Book Review: Outraged of Tunbridge Wells by Nigel Cawthorne (Ed)

Letters to the Editor are a kind of English tradition. Writing to the local or national media about the things that really grind your gears has a satisfaction all in itself, even if it rarely actually achieves anything. We Brits love moaning to and at each other about the things that annoy us. So much so that everybody knows the trope “Outraged of Tunbridge Wells” is an invented Little England and Middle England stereotype about a middle aged well to do Daily Mail reader railing against the world and everything that is wrong with it.

Outraged of Tunbridge Wells is a satire figure and he or she sees the destruction of society in every small thing. But what of the real residents of Tunbridge Wells over the last century and a bit? Surely they are no different from the rest of us in having written a strongly worded letter to The Guardian or The Daily Mail and believing that righteous indignation was quite enough to set the matter straight across the country? Indeed they did, and this is the result of over a century of strongly written letters to the local media about all manner of things. Included here are letters from dog owners complaining about cats, cat owners complaining about dogs, “Irate Rate Payer” complaining about sloping roads, delayed post, new mothers hogging the paths, poorly parked motor vehicles and much more.

This is little more than a collection of letters, but what an amusing collection it is. It’s interesting in several ways. When looking at letters written in 1905, some of the complaints are not all that different from the complaints we might have today. We still complain about cats and dogs, about stupid decisions by the council, by irresponsible cyclists on our paths and more. The second point of interest is the intensity with which some of these arguments carried on over many weeks. It sort of puts things in perspectives when internet flame wars flare up and die down long before the argument really gets going by snail mail.

The final point of interest is the shamelessness with which people flaunt casual racism, sexism, xenophobia and critique of their political opponents and they do it with such intensely polite wording; that shamelessness is matched only by the panache of delivery. Arguments were never so polite as it was in Letter to the Editor in 1905. It almost feels we have lost something when we abandon the eloquence of calling into question the parentage and mental capacity of your verbal opponent with no words possessing fewer than 5 syllables. Today we make do with “Ur a fag homo muzlim luvin commie n im gunna smack ur hed in wen i c u!!!!!”.

Fun stuff, but of limited appeal. There isn’t much introduction and it is little more than a collection of letters.

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