Still searching for the recipe to give TV a local flavour

Winter scene

Norfolk's answer to Dancing On Ice has to be Strictly For The Birds! All part of a big campaign to give television entertainment a stronger local flavour - Credit: Trevor Allen

I renewed efforts to clamber aboard the bucolic bandwagon by sending in a new episode of Sap Rise to Cringleford before that enchanting Norwich suburb disappears completely under another welter of depressing development.

Back came rejection slips from drama producers clearly unsure in which part of Mummerzet to place it. I tried to provide clues in covering notes to the BBC (Bring Back the Coypu) and ITV (Interesting Trends in Vernacular) but it seems our blessed homeland has some way to go before colleting a Capital of Culture nomination.

Perhaps geography is partly to blame. ”Where does one live?” asks a trainee dialect coaching research assistant from Walthamstow on the 14th floor of Broadcasting House. “Norfolk, my bewty” draws a blank.

“You know, that awkward bit sticking out like a plump backside into the old German Ocean. Not far from Suffolk but the best part of some distance from that mucky, noisy, smelly place they call London…”.

The phone goes dead. Might as well try to confuse them with Pay Rise to Billingford or a new version of that celebrated Orwell winner, Downham and Outwell in Paston and Loddon.

An urgent virtual meeting of the Truculent Troshers Advisory Panel (Media and Creative Arts) mustered more than sympathy for my plight. ”Time to hit ‘em with the full force of our Norfolkisation programme” enthused unpaid chairman Morley St Peter.

“Let’s tricolate these television programmes for a start. Who’ll give me suffin’ better for Countryfile?”. No need for a big vote in favour of So Thass Where Eggs Come from. Dancing on Ice glided into Where’s That Gritter Got Tew?, Top Gear slowed down into Showin’ Orff and Pointless drew all kinds of ideas featuring Ipswich Town.

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Albert in the corner offered colourful suggestions for Tipping Point, Bargain Hunt, Love Island, Celebrity Wife Swap, Cash in the Attic, Gogglebox and Loose Women.

All were deemed slightly too radical.

Retired actor Terrrington St Clement introduced a nostalgic note with a catalogue of classic plays given that special Norfolk flavour on the old Home Service during his matinee idol days. We sighed as the curtain went up on Weeing For Godot, Scole For Scandal, Heydon Fever, Chicken Soup With Barney, The Lady’s Not For Burnham and All’s Well That Bawdeswell.

Josephine in the other corner said they shouldn’t forget wireless programmes that regaled simple country people before their accumulators ran out. She called up Round the Horning, Down Your Weybourne, Much Binding in the Marshams, Have A Hoe Brain of Fritton and Sporle Temple.

Morley St Botolph, the unpaid chairman’s literary-minded brother, reminded us how many famous authors had produced Norfolk versions of their best-known books for the mobile library between Hunstanton and Gorleston.

He turned up the volume for Graham Greene’s Wighton Rock, Leo Tolstoy’s Warham and Peace, EM Forster’s A Passage to Ingham, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Rougham, Charles Dickens’ Pickenham Papers and Raymond Chandler’s Cheerio, My Bewty.

Albert in the corner began humming wistfully. His medley from a Norfolk – flavoured Family Favourites special first broadcast on a Sunday lunchtime in 1949 sent a shudder of painful joy through us all.

Walsingham Matilda gave way to A Thurton Smile. Pennies From Hevingham changed to Blow the Wind Southery. It ended with a plaintive chorus of I Wonder Who’s Gissing Her Now.

The chairman urged us to think big toward waving our local flag during the next general election campaign. 

Important people from London and other faraway places will be sent here to dispense soundbites, slogans, daft promises and platitudes aplenty about huge skies, independent minds, fresh food, chirpy Canaries and Holkham Beach.

“We must take advantage of this missionary work, making it plain we will not tolerate taxation without proper representation in the national media and pepper the hustings with our ‘Cobble the A140’ placards”.

He was in full stride: ”Just imagine those earnest debates on Newsnight and Today as razor-sharp minds try to discover what these strange peasants mean when they cry ‘Thass a lot o’ squit!’ , ‘Rum ole dew!’ and ‘We wunt born yisterday!’. Bound to inspire a whole new era of pastoral romps with properly funded efforts to get the accent right”.

Albert in the corner asked if it was too late to change Casualty into Bedpan Alley or Suffin’ Gorn About.

Josephine in the other corner said it must be time for Mr Pastry to have his own cookery show.

Donny Abbs

Donny Abbs - Credit: Submitted

Skip's Aside: Lifeboat stalwart and spinner of salty yarns, Donny Abbs, below, lit up countless seafront safaris for locals and visitors alike.

He was one of the first to extend an impish warning about keeping my nose out of strictly Cromer business when we moved the family seat to the town in 1988.

As befits a former roller-skating champion, Donny kept a cheerful balance between saucy gossip and useful information. His recent death at 93 means Cromer’s colourful “people’s parliament “ has lost one of its most independent spokesmen in a generation.

He held court with like-minded colleagues in the town centre and along the seafront, treating old friends and chatty visitors just the same. Donny formed a potent double-act with former butcher Charlie Bishop. These close neighbours set up a key observation post in the old Henry Blogg shelter before it made way for a new museum next door to the church.

Charlie, who died at 86 in 2007, simply moved closer to the traffic with a regular seat at the bus stop. His gentle demeanour belied deep suspicions that the world might be going too fast for its own good – especially along Church Street. 

With former Cromer lifeboat mechanic Donny as his willing minder, Charlie was at his most animated when errant motorists dared to encroach on precious space in front of the Red Lion Hotel, a favourite spot for looking down on the pier, promenade and out to sea.

His colleague developed a lengthy roll-call of entertaining stories about the significance of seagulls and tides and how to forecast the weather by seaweed hanging on your door.

Donny’s crafty smile and disconcerting habit of looking at someone else while he addressed you rendered it impossible to separate likely truth from blatant fiction.

Donny could be serious about his lifeboat career and seaside life in general over the decades – but it’s his twinkling humour I’ll miss most. Whenever we met before

I took a clifftop walk towards the lighthouse, he offered a box of matches to keep it going …