999: What’s Your Emergency? Leave my town alone.

Saskia Murphy.

For the past few humiliating weeks, Channel 4’s popular 999: What’s Your Emergency?, documentary has cast a dark and disturbing shadow over the town I will always call home.

 Ever since I moved out of Blackpool in 2009, I’ve always got a weird little kick out of telling people where I’m from. It’s not because I’m bursting with an overwhelming pride for my hometown or because I just want everybody to know that the place I grew up in has a big metal tower stuck in the middle of it; it’s because the reaction is usually pretty amusing. The person concerned will often respond with a little chuckle before saying something along the lines of: “Aww Blackpool?! My great uncle Norman used to take us there every year. We used to eat donuts and go on the waltzers.” Or: “God I’ve had so many drunken nights in Blackpool! Haha! Is the Palace nightclub still there?”And I always feel a little smile creeping over my face because I know that people have visited my hometown and had a pretty good time. But now, since Channel 4’s brutal rampage on the downtrodden little seaside resort, people are sort of eyeing me suspiciously, looking for any signs of tooth decay and clutching their handbags. Ok so it’s not quite that bad just yet, but since the nation’s TV screens have been bombarded with a ten-part TV series that document and exemplify the sheer awfulness of Blackpool, I’m sure attitudes towards the town and its inhabitants are becoming less than savoury. I guess I’m just here to try and set the record straight.

I’d say my relationship with Blackpool is a bit like my relationship with my family: I’m allowed to slag it off, but if any outsiders start nodding their head and launching their own attack it’s a bit of a problem. I’m always the first person to come out and make light of the fact that my hometown is a bit of a dump. The architecture is dull, the nightlife frequently resembles a Victorian freak show and the town’s reputation has been tarnished by some of the worst statistics on factors such as unemployment, underage pregnancy and drug abuse in Europe. But all of these social problems that have given Channel4 the opportunity to swoop in and capture their entertaining but alarming footage really aren’t our fault.

In its day, Blackpool was a holiday destination characterised by excitement and candy floss. Tourists flocked in their millions to paddle in the icy waters of the Irish Sea, children fought for the first row at the infamous Punch and Judy show and couples swirled around the Tower Ballroom drunk on holiday romance. For the first half of the twentieth century, Blackpool retained its popularity as the busiest and most cherished holiday resort in England. Then arrived the 1960s and with this new psychedelic decade came cheaper air travel. Blackpool’s trusty tourist clan ditched the Northern seaside resort for favour of flamenco dancers and guaranteed sunshine in destinations such Benidorm and Majorca. Blackpool was left hanging its deserted little head in sadness and revelling in the nostalgia of the glory days. What was left was a promenade that begged to be pounded by the feet of Glaswegians on their way to the circus, a crestfallen sea gently lapping the empty beaches, and, most importantly, an abundance of unoccupied guest houses.

With their visitor numbers declining, hotel owners had no choice but to advertise their businesses as homes that families could rent and agreed even those who were not in employment could inhabit their abandoned holiday flats. As a result, people from all over the country fled their hometowns and settled in Blackpool on the promise that the benefits system would keep them financially secure in their new homes. The newbies stayed and continued to live on the handouts from the state. They had their children in Blackpool who had their children in Blackpool who then met the producers of Channel4 who thought it might be quite funny to make a programme about them.

Although undoubtedly entertaining, 999: What’s Your Emergency has transformed its original intention to document the work of the emergency services in the UK to instead portray a scandalous circus edited to invoke contention and, let’s face it, laughter. Channel4 have found a haven in which shocking TV can be found on every street corner: a middle aged drug addict giving blow jobs to sixteen year old boys for the princely sum of five pounds, a brown toothed teenager hurling abuse at the police, an obese alcoholic mother behaving so violently that she has to be restrained by four people. The production team have been selective in their chosen footage with the clear work ethic of: “Let’s just choose the most disgusting, lowlife scumbags and film them getting arrested,” and I get it, it makes better television than an old man falling over and being rescued by the paramedics, but what people are seeing is an unfair representation of Blackpool’s residents. I was lucky, in my eighteen years of living in the town, to be surrounded by countless decent people who would never be found in the back of a police van or sprawling in a pool of their own vomit. Real Blackpudlians are being humiliated by Channel4’s decision concentrate on the vulgarity of those who have no real connection to Blackpool’s sense of community. My fellow Sand-grow-nuns are being so wrongly misrepresented and henceforth tarnished by a minority of people who choose to live and promote a certain lifestyle.

And under all that delectable scandal: behind all of the hen parties throwing up their fish and chips onto the pavements of Blackpool promenade and drunken teenagers bragging of their latest arrest, is a town crippled by youth unemployment and other deafening sociological statistics. With all of that tacky profanity comes a place that was earlier this year named the “Unhappiest Town in the UK” and the serious conventions of its unhappiness are being prodded at and exploited by Channel4 for the sole purpose of ‘good’ TV.

Despite its decline as a tourist destination, Blackpool is still home to thousands of honest business owners, doctors, teachers, lawyers. Beyond Channel4′s footage are hard-working people who are ultimately being let down by the documentation of a group of people who represent a problem that is relevant to the whole of the United Kingdom. So this is me, speaking on behalf of the decent majority of Blackpool’s population who ultimately refuse to be characterised by an unfair distorted version of social commentary.

We’re not all bad.


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