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Mark Steel's in Town

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Mark Steel's in Town

Mark Steel's in Town
The words
Image from the downloadable version of the first series of Mark Steel's in Town.
Genre Stand-up comedy
Running time 30 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language(s) English
Home station BBC Radio 4
Starring Mark Steel
Writer(s) Mark Steel
Pete Sinclair
Producer(s) Julia McKenzie (Series 1-2)
Sam Bryant (Series 3)
Ed Morrish (Series 5)
Air dates 18 March 2009 to 12 February 2014
No. of series 5 + 1 special
No. of episodes 31
Opening theme "Eat My Goal" by Collapsed Lung

Mark Steel's in Town is a stand-up comedy show on BBC Radio 4, co-written and performed by Mark Steel. The series, that was first broadcast on 18 March 2009, is recorded in various small towns in the United Kingdom instead of the country's major cities.[1] Each episode is tailored to the town it is recorded in and the show is performed in front of a local audience. The first series of six episodes was recorded in five towns in England (Skipton, Boston, Lewes, Walsall and the Isle of Portland) and one in Wales (Merthyr Tydfil). The second series, also of six episodes and first broadcast on 7 April 2010, was performed in four towns in England (Dartford, Wilmslow, Penzance and Gateshead) and two in Scotland (Dumfries and Kirkwall). The third series of six episodes, broadcast between December 2011 and January 2012, visited four towns in England (Berwick-upon-Tweed, Basingstoke, Wigan and Bungay), one in Wales (Holyhead) and one on the Isle of Man (Douglas). A special episode recording during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe covering Leith was broadcast on 21 August 2012. A fourth series was broadcast between November 2012 and January 2013. In thos series Steel performs in five towns in England (Whitehaven, Handsworth, Ottery St Mary, Corby and Chipping Norton) and one in Scotland (Tobermory). A fifth series, recording between November and December 2013, will be performed in four towns in England (Glastonbury, Southall, Birkenhead and Huddersfield), one in Wales (St. Davids) and one in Northern Ireland (Derry/Londonderry).[1]

The programme received positive reviews from critics because of Steel's observations of the locals,[2] and the fact the series took place in multiple locations, compared to the majority of stand-up shows on radio and television, which are normally recorded in one single location.[1] However, some have also criticised the way he has commented on some locations.[3][4] In 2010 Mark Steel's in Town won a Silver Award for "Best Comedy" in the Sony Radio Academy Awards, and in 2012 it won the Gold Award in the same category.[5][6] Also in 2010 it won the Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award for "Best Radio Comedy / Light Entertainment".[7] In January 2013 the series was voted "Best Radio Entertainment Show" in the Awards held by the British Comedy Guide.[8][9]


Mark Steel standing under a road warning sign in Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland, which is warning people of
Steel in Kirkwall, Orkney, standing under a warning sign telling road users to look out for otters.

Before each episode, Steel researches the history of the town he is going to perform in. Steel's research interests include local notable people, landmarks, customs and humorous anecdotes. The majority of the research sometimes took place close to the actual recording date. For example, Steel carried out almost no research for his episode in Walsall until ten days before the recording.[10] In Merthyr Tydfil he spent three days in the town where he did research and met locals.[11]

He then performs a tailor-made show about the town in front of a local audience. The style of the programme is similar to other shows starring Steel such as The Mark Steel Lectures, in which Steel presented a humorous lecture about a famous person in history.[1]


Due to the small budget there were certain places the show could not be recorded during the first series. For example, no episodes in the first series were recorded in Scotland. Steel said in an interview:

"One of the restrictions we've got is that the budget for radio we've got going is so unbelievably, comically tiny, that we couldn't go to Scotland because the fare is too much. It is like some student fanzine. 'Mum, can I borrow some money because I want to go to Scotland.'

