Comment: 70-stone man story sees Ipswich fall foul of tabloids again

POOR old Ipswich. Yet again, Suffolk's historic county town is being ridiculed and humiliated in the eyes of the nation - this time because of the plight of a 70-stone man.

POOR old Ipswich. Yet again, Suffolk's historic county town is being ridiculed and humiliated in the eyes of the nation - this time because of the plight of a 70-stone man.

But is it fair? EADT editor TERRY HUNT (who lives in Ipswich) looks at the difference between reality and reputation.

“The world's fattest bloke lives in Ipswich.''

So screamed the front page headline of Britain's biggest-selling newspaper yesterday.

The story was about a desperately ill and grossly overweight man who urgently needs specialist hospital treatment, and the logistical difficulties of transporting him. There was talk of needing a Chinook helicopter, such was the size of the formidable task.

It is, undoubtedly, a very sad story. The deeply personal issues which lie behind it are thought-provoking, to say the least. Rightly or wrongly, it's a strong “tabloid tale'' which the red-tops will lap up.

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But the way The Sun treated the story - at least in its headline - is interesting. Why mention Ipswich? It looks as though The Sun has decided that, in some perverse way, Ipswich is to blame for the misfortune of the man who is allegedly the world's heaviest human being.

And so continues the dismantling of Ipswich's reputation by Britain's tabloid press. In the eyes of their millions of readers, Ipswich is:

- A town overrun with prostitutes

- The home of Steve Wright, Britain's most frenzied killer

- On a lighter note, the home of England's least successful football team

- And now, where the world's fattest man lives

Given that perception, it's easy to see why The Sun decided to keep it going. When a town is down, why not keep on kicking? The interesting question here is this: If our 70-stone man had lived in another town, would the headline have read the same?

Would, for example, our friends in Murdoch-land have run with a headline stating “The world's fattest man lives in Norwich?'' Or Colchester? Or Southampton? Almost certainly not, because they're viewed as “nice towns.''

On the other hand, you can see in your mind's eye “The world's fattest man lives in Slough.'' Or Southend. Or any other town which has reputation “issues'' in the opinion of the mass media (and hence their millions of readers).

So, is it fair? Is Ipswich really such an awful place? Let's look at the evidence closer to home. It is fair to say that the relationship between Ipswich and the rest of Suffolk is not the same as that between Norwich and Norfolk.

Without generalising too much, Norfolk is very proud of Norwich - with the possible exception of some of the folk in the Fenlands around King's Lynn. Let's be frank - the same cannot be said about the whole of Suffolk.

When I started work as a journalist, 30 years ago, I was based in the beautiful town of Bury St Edmunds. Very quickly, I picked up a negative attitude towards Ipswich among some local people. There were some who avoided it like the plague, apparently believing that simply setting foot inside the town after dark guaranteed a mugging, or worse.

I don't live in Bury any more, so I have no idea whether that negativity towards the county town still exists. I hope not.

What I do know is the reaction I get when, at some social occasions linked to work, I tell people that I live in Ipswich. Quite often the response is one of surprise, even shock. You can almost see people thinking “Surely he could have done better than that?''

I certainly don't think everyone in Suffolk has a negative view of Ipswich, but it definitely exists. And it's a real issue for our county. Suffolk relies increasingly on the multi-millions which the tourism industry brings in each year. To have a county town with an unfortunate reputation does not help one iota. It certainly makes doing business more difficult.

So, is it fair? Personally, I don't think it is. If Ipswich was anywhere near as bad as the tabloids say, I wouldn't have chosen to live in the town, and to send my children to state schools in Ipswich, which were excellent, I hasten to add.

Of course, Ipswich has its issues, like any medium to large town. It has its fair share of crime and social issues. There are some deeply deprived areas. And successive generations of town planners have done the town no favours by sweeping away street after street of beautiful historic buildings.

But - and it's a big but - Ipswich is unrecognisable from the town it was 30 or 40 years ago. Back then, it truly was a bit of a dump. Grotty pubs, just one or two nightclubs, hardly any decent restaurants, and with its traditional heavy engineering firms in decline. It had an air of decay.

Now, in the right places and on the right nights, it's buzzing. The Waterfront development - after decades of waiting - is fantastic. We finally have a university which will establish its reputation over the next few years. There's just about every kind of cuisine you can name on offer. The schools are, in general, pretty good.

I'm not saying it's the best place in the whole of the UK. But it's certainly not the worst, not by a long, long way, and it doesn't deserve to be vilified by the influential national tabloids. Ipswich is getting rough, undeserved treatment. Sadly, mud sticks. Remember - what the red tops say, their readers believe.

So, it's down to us to concentrate on what's good about Suffolk's county town - and there is quite a lot - and make sure we sing its praises in all the right quarters. It will be hard work, but it doesn't look like anyone else is going to do it for us. Certainly not our “friends'' in what used to be called Fleet Street.

- PS. Yes, I realise I rather glossed over the football team's performances. I'm hoping this is just a temporary blip…

- What do you think? Let us know by posting a comment below.