ESSEX: ITV2 show The Only Way is Essex could set us back 20 years
ITV chiefs have been berated by the people of Essex for portraying our county as "a world where nail bars, night clubs and tanning salons are a way of life".
A voiceover at the start of the show from Essex celebrity Denise Van Outen explains that these are not actors – everything in the show is real.
The concept is a real-life soap opera, with eight characters that slot in and out of one another's lives, saying things like, "Who done the dictionary though? Is he from Essex?"
The show revolves around people like Amy Childs, a 20-year-old Jordan look-alike whose ideal man is Peter Andre and who makes a living gluing fake diamonds to ladies' pubic regions.
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And Kirk Norcross, the supposedly quintessential Essex man who tries to woo her, tells Amy: "Of course people fancy you ... you have fake boobs and you look really nice".
An ITV spokesman responded to the county's criticisms by saying: "The Only Way is Essex represents a slice of Essex life. It's clearly not a representation of the whole of the county."
But Daphne Field, head of the Essex Women's Advisory Group which aims to combat the negative stereotype, said: "The problem is that there are a few of these types of people in every town in the country, from Maidstone and Basingstoke to Newcastle and Liverpool.
"But people always focus on the odd few who live in Essex, and it's all because of this stereotypical Essex girl and Essex man.
"The stereotype is getting really boring. We are an affluent county with lots of successful men and women.
"And whoever came up with this show has not presented a fair cross-section of people in Essex."
Jeremy Lucas, Essex County Council cabinet member for heritage, culture and the arts, said he is proud to be an Essex man.
"The council has worked really hard to promote a greater understanding of Essex and what it is really all about," he said.
"It's disappointing people are still trying to suggest there is only one aspect to the county."
Radio presenter and Essex girl Sarah Champion said she cringed when she watched the show.
She told the Chronicle she would boycott it in future and urged others to do the same.
"This is going to set us back 20 years or worse," she said.
"It is just perpetuating an unfair, negative stereotype that us Essex girls have to live with. It's akin to having a show about Yorkshire where everyone walks around with flat caps and whippets.
"It would have been so much more interesting to create a show called, Essex – It's Not What You Think, and focus on the positive things the people of our county have contributed to society
"This show is lowest common denominator TV and I hope no-one watches it."
Sally Carpenter, Chair of the Braintree Business Council, said: "We have a lot to be proud of in Essex.
"We have London on our doorstep and the countryside too, and there are lots of talented businesspeople.
"We have more people starting up businesses than almost any other county, and having a lot of success.
"But I think it will attract more viewers to portray Essex like they have.
"It's sad if this programme makes people ashamed to be from Essex."
David Skinner, Professor of Sociology at Anglia Ruskin University, said: "What infuriates me is that this programme is a form of snobbery – associating Essex with loose sexual behaviour.
"A lot of my students are embarrassed to say they are from Essex, and this programme is making the stereotype worse.
"It is a misrepresentation of a big, culturally and socially diverse county and it's rather vulgar."
Pete May, who has written an in-depth sociological portrayal of the Essex man for the Chronicle on page 24&25, said: "There is more to Essex than stilettos, blonde hair and jewels on your private parts.
"There is a lot of warmth and vitality in the county, but the show's producers have just gone to the lowest common denominator."
Witham MP Priti Patel said: "Due to Parliamentary and constituency duties I have not seen the programme. However, people should never accept stereotypes. Any sensible person would come to Essex and see what we are like across the county rather than base their opinions on a television show. I would urge the media to promote more positive images of Essex, such as the wonderful community groups or the businesses creating local wealth and prosperity."