"So, I'm hoping, if we do another series, because I'd love to go to the Shetlands. I'd be really excited at going to the Shetlands. Because it is just like a fascinating place to be at the moment. Or even one of these sort of weird places in Cornwall. But that was too far as well."[10]

The second series did feature two episodes recorded in Scotland. One in Dumfries, on the Scottish border, and other in Kirkwall, Orkney.[1]

Other than Steel, Pete Sinclair was the only other writer, providing additional material. Julia McKenzie produced the first 2 series,[12] while Sam Bryant has produces series 3 & 4. Also working on the show were studio manager Jerry Peal, and production co-ordinators Sarah Sharpe and Trudi Stephens.[5]


The majority of the reaction towards Mark Steel's in Town has been positive. In May 2010, the programme was given the Silver Award for "Best Comedy" in the Sony Radio Academy Awards.[5] In May 2012 it won the Gold Award in the same category.[6] In November 2010 it won the Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award for "Best Radio Comedy / Light Entertainment".[7] In January 2013 it won the "Best Radio Entertainment Show" award in the Awards held by the British Comedy Guide.[8][9]

Chris Campling in The Times wrote a review of a show recorded in Skipton: "A tough gig? More like shooting fish in a barrel, to judge from the reception he received from the honest burghers of Skipton, North Yorkshire. From the moment he remarked on the fact that the hall in which he was performing was used as a cattle market during the day and was hosed out before the show – and got a roar of approving laughter – Steel must have known that he could do no wrong."[13]

"This programme is stand-up comedy at its very best. Stand-up on radio is immensely challenging – and often unsuccessful but this programme is intelligent and rich in content, well paced and, moreover, funny. Although it is clear that a lot of preparation went into making this programme, the result is fluent, natural and exciting. It was also generous to its audience and to its location – and very much in tune with the sound and appeal of the network."[5]

The Sony Radio Academy Awards

Campling, as well as other critics, have commented that one of the main features of the show is the ability of the locals to laugh at themselves and the eccentricities of the area. Campling wrote of the Skipton show: "The ability to laugh at itself is one of this country's finest attributes, but the Skipton mob were only too happy to celebrate their insularity."[13] Elisabeth Mahoney of The Guardian, who reviewed the Dartford episode said: "Going to a place and insulting it takes guts and careful strategies. Steel made use of the fact that he is from nearby Swanley both to signal that he knows the area but also that – whatever he was about to say about Dartford – it was better than his hometown."[14] Another journalist, reviewing the Penzance episode in the North Devon Journal commented: "Why do we like programmes that laugh at us? Because, I hope, we laugh at ourselves. We're not ignorant of our stereotypes. West Cornwall? Aaarrrrr!"[15]

Miranda Sawyer in The Observer also praised the show saying it was, "A simple idea, kindly and wittily executed by another unfashionably humane Englishman. Thank Gaia they still exist."[16]

Hilda Swinney, the Portland correspondent for the Dorset Echo said that at the recording on the Isle of Portland: "The audience, mostly Portlanders, were appreciative and very responsive to his humour and his views on 'their special island'. They left him in no doubt that a return of Mark Steel's in Town would be very welcome."[2]

Stuart Morris, a historian who helped to provide research for Steel for the Portland show commented: "I was amazed that he should have absorbed so much of the island's history in the short space of time that he had. He joked about the Portland winds, saying that in comparison, islanders wouldn't even have bothered to take out their kites in the face of Hurricane Katrina. He made a few remarks about Portland/Weymouth rivalry and our Weymouth friends present laughed as much as the rest of us."[2]

Ian Wolf from the British Comedy Guide commented that: "The fact that the series moved from town-to-town was very impressive – as it meant Steel had to write a unique half-hour routine for each venue (compare this to most stand-ups, who only have to come up with about an hour of strong material a year!)."[1]

However, at times local journalists have responded negatively to the programme. Lisa Reeves, who reviewed the episode recorded in Wilmslow, commented on how Steel's socialist political views did not mix with the affluence of Wilmslow and nearby Alderley Edge, which he also visited for the purposes of the recording. Reeves wrote that: "It was an enjoyable evening, with some very funny gags but a large part of the material focused on the champagne lifestyle so often portrayed in the media." She also said that Steel should have focused more on how good the area was as a place to live in, "but I suppose that wouldn't make for good comedy."[3][4]


