingly, the first series was such minority cult viewing on ITV2 between Oct 10 and Nov 10 that its biggest single audience was only 1.2m viewers.
The tabloid press was unusually slow in conceding that the show made compelling viewing. Series two faces one mighty hurdle that may well stymie the innocent charm of the original format — key members of the cast are being snapped up by pushy big-hitting agents who will no doubt insist on contracts that guarantee more respec’ for the talent.
A Christmas special called The Only Way Is Essexmas to due air at 9pm on Christmas Eve.
❏ XMAS UPDATE — The paradox of such a calculated TV format is how quickly it backfires. The Christmas special was as joyless as the format is heartless. In the end, these non-professional, often tongue-tied actors are simply pushed from one pedestrian stunt to another daft costume party set-up, where they are humiliated on camera and in front of their friends as their relationships crumble and their social ineptitude is laid bare. The two or three fun boys and girls in the cast have been reduced to polyfilla between the slimebags whose mums and dads really ought to tell them what prats they are making of themselves. The pet “micro-pig” as Christmas present proved to be a cringemaking booby-trap, just like Arg’s party singalong, while the two-timing antics of lothario Mark and his female sidekicks were blatantly egged on by the TV professionals. The crude splicing to turn shots into scenes indicates how desperately short of plausible footage the producers are. The Essexmas special stank of shameless exploitation by all at Lime Pictures.
❏ ESSEX IS OF COURSE the county which has created almost every British subculture since World War 2, from Mods to Soulboys-and-girls to Vajazzlers ! Essex Man and Essex Girl are pejorative terms that have been colloquial currency for 30 years. Essex Man was rated as a serious political force in the 1979, 1983 and 1987 elections which put Margaret Thatcher in power and kept the Conservative Party there. The stereotypical Essex Girl can be heard before you see her coming, she wears white stiletto heels, peroxide blonde hair, an orange tan, and is famed for being free with her sexual favours. Essex Girl jokes reached mania levels in the 90s when the classic of its kind went like this. Q — What’s the difference between an Essex Girl and a supermarket trolley? A — A supermarket trolley has a mind of its own.
➢ The Only Way Is Essex: Totally Vajazzled — Best of series one compilation is on the highly temperamental ITV player until Jan 6
➢ Three new TOWIE video clips — view Mark, Arg, Kirk, Lauren Pope, Candy and Michael talking about Christmas