Move over Ricky Gervais. This is Reading for real
PUBLISHED: 08:31 19 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:21 20 February 2013
Ricky Gervais' new film Cemetery Junction casts his home town of Reading in the 1970s in a less than favourable light. How times have changed, says film critic and local resident Kim Francis
Ricky Gervaishas a lot to answer for when it comes to the unremittingly dire reputation that Reading holds. The Berkshire town is consistently knocked by the locally-born funny man.
In his new film Cemetery Junction, which takes its name from a well-known and granted, less than salubrious - area of East Reading, he portrays the town as a small, time-warped everytown full of ordinary folk with narrow-minded attitudes and small-time, old-fashioned ideals. And even though it is set in 1973 and you expect to hear outdated views, comments and opinions, Gervais has gone the extra mile to ensure that as many references as possible are outdated even for the early seventies. Its all in an effort to convey the sense that the people of Reading were out of touch with the contemporary and life outside their little small-town bubble. In Reading, as portrayed in the film, life is static, ordinary, humdrum, out of touch and,in a word, boring.
Why would you want to go to Paris? Theres parts of Reading you havent seen
But that view of the town couldnt actually be further removed from Reading as it is today. In fact, Reading is the antithesis of each one of those adjectives; its a thriving, progressive, multicultural business hot spot and arts hub with a rich history and oodles of cultural events and family-focused activities.
Why would you want to go to Paris? Theres parts of Reading you havent seen. Thats what one of the main characters Freddies mum says in Cemetery Junction. Designed to raise a titter, theres actually a lot of truth in the statement. Oh yes, theres more to Reading than meets the eye.
Out & about in Reading
It may well have been recently voted one of the top five cities to watch in the UK, with the right ingredients to succeed once the recession has passed (Centre for Cities, February 2010) - and what an accolade to crow about - but there is so much more about Reading that probably even locals dont realise. And despite it being trashed as a bad town in which to raise a family, it has so much that shouts in the face of such surveys and blinkered opinions.
Indeed, family-orientated activities abound. The Reading Childrens Festival runs for four weeks until 6thJune and incorporates a host of town-wide child-focussed activities. The Town Centre day on 4thJune is one of the festivals highlights, during which the centre of town is turned into a play zone with creative activities, mini-Olympics and street performances.
Another celebrated family event is Waterfest. Two of the countrys greatest waterways converge at Reading - the River Thames and the River Kennet. With the Kennet and Avon Canal (one of Englands most popular inland waterways) also starting at Reading, waterside life is key to Readings appeal. Consequently, Waterfest celebrates all things wet. Running from the beautiful Forbury Gardens to Blakes Lock on June 19, the festival is a wonderful way to soak up some of what makes Reading unique, with childrens activities, live music and dance, boat parades and a boat tug-of-war going on throughout the day.
The town has a rich history spanning some 1400 years and while you may know a little about the old abbey and the fact Jane Austen was once schooled here, and slightly more about Oscar Wildes imprisonment at Reading Jail and the ballad he wrote about it, you may not know about many of the other local curiosities from a more modern era housed within the walls of its local museums.
Although the Bayeux Tapestry itself is almost 1000 years old, the Museum of Reading is home to the only full-size replica of this historical document. Made in Victorian times, its an impressive must-see.
It may also come as a surprise to learn that Paddington Bear creator Michael Bond was from Reading. You can see an exhibition celebrating The Life and Times of Paddington Bear at the Museum of Reading until July 4.
Not only is there plenty for children to enjoy in Reading, but education in the town makes Reading the perfect place for children to excel, flying in the face of the Cemetery Junction notion that the town is a road to nowhere. The University of Reading is one of the most popular places to study to be a teacher and recent research published by the university into child development is evidence that the town knows the value of - and, importantly, is committed to - investing in young people.
The university itself is an institution that instills pride. Home to the best meteorology department in western Europe, it is at the forefront of investigation into climate change with world-leading scientists on its staff and is also famed for its pioneering cybernetics work. Far from being a small town in a time warp, Reading is a progressive place deserving of its world-class status in so many areas. The university is even internationally recognised as one of the world-leaders in food research and episodes of Heston Blumenthals next series of Feast have been filmed there.
Reading is a key gastronomic destination. Surrounded by some of the best restaurants the country has to offer - such as Blumenthals The Fat Duck at Bray and Alan Murchisons Shinfield-based LOrtolan as well as Paul Clerehughs acclaimed London Street Brasserie and Jamie Olivers new restaurant right in the heart of town - from June 3-6, it celebrates its inaugural Eat Reading festival. With food sampling, entertainment and cooking demonstrations from local eateries alongside celebrity chef James Martin and compere Lesley Waters, The Oracles Riverside - along with the rest of the town - will come alive with all sorts of food-related shenanigans.
Though the town has changed drastically from the days when it was renowned for the three Bs - beer, biscuits and bulbs - there is at least one of these that refuses to take a back seat. And thats beer. Reading hosts the CAMRA Beer and Cider Festival which takes place in April/May and attracts more than 15,000 visitors, as well as the popular Real Ale and Jazz Festival which falls on July 15-17.
The link with music is apt since Reading is a town with a buzzing music scene. The birthplace of chart-toppers The Hoosiers and successful music producer Stuart Price, local bands a-plenty enliven the towns vibrant nightlife, jostling for gigs at live venues like The Oakford Social Club and Plug n Play Studios while venues such as Rivermead Leisure Centre, The Hexagon and Sub 89 host famous acts from far and wide.
Double Dot Bash! is a one-day mini music festival that takes place on July 17 and showcases an eclectic ensemble of bands, while the Outside Inside Festival takes place on selected dates in July and August and promises great contemporary sounds. Then, of course, theres the long-established, world-famous Reading Festival which takes place over the August bank holiday weekend and brings giants from the rock and pop arena to the town.
The arts and culture side of Reading is pretty exciting. It may not have a particularly literary reputation (despite the Oscar Wilde connection and the university being the worlds premier resource for material on Samuel Beckett) but as host to a Festival of Crime Writing, it is certainly staking its claim as a mecca for enthusiasts of this popular genre. This years event takes place at the Town Hall between September 16-19 and has confirmed appearances from celebrated authors Val McDermid, Christopher Brookmyre and Lindsey Davis.
With a famed artistic heritage, a top-class comedy festival and an upcoming sensational Classical Music Alive event stretching from October to June 2011 featuring some of the finest orchestras and soloists from across the globe, nobody can say Reading isnt a booming hotbed of diversity and internationally-recognised talent.
Also a shopping haven and sports hub (not only because of successful football and rugby teams playing in the town but also because of its rowing pedigree - more than eight of the 2012 Great Britain Olympians are likely to come from the University Crew), Reading is certainly not a place from which you can imagine anyone dreaming of escaping - to paraphrase Sony Pictures, the company behind Cemetery Junction. And Freddies mum would wholeheartedly agree.