Frinton is a place that I am extremely familiar with, having grown up a mere 15 miles away in Colchester. As a child, it was a quick drive out, although, more often, Dad chose to stop the Ford Consul short at the gaudier, stabbier Clacton-on-Sea, or circumnavigated it by a couple of miles to soak up the gentle seediness of Walton-on-Naze. The fact was, there wasn't much to do there for a car full of kids. The beach was nice, but there wasn't a one armed bandit, ice cream van or set of swings in the place - and it was full of old people, not the rosy cheeked, twinkly ones, but the ones who look at you like they fucking hate you.
|In a way, a small triumph.|
|Angry old man, cheerful jumper.|
|This lady is cool. I hope she's still alive.|
When I grew up into early manhood, it became a place of plunder. Old age plus money plus mortality meant the charity shops were always full of Easy Listening LP's, Super 8 camera equipment and M & S knitted ties. I'd never stay too long, just breeze in and get out as soon as I'd done the rounds. The young are scared of the dust of age landing on their shoulders, especially when they already have a car full of dead people's stuff.
Frinton is a relatively affluent place, especially in comparison to Clacton and Jaywick, a little patch of ramshackle Jerry-built hell a few miles down the coast that I would describe as Canvey Island crossed with Tombstone. In comparison, Frinton is all leafy avenues, big houses, tea rooms, wool shops and a tennis club where Cliff Richard used to play in pro-celebrity tournaments. It has two places of worship, one C of E, the other the golf club.
The town has a history of protest, or perhaps more accurately, of digging its heels in lest it be dragged into the modern age. In its time it has been against fish and chips, takeaways and pubs, although, gradually, these things slowly appeared (the first pub only in the year 2000), each one adding to the erosion of the traditional Frintonian way of life (the initial Edwardian statutes for the town forbade a pier - too flashy - and other decadent fripperies, like cycling).
In 2008, the campaign was against the replacement of the manned railway crossing gates that had been in place for many years and, effectively, created a barrier separating the town from the barbarism of the outside world (the gates are the only one way in and out, so Frinton is effectively a big cul-de-sac - in more ways than one).
The creaky wooden gates offered no real protection, of course, but had a talismanic power. The proposal from Network Rail to replace them with automatic barriers operated by 'some lunatic from Colchester' (a residents words, not Network Rails) caused a fuddy duddy furore, and the BBC's cameras were there to capture most of it, including a farcical vigil where the elderly protestors messed up the rubbish chant ('What do we want? Safety! How do we want it? The gates!') and then started to wander off home at eight o'clock because they were cold.
As well as documenting the tinderbox atmosphere of Gategate for posterity, the programme also lingered on some interesting individuals who for various reasons (one claims to have been 'misled'), have made the town their home.
Margaret runs Dickens Curios, an antique shop full of the most incredible tat. The stock doesn't matter, of course, as no-one ever goes in and, even if they did, I'm not sure anything would be for sale.
|The Olde Curiosity Shop.|
Margaret is one of those people who has lost her place in life (if she ever had one) and now just hangs about wearing a tabard. She has spent the last thirty years waiting for a man called Geoffrey to marry her, but Geoffrey denies even having a romantic relationship with her, the cad, while Margaret glowers and misses most of her mouth with a sandwich. To me, Geoffrey doesn't even look the marrying kind, especially in his sailor cap, but he just may not be the Margaret-marrying-kind.
Geoffrey likes dancing, and Margaret has the grace of Boris Johnson, so he has another female partner. As Margaret is eager to point out, however, 'it's nothing romantic, just dancing'. When we meet Geoffrey's partner she grins and says immediately 'it's more than just dancing, you know'. Player / Bluebeard Geoffrey keeps his counsel.
|The other woman.|
Later we see the partners in the street, wearing almost co-ordinated red and green outfits. They walk as badly as they dance. The next shot is of Margaret looking out of her shop window before turning away, but this is clearly editorial trickery and her sad expression merely the Kuleshov Effect.
Charles is a sardonic, camp character who, for some reason, is always filmed while eating or smoking (perhaps that's all he does, I don't know). He moved to Frinton when he retired to join some ex-colleagues who promptly died and left him on his own. He doesn't give a shit about the gates. Charles is constantly hinting at a dark secret which, if revealed, would lead to that most awful of things in a small town, 'social death'. At first you think, 'well, he's just gay, isn't he?', until he begins to talk about his ex-boyfriend, Big John from Clacton, and you realise that, whatever he's hiding, it's not his sexuality. We never get to the bottom of Charles (so to speak) and, in a way, this lends calm, quiet, moribund Frinton mystery and, perhaps, even danger.
|Charles, the enigma.|
|His sideboard, note chocs.|
|Charles always eats alone.|
*A quick update on Frinton-on-Sea seems in order, as things have changed a lot since the programme was made in 2008. The gate revolution failed - the new barriers were erected the following year with a minimum of fuss as the work was carried out late at night when all the zimmer frame Che Guevera's were in bed. In the last few years, a number of bars and restaurants selling - ulp - foreign food have sprung up, as has an enormous toilet block at the top of the beach. There's a mini supermarket, new mock deco houses on the seafront that cost nearly a million quid each and, after eight o'clock, the beginnings of a cafe culture. The average age of the person on the street now seems to be about 40 and the men all carry brown leather satchels. I'll bet Margaret hates it, I certainly do.