BearSleuth Opinion Piece: Northern English Stereotypes and Pop Culture Part 1- Smeg Heads and Thatcher


I was born in the North, I grew up in the North, I now live in the South. Not entirely by choice. It just so happens that the best University for Creative Writing is in Winchester, but I miss home a lot. You just don’t hear the phase ‘Ey Up’ down South. I’m suffering with a bit of that homesickness today so I’ve wacked on some Oasis and I’m going to take you on a trip through the depiction of Northerners in Sci-fi and fantasy through the last thirty years. Strap in, pop an Uncle Joe’s mint ball in your mouth and have a quick swig of hot vimto because it’s about to get Northern up in here.

I’m going to be talking about broad stereotypes here. I do not agree with any of the stereotypes mentioned as I believe the North is a large place with a diverse people but most of them do like a curry and a larger on a Friday night. I also apologise for anything that sounds like I’m having a go at the South of England, I live here and you have all been gracious hosts. Now I know I’m not going to get lynched…

Your not to bad for an Elf

Tolkien fantasy is predicated on a simple foundation, the north is full of mining dwarfs and the south is all about men and elves who farm. This can be seen in the Lord of the Rings books, in the Warhammer mythos and most modern interpretations of western mythology like the Thor graphic novels. Traditionally, this stereotype was true, most northern towns and villages were founded because there was a rich deposit of coal underneath it. But with the eighties a change occurred in the North which lead to a change in the Northern man. The mines where closed, thousands of jobs were lost and there was no system put in place to help the jobless miners. The North and the South divided further than it had in a long time and this gave writer’s some great opportunities for Sci-fi and fantasy parallels.

Rimmer, you are such a smeg head!

Red-DwarfLister may well be one of the greatest examples of the eighties/nineties northern stereotype. He checks all the boxes; he isn’t incredibly intelligent, he is quick to violence and he enjoys a curry and a pint of beer. Rimmer on the other hand displays the stereotype of the southerner; he is a stuck up, pompous smeg head. Out of the two, Lister is the one we sympathise with every time because he has integrity, a northern soul (and he is under the heel of Rimmer). He will take the mick out of Rimmer all day but as soon as someone threatens the crew Lister is there like a junk yard dog to defend them, or at least everyone except Rimmer. When face with Kryton (a robot who has a personality and a mind of his own), Lister try’s to teach him about swearing and anarchy in an attempt to stop the other crew members taking advantage of him. The series of Red Dwarf was well written and paralleled lots of aspects of daily life in the eighties and nineties, it examined capitalist culture and the mentalities surrounding it (in episode’s such as ‘Better than life’). The series also dealt with the North /South divide and offered an opinion that, when the two sets of values and perspectives were combined, they made for an interesting and ultimately more functioning combination than either did on there own.

Next Week in the North

That’s me done for today folks. Check back later this week as I examine how the northern stereotype  changed with the turn of the century looking at examples from Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. If you have any examples that you think might apply please feel free to comment and message me.

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