Series 1

# Title Original airdate
1–1 "Skipton" 18 March 2009 (2009-03-18)
Recorded at the Mart Theatre, which also acts as a livestock auction hall, Steel visits Skipton, North Yorkshire, in which he talks about the local canals, cattle and Skipton Castle.
1–2 "Boston" 25 March 2009 (2009-03-25)
Recorded at the Blackfriars Arts Centre, Steel visits Boston, Lincolnshire, and discusses the town's love of Brussel sprouts, its links with Puritanism and the story of the Boston Stump.
1–3 "Lewes" 1 April 2009 (2009-04-01)
Recorded at the All Saints Centre, Steel visits Lewes, East Sussex, and chats about its bonfires, its history of pub fights and the local stroppiness.
1–4 "Walsall" 8 April 2009 (2009-04-08)
Recorded at the local town hall, Steel visits Walsall, West Midlands, and brings up the subject of the local anarchists who were framed by the police, a concrete statue of a hippo and how Walsall has nothing whatsoever to do with Birmingham.
1–5 "Merthyr Tydfil" 15 April 2009 (2009-04-15)
Recorded at the Myfanwy Theatre, Steel visits Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, and looks at the Merthyr Rising, the boxers and the Welsh roots of Donny Osmond.
1–6 "Portland" 22 April 2009 (2009-04-22)
Recorded at the Portland Spa Hotel & Conference Centre, Steel visits the Isle of Portland, Dorset, and chats about the history of Portland stone, its military history, and the local hatred of a certain fluffy animal beginning with "R".

Series 2

# Title Original airdate
2–1 "Dartford" 7 April 2010 (2010-04-07)
Recorded at The Mick Jagger Centre, Steel performs in Dartford in his home county of Kent, discussing the Peasants' Revolt, gypsy tart, and what one resident calls the "Road To Hell".
2–2 "Wilmslow" 14 April 2010 (2010-04-14)
Recorded at the Green Room Theatre, Steel performs in Wilmslow, Cheshire, where he talks about footballers' mansions, 3D eyelashes and the rhyming Wizard of Alderley Edge.
2–3 "Dumfries" 21 April 2010 (2010-04-21)
Recorded at the Theatre Royal, Steel performs in Dumfries, on the Scottish border, where Steel looks at the town's hatred of seagulls and love of Robert Burns.
2–4 "Penzance" 28 April 2010 (2010-04-28)
Recorded at the Acorn Arts Centre, Steel performs in Penzance, Cornwall, where he looks at the town's remoteness and pasties, as well as the Newlyn fish riots and an unusual civil war concerning a ferry terminal.
2–5 "Gateshead" 5 May 2010 (2010-05-05)
Recorded at the Old Town Hall, Steel performs in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, in which he talks about the local art, a famous car park, and how the town is definitely not Newcastle.
2–6 "Kirkwall" 12 May 2010 (2010-05-12)
Recorded at The Pickaquoy Centre, Steel performs in Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, where he talks about a violent ball game, Thorfinn The Skullsplitter and why the weather makes it pointless being a hairdresser on the island.

Series 3

# Title Original airdate
3–1 "Berwick-Upon-Tweed" 6 December 2011 (2011-12-06)
Recorded at The Maltings Theatre & Cinema in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Northumberland, Mark talks about the town's war with Russia, its Scottish rivalries and local slang.
3–2 "Holyhead" 13 December 2011 (2011-12-13)
Recorded at the Canolfan Ucheldre Centre in Holyhead, Anglesey, Mark talks about ferries, foot nibbling and Kate and Wills.
3–3 "Basingstoke" 20 December 2011 (2011-12-20)
Recorded at The Haymarket in Basingstoke, Hampshire, where he talks about prehistoric roundabouts and a rather unusual world record set in a shopping centre.
3–4 "Douglas (Isle of Man)" 27 December 2011 (2011-12-27)
Recorded at the Villa Marina & Gaiety Theatre in Douglas, Isle of Man, where he talks about space travel, fairy bridges and the mystery of Gef the Talking Mongoose.
3–5 "Bungay" 3 January 2012 (2012-01-03)
Recorded at The Fisher Centre in Bungay, Suffolk, where he talks about non-existent castles, haunted pubs and chicken roundabouts.
3–6 "Wigan" 10 January 2012 (2012-01-10)
Recorded at The Orwell in Wigan, Greater Manchester, where he talks about entering pie eating competitions, living under floorboards, and the radicalism of George Formby.

