A TOWN CALLED BASILDON
There are no short cuts.
I'll be quick.
Very quick indeed.
Basildon was conceived and built in the late forties along with other
such devastatingly named towns as Stevenage, Harlow and Welwyn Garden
City. These towns were called new towns and they were as billed, brand
spanking new. They seemed such a good idea at the time. Move everyone
out of the war-ruined streets of East London and build shining crystal
utopias. Give them new cheap homes, give them a garden, give them a job
in a cigarette factory, give them cheap cigarettes, give them a crap
pension and cancer and they're laughing.
The simple facts are that the people of the East End did not want
Basildon or any of the other new towns for that matter. They wanted
something more of course, who doesn't? But they wanted more than the
occasional family days out at Southend and Clacton, more than a tiny
allotment growing poisoned vegetables from bad soil, more than the
choking mustard smog.
The real truth is that the people did not know what they wanted and
when you are dealing with people, who do not know what they want,
especially people whose pride will not allow them to admit that they do
not know what they want; you can manipulate them, totally. To your own
ends, you can whip their backs red raw because they think they want it,
they think they are getting a good thing.
You can, oh yes you can, fool all the people all the time.
The Plotlanders. The people who already lived in Basildon got offered;
what they thought at the time, very
reasonable amounts of money for there little pioneer properties that
they had built twenty years previously out of wood and cheap brick.
Many sold and joined the pack converging on the new town with promises
of indoor toilets and big prize bingo, others; and they were few, held
on to their shacks with banners outside with slogans proclaiming 'WE
WILL NOT SELL!' It was all a bit of troublesome fun for the authorities
who were prepared and who were sharp. They had an ace in their pack and
that ace was called compulsory purchase. The brave dwellers had to
sell. Their little dream houses that they themselves had cherished and
built and segregated with the essential white picket fence would be no
more. One of the last to go was a man who clocked his roof in a Union
Jack and sat on it with a shotgun. The police got him down, probably
offered him a TV.
What happened next got edited out of the programme and was never
With all the Plotlanders now gone, the authorities, which were
incidentally, The Commission for the New Towns, Basildon Corporation
and Basildon Council, could sell the land for massive profit to the
Certain characters within the aforementioned authorities lined their
own pockets. Certain other characters within the aforementioned
authorities lined their pockets, shoes, socks, underpants, gloves and
any other garment you'd like to mention.
But keep that under your hat.
You can fool all the people all the time,
So what did they build? What did they build for the ignorant?
They built a town of savage modernism. Clean and bright like a
sanatorium. They built housing estates that resembled open prisons and
that are impossible to get out of. They'll like mazes. One of the
estates is even tragically called Alcatraz. These estates were
originally supposed to encourage community spirit, but the estates are
so tight in structure, so over-bearing to the extent that it is like
living with the entire cast of characters from George Orwells 1984. The
architects have created a town that lives in fear of what it is
supposed to be.
It's a powerful emotion, fear.
The people of Basildon are the walking wounded. Stabbed from every
direction. Jobs, homes, leisure, health, but most of all, community,
the entire lack of it. The town is rife with wrong; drugs, domestic
violence, unemployment, single parenthood and mental illness are
amongst the highest in the country. The saddest thing is that people
accept it, the majority of a whole generation
has grown up thinking that everything is fine and that this is the way
it is elsewhere, because they have been nowhere.
They live in a town with no achievements.
Four things that Basildon is nationally famous for.
1. Depeche Mode. A pop group who defined the sound of Basildon
2. Terry Marsh. A boxer who was a world champion. He went to trial for
allegedly trying to murder his manager, currently standing as the
Liberal Democrat candidate for the town.
3.A young girl named Leah Betts bought an ecstasy tablet for her
eighteenth birthday at the town's notorious nightclub, Raquels. She
took it at home where she was having her birthday party. She went into
a coma and was front-page offal for a few days; she subsequently
The supplier of the tablet is still at large, even though the majority
of the town's youth know who he is.
4. There are only three.
There are no short cuts.