Young male voice, Northern accent: The best thing about Watford? It's definitely the sour cherry scones.
Older female voice, East London accent: Definitely the students. And the goats. And me memories. The students, the goats, and me memories.
Young male voice, Oxbridge accent: Ordinarily I'd say not having to talk to plebeian Normal comedians.
Announcer: Welcome to Mark Steel's in Town!
Music clip: We're gonna rock this town, rock it inside out [fade]
[cheers and applause]
Mark Steel: Thank you very much, and welcome to Mark Steel's in Town, which this week comes to you from Watford, the most famous school in England that no one has ever heard of. Seriously, even the people who live right next door have never heard of it. It took me an hour and a half to get here from the train station. I kept asking people where Watford was and no one knew what I was talking about. Finally I decided I'd just walk around and get to know the area and worry about finding the school later, so I asked someone what a pleasant direction for a stroll would be, and they told me “Oh, pretty well any direction is good, but don't go up over the hill to the east of town, the sun reflecting off the lake could burn your eyes right out” and I thought “Coo-ee, that must be where I want to head.”
So I did find it, and I wasn't blinded – at least not until I got inside the gates. Suddenly, everywhere I look, I see purple and green. Purple and green! Together! Whose idea was that!? This is where somebody who was taking the piss might say “What, were the good colors already taken?” But of course, the good colors weren't already taken, because you're older than everybody. You're older than Eton! You're older than Oxford or Cambridge! I don't think you're older than Christianity, but I could be mistaken.
And why haven't people heard of it? [voice from audience: “Because we don't want them to!”] Because you don't want them to? Why not? This school is properly beautiful. You've got Gothic architecture to rival some of the finest cathedrals and schools in Great Britain. Though I did see this one building that had vines growing down it, which seemed a bit odd. I reckon you thought “Well, it's not a proper ancient school without some vines growing on the buildings, but anyone can have vines that grow up. I know, we'll have them grow down!”
And besides your beautiful campus, you have all these amazing alumni and former faculty! T. S. Eliot went here! Terry Pratchett went here! Penn and Teller were visiting faculty here! So many amazing people.
So, you are this venerable old school, but it doesn't mean you don't keep up with modern technology. The students here have a new secret Facebook group. A very, very secret Facebook group – even after I was added to the group, I couldn't see the posts. I had to have a nice young lady read them out to me. Is Penelope here?
Penelope Bunce: Hi Mark!
Mark Steel: Hello Penelope! Now, you were one of the founders of this new Facebook group, isn't that right?
PB: Yes, that's right. Some of us felt that we needed someplace outside the view of the... administration for planning and discussion.
MS: Oh, right, I expect you need to plan a few clandestine parties, a little bit of fun like students anywhere?
PB: Well, that, certainly, and we need to save the world.
MS: Oh, do you have a chapter of Extinction Rebellion?
PB: Something like that, yes.
MS: Well, thank you so much for your help.
So you have this amazing mix of contradictions. You're ancient beyond understanding, but you're using up to the minute social media. You have a host of illustrious graduates but no one has heard of you. You're amazingly beautiful but it's as if no one can see you. I want to thank you all for welcoming me here, and I'd like to leave you with this bit from the Watford prospectus: “You have heard, no doubt, of schools like Rugby, Eton, and Harrow. You have heard of them, which is why you should not consider them for a moment. You should try Watford, a school so elite that no one knows about it. Watford, when nothing is exclusive enough.”
Mark Steel's in Town has been a BBC Studios production and was written by Mark Steel with additional material by Pete Sinclair. It was produced at Watford by Sanjiv Patel.