Edinburgh Fringe Special

# Title Original airdate
3–7 "Leith" 21 August 2012 (2012-08-21)
Recorded at the BBC's venue at Potterow, Edinburgh, Mark devotes to an episode to the city's district of Leith, where he talks about port workers, pub fights and a hatred of trams.

Series 4

# Title Original airdate
4–1 "Whitehaven" 28 November 2012
Recorded at the Rosehill Theatre in Whitehaven, Cumbria.
4–2 "Tobermory" 5 December 2012
Recorded at the Mull Theatre in Tobermory, the Isle of Mull, the Inner Hebrides.
4–3 "Handsworth" 12 December 2012
Recorded at the Drum Centre, Handsworth, Birmingham.
4–4 "Ottery St Mary" 19 December 2012
Recorded at King's School, Ottery St Mary, Devon.
4–5 "Corby" 26 December 2012
Recorded at The Corby Cube, Corby, Northamptonshire.
4–6 "Chipping Norton" 2 January 2013
Recorded at The Theatre, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.

Series 5

# Title Original airdate
5–1 "Glastonbury" 8 January 2014
Mark Steel visits Glastonbury in Somerset for another programme of travelling stand-up.
5–2 "Derry/Londonderry" 15 January 2014
Mark's problems start with deciding which name to actually use.
5–3 "St Davids" 22 January 2014
Where the locals are sometimes very rude but sometimes almost too friendly.
5–4 "Southall" 29 January 2014
5–5 "Birkenhead" 5 February 2014
5–6 "Huddersfield" 12 February 2014


The first series of Mark Steel's in Town was released for download on 1 March 2010. The series has yet to be released on CD.[17]

A book accompanying the series, entitled Mark Steel's in Town and published by Fourth Estate, was released on 27 October 2011.[17]

See also




  1. ^ a b c d e f Wolf, Ian. "Mark Steel's In Town".  
  2. ^ a b c MacDonagh, Dairmuid (18 April 2009). "A wry look at life on Portland".  
  3. ^ a b Reeves, Lisa (13 February 2010). """Mark Steel in "The Knightsbridge of the north. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Reeves, Lisa (13 February 2010). "Mark Steel at his rudest". Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Best Comedy – 2010".  
  6. ^ a b "Best Comedy - 2012".  
  7. ^ a b "Writers' Guild Awards 2010 – winners announced".  
  8. ^ a b Brown, Aaron (23 January 2013). "Miranda picks up top Awards titles". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Boosey, Mark (21 January 2013). "The Awards 2012". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Brew, Simon (1 April 2009). "Mark Steel interview". Den of Geek. Retrieved 22 April 2009. 
  11. ^ Allen, Gavin (15 April 2009). "Mark Steel says Merthyr Tydfil has lost its fighting spirit".  
  12. ^ Wolf, Ian. "Mark Steel's In Town – Production Details, Plus Regular Cast and Crew".  
  13. ^ a b Campling, Chris (24 March 2009). "Mark Steel gets the Yorkshire relish".  
  14. ^ Mahoney, Elisabeth (8 April 2010). "Mark Steel's In Town".  
  15. ^ "Having the last laugh... at ourselves". North Devon Journal. 4 May 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  16. ^  
  17. ^ a b Mark Steel's in Town' Merchandise"'".  

External links

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