View from the Bridge: 10
by John Morrison
10: The full Bronte
Milltown's Tourism Officer picks his way through the human debris in the square, like a fastidious rambler avoiding cow-pats. He's a worried man. His boss has just given him an ultimatum: "Get Milltown up there with Haworth and Holmfirth, pronto, or I'll shut down the Tourism Department and make sure you'll be filing paperwork all week".
Milltown isn't one of those 'look at me' villages, with picturesque thatched cottages or a village green fringed with spreading chestnut trees. And every successful tourism scam achieved by Milltown's neighbours is a dagger-thrust through our Tourism Officer's heart. "Anyway, what has Howarth got that Milltown hasn't?", he bleats piteously, to anyone in the Flag foolish enough to listen. "It's got the Brontes...", suggests Beer Bore. "... Yes, yes, yes, but what else?"
Well, it's got such a proliferation of cafˇs, craft-shops and tawdry Bronte souvenirs that any atmosphere this dour little town may once have had has been utterly obliterated. Milltown's Tourism Officer looks upon popular attractions such as the Branwell Bronte Massage Parlour and Tea-room with a mixture of envy and awe. Moved to investigate Milltown's own Bronte connections, he trawled the archives of the local history society. This attempt to climb aboard the Bronte gravy-train hit the buffers when weeks of diligent searching revealed merely that Charlotte came to Milltown just the once, to have a boil lanced.
Holmfirth, to the south, has cashed in on the unfathomable success of Last of the Summer Wine - a success that makes our Tourism Officer almost weep with frustration. It's so unfair, since Milltown itself is overstocked with elderly buffoons who are locked into their second childhoods and have time on their hands.
As he strolls distractedly through the streets of Milltown, he recalls with a shudder some of his other doomed attempts to put Milltown on the tourism map. He had tried to attract film-makers to Milltown by stressing its gritty Northern authenticity. But the only film crew that ever came was making a video for a heavy-metal rock band.
Everyone in town was kitted out in period clothing for the occasion: dowdy frocks and bonnets for the women, moleskin trousers, waistcoats and flat caps for the men. Unfortunately the film crew ended up shooting the entire production in the slaughterhouse. Worse, the promised employment opportunities extended only to dwarves - plus a cameo role for Willow Woman as the Bride of Frankenstein. "The nude scene isn't just a gratuitous bit of tit and bum", the director lied convincingly, "it's an integral part of the plot, or something".
In another attempt to give the Milltown milieu a more distinctive identity, our Tourism Officer was encouraged by other high-profile initiatives. Sometimes all that's needed is a change of name. London's seedy Kings Cross area, for example, had been transformed into a tourist magnet simply by adopting the sobriquet of 'Jeffrey Archer Country'. And what a reassurance it had been to environmentalists everywhere when Windscale Nuclear Power Station changed its name to Sellafield.
With the benefit of hindsight, however, Milltown's 'Welcome to Abbatoir Country' banners and lavish 'Offal World' brochures should never have got any further than the drawing board.
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