Slough Versus Scranton

August 18, 2018

Slough has suffered from a bad press. Most recently it was used as the location for the excellent TV Show 'The Office'. In that show Slough represented the drub monotony of office life and mediocrity. The town itself mirrored the painfully incompetent David Brent.

 

This backdrop compared to the equally drub Scranton, where the US version of 'The Office' was set, tells you a great deal about the different cultures of Britain and America.

 

Slough is used as an extension of the character of David Brent and his colleagues, a location that reflects the "dead end street" lives and careers of the cast. Scranton, while not described as anything more than an equally parochial small town, is portrayed with a genuine warmth and affection. There is little cynicism in its portrayal and it reflects an admiration for the lives and towns of middle America. An admiration that is clearly lacking in the UK version where the lives and backdrop of the same characters is viewed through a more tragic lense, 

 

This difference is hardly a surprise. Americans tend to be positive people with a positive outlook blessed, outside of New York, without a natural sense of irony. British people, on the other hand, are often not overtly positive and are normally drenched in irony.

 

Slough, as a location, has not only been the butt of the joke in "The Office" but also mocked in a poem called "Slough" by John Betjeman. In this poem, Betjeman sneers at the modern town in the UK and, in turn, firmly punches down.

 

It is a poem that uses Slough as a metaphor for all of the things Betjeman seems to despise about the middle and lower class. It is one of the most pompous poems you will ever read and also projects a level of disdain for the "masses" that you very rarely see in America. It is also, a very funny poem that is both accurate and highlights how class remains such a dividing aspect of life in Britain. For my part, I would personally spend time in Maidenhaed and "talk of sport and makes of cars in various bogus Tudor bars" than spend an evening with John Betjeman. 

 

Slough
 

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now, 
There isn’t grass to graze a cow. 
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens, 
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans, 
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town-
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown 
For twenty years.

And get that man with double chin
Who’ll always cheat and always win, 
Who washes his repulsive skin 
In women’s tears:

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It’s not their fault that they are mad, 
They’ve tasted Hell.

It’s not their fault they do not know 
The birdsong from the radio, 
It’s not their fault they often go 
To Maidenhead

And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars 
And daren’t look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.

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