As a child growing up in the 80s and 90s in Southend, a sprawling seaside town in south-east Essex, I noticed that people on TV often laughed at the very word Essex. Some years later, in 2016, my wife, Hayley, crossed the border into Albania from Montenegro while travelling with an old friend who, like us, grew up in the county. The border guard asked where they were from – and when they told him, his response was quickfire: “I’ve heard a lot about Essex girls,” he said. “But I’m sure you are not like that.” Thousands of kilometres from Essex, the border guard had not only heard of this county in south-east England, but even knew what it had come to signify: a land of crass consumerism, populated by perma-tanned chancers and loose women with more front than Clacton-on-Sea. That stereotype is relatively new, but after it emerged in the 1980s, it caught on fast. Essex has since become a place simultaneously embraced as home to the real, authentic England and scorned as the crudest, stupidest symbol of Englishness. It is embraced by politicians who celebrate it as the home of no-nonsense, “real” people – David Cameron hired the… Read full this story
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