Comedian Mark Steel’s back in Barnsley next week. And he knows all about the place. He’s got a book about it.
The idea of the Back in Town tour is to find out some offbeat and entertaining stories about a town and to make the locals laugh about it. The show has also run for five series on Radio Four.
So Mark’s got a book called A Century of Barnsley but when we spoke he hadn’t had time to read it yet because he was off to Bracknell in Berkshire for that night’s show.
Bracknell’s proving strangely interesting, though: “Barack Obama went to Bracknell. He’s got a stepsister or something there (actually his stepmother, Kezia Obama). He visited the year before he was president.
“When he was tussling with Hilary Clinton to be the candidate, he took time off to get to Bracknell!
“He went to a stag party while he was there and a stripagram came on, so he ran straight out the door. He didn’t want his presidential aspirations ruined by some right-wing religious Tea Party person getting hold of a video of him dancing about to some Bracknell stripagram gallivanting about.”
To be fair, Mark has heard of Kipper Jackson, the legendary Barnsley street karaoke performer and town character, whose many run-ins with the police include being jailed for planting a cream bun on a policeman’s head.
Now he knows about the Freedom Riders too and their fight to win back free train travel for pensioners, because I told him about them.
Other odd facts he’s found out about places that he’s been to are that Henry Williamson, the writer of the book about Tarka the otter in Torrington, Devon, was actually a hardcore member of Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. Of course, Mark thinks Tarka was in on the whole thing.
Still in Devon, his research into Lynton turned up the great feral goat debate.
He said: “I usually send out a message on Twitter asking people for ideas about a place. Everyone told me about the feral goats. If you look it up on the computer, there’s goats that wander about and come into the town. It’s the thing that everyone talks about.
“There’s a Lynton feral goat society with a constitution and everything. There’s an argument because there’s some hippyish types who say leave the goats to roam wherever they want. Others say you’ve got to control them to a certain extent.
“One person called the others the extremist wing of the Lynton Feral Goat Association. Maybe there’s someone who runs around with a balaclava on, holding goats to ransom.”
Mark says that the first half of the show looks at some of his favourite stories about the places he’s been to and the second half is mostly what he’s found out about the town where he’s appearing.
“Every single place has some slightly surreal element to it like Nazi otters, feral goat associations or blokes being arrested for putting a bun on a policeman’s head.”
As Barnsley is the last stop on the tour, he says he’s tempted to just bring games, like the last day of term at school.
And don’t bother to tell Mark strange stories about Barnsley after the show because he’s got to think about the next place.
“I come off somewhere and someone will go, ‘there’s another thing I can tell you about this town’. I haven’t the slightest interest! I couldn’t care less if the Pope is currently living in your house.”
n Mark Steel’s Back in Town comes to Barnsley Civic Assembly Room next Wednesday. Box office: at the theatre on Hanson Street, call 01226 327000 or go online at http://www.barnsleycivic.co.uk/