The beautiful and ever-surprising cit of Norwich has always been good for a joke for the rest of the country. When a council behaves with lunatic officiousness – banning conkers or declaring hanging flower-baskets a health hazard – the story invariably comes from Norwich. The Turnip Taliban, a group of Conservatives who briefly dared to behave like Conservatives last year, came from nearby. The ultimate humiliation of Steve Coogan’s comic prat Alan Partridge was to end up as presenter for Radio Norwich.
That may be all about to change. Norwich is hot favourite to be Britain’s first City of Culture in 20113, ahead of its rivals Birmingham, Sheffield and Derry.
Soon our local literary heroes – DJ Taylor, Giles Foden, Louis de Bernières, Elizabeth Jane Howard – will propelled into even greater stardom. The city’s Red Card Comedy Club will replace Live from the Apollo on TV. The nearby Diss Corn Hall, just launched as south Norfolk’s hottest arts venue, will rival the South Bank. Winston, the Singing Farmer’s great song “Tha’s Bin a Long Time a’Comin” will become the anthem of Britain’s City of Culture.
How the heart the sinks. As the region’s mighty cohort of arts administrators and creativity facilitators prepare their power-point and pitches, sharpening up the requisite clichés – ”inclusiveness”, “regeneration”, “partnership”, “art for all” – the precious cussedness and individuality of Norwich and Norfolk will become a matter of embarrassment, something to be played down. A new blandness will settle on this great part of East Anglia.
Come on, Derry! Go for it, Sheffield and Birmingham! It is better to be laughed at than be Islingtonised by an army of smiling, dead-eyed cultural missionaries.