In 1990 Essex Man swaggered onto the scene in his shiny suit, driving a flash car and with his white-stiletto-wearing missus on his arm. It was a step up from sovereign rings and done-up Ford Cortinas, but brash, vulgar and ‘breathtakingly right-wing’ Mr and Mrs Essex were still the target for pity, condemnation and nationwide mockery.
Twenty-odd years on, something strange has happened. From Russell Brand and Jamie Oliver to Phill Jupitus and Ray Winstone, via the runaway success of TV shows like The Only Way is Essex and Gavin and Stacey, Essex is now the most iconic county in th UK and the essence of Essex is everywhere.
But there’s more to the county than stereotypes, as Brentwood-reared Pete May discovers when he takes an eye-opening journey through the Essex tundra. Along the way, May finds bluebells in Billericay, sculpture in Harlow, Hollywood-style signs on the A127, below-sea-level life in Canvey Island as well as endless chip shops, and asks the vital question: is the only way Essex or is there maybe another one?