“Grockles” and “Emmets”

Matthew Steeples discovers Michael Winner’s links to descriptions of unwelcome “out of towners”


My last linguistic rambling explored two words, “plebs” and “ladettes,” that, like Andrew Mitchell MP, truly need to be eliminated from our culture. The next two in this series, “grockles” and “emmets,” have far more amusing origins and truly sum up the eccentricities of those living in the South of England.


I was led to believe that the word “grockle” was an ancient description of “those not from round here,” but having done a little research I now discover that it actually emanates from the 20th century The Dandy’s comic strip, “Danny and the Grockle.”


“Grockles” and caravans commonly go together

“The Girl-Getters” (AKA “The System”) starred Oliver Reed, Jane Merrow, Barbara Ferris, Harry Andrews and Julia Foster and was directed by Michael Winner

The Dandy’s “grockle” was nothing other than a dragon like creature. There wasn’t anything more to the beast and it wasn’t until 1964 that the term became popularised when it was used in a film set in the Devon resort of Torquay. In The System (renamed The Girl-Getters for the US market), starring Oliver Reed and directed by Michael Winner, one of the characters states:


“Bloody grockles and their caravans, always jamming up the Devon lanes!”


Henceforth, the word became forevermore linked to tourists and thus we can hold Michael Winner responsible for bringing it to the world’s attention. Winner, who describes, himself as: “A totally insane film director, writer, producer, silk shirt cleaner, bad tempered, totally ridiculous example of humanity in deep shit” really should proudly add a reference to this to his Twitter handle.


Other definitions of the “grockle” are more specific and an especially amusing one separates these interlopers very clearly:


“It’s used as an insult towards ignorant and usually posh tourists; those with caravans; those with five kids, a dog, a grandad tagging along and those that have been coming to town for twenty years and think they know and own the place.”


The same commentator on this term continues:


“Someone holidaying in Christchurch who’s from Southampton isn’t a grockle… Foreign tourists aren’t [grockles] either as these generally tend to be considerate people when traveling and don’t make a nuisance of themselves… However, when I went to Puerto Banus near Marbella, I’d heard it was very exclusive but it was full of grockles still.”


The word is now so recognised that it was used in an a 2010 article in The Sunday Times about the sale of Lord Cowdray’s £25 million home in West Sussex:


“Bar a few open-garden events, the Cowdrays have never allowed visitor access to the property, so the eventual buyer won’t have to endure grockles coming up the drive.”


Whilst we have discovered that a “grockle” is a pretty general term, in Cornwall they have a more specific variation. The Cornish use the pejorative nickname “emmet” for tourists.


Derived from the Cornish language word for “ant,” the “emmet” is an analogy for the way in which both tourists and ants are often red in colour and appear to mill around. “Emmets,” it seems, are nuisances who get in the way and whom the locals would rather weren’t there.


Michael Winner wearing a T-shirt complete with his trademark phrase: “Calm down dear”… In this case he states: “It’s only a recession” but we do think he ought to also get one stating: “Calm down dear, they’re only grockles, they’re not from round ‘ere”

Be they a “grockle” or an “emmet,” tourists may well generate millions in revenue for the people of the South West but still, as many a local will say: “They’re not welcome round ‘ere.” I’m sure many a restaurateur feels similarly when Mr Michael Winner lands on his doorstep.


Grockles away.


View Michael Winner’s official website at: http://www.michael-winner.com/


Follow Michael Winner on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/mrmichaelwinner

  1. I am a little confused by this article – does anyone else understand what it is actually about? The most bemusing point is it featuring a photo of my Husband and me along with our chicken Henrietta, taken in our back garden almost 2 years ago. It would appear that the author of this article, although not knowing us personally, believes we reflect the “ignorant and usually posh tourists”. Ignorant: lacking knowledge or education in general or in a specific subject. The ‘caravan’ referred to in the article is actually a Cardinal Travel Trailer which is from the US, note the door is on the ‘wrong’ side. Posh: elegant, fashionable, and expensive – I almost want to agree with this but although we are elegant we are not fashionable (we only keep chickens not sheep) and expensive – sorry we imported the trailer and restored it ourselves, no well-off spending of money here! I note the Steeple Times claim both Wit (the apt, clever, and often humorous association of words or ideas, or a capacity for it) & Wisdom (the ability to make sensible decisions and judgments based on personal knowledge and experience), unfortunately I see neither in this article, just a rambling of words and the use of a photo randomly selected, copy & pasted from no doubt another article found elsewhere on the web!

    • Lisa – On behalf of myself and Mr Bone, I must say that though your ‘trailer’ looks perfectly nice, I personally would not opt to holiday in a ‘sardine can’ on any occasion. On several occasions, Mr Bone has raised the matter of caravaners blocking the roads of our region in the House and I shall continue to urge him to do such. You would do well to turn your ‘it’s not a caravan’ into a home for your chicken Henrietta (if it is still alive: mine get attacked by the foxes a little too often so don’t last two years). The world would thank you for keeping it off our highways. Thank you, Mrs Bone.

    • I found the article quite an education Lisa. What have you missed? Well, I didn’t know about Michael Winner’s input into the word “grockle’s” widespread usage and I had never heard of an “emmet.” The picture of the caravan is far from an attack on you, it just shows a pair of people (i.e. you and your husband) with a rather snazzy caravan. Steeples refers to posh caravaners and yours reflects that in all its glory. I’d take it as a compliment that he included you rather than a stereotypical caravanner in a pair of Kappa pants. Read it again. You might learn something.

      • Lisa – You cannot say that ‘we are elegant we are not fashionable’ when you are pictured wearing dungarees (fashion disasters, deeply unflattering and impractical). Otherwise, your caravan, sorry Cardinal Travel Trailer, does look rather cool, but you know this already as it features in the book ‘Cool Caravans’ and has been lifted and used in a multitude of blogs and articles since the book was published.

    • Dear Lisa Coombes :
      You say: “I am a little confused by this article – does anyone else understand what it is actually about? “
      Your bemused query is like that of someone who, having committed a faux-pas turns around to surprised observers and says, unknowingly, “What??”
      I shall make a further posting about “Grockles” and “Emmets”, later, but now let me say that I think you are unduly defensive about your smart, compact Cardinal Travel Trailer.
      Its snazzy appearance and modest dimensions would not, I imagine, cause the kind of irritation of locals and tourists alike I observed once when a huge Winnebago RV became stuck in a narrow street in Looe, Cornwall and had to be retrieved by a HGV recovery truck.
      “Grockles” and “Emmets”, are typified by those who seem to have a singular, selfish lack of awareness of the needs and sensitivities of local residents. The old definition of ‘good manners’ – “Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourselves”, seems to apply here.
      Incidentally, I thought there is a flattering comparisom between you and your (elegant?) husband in Grant Wood’s painting!
      gorhemmynnadow (Greetings in Cornish)
      Glenmore Trenear-Harvey

    • What on earth are you on about woman? Why do you write “husband” with a capital “H” and why on earth would you want to be in a book named “Cool Caravans”? The article itself is fascinating and I was delighted to learn about the meaning of “grockles” and “emmets”.

  2. This reply is so full of wit it must be a spoof. Lisa, you and your hen should become regular contributors. You have made my day. Thank you!

  3. Please allow a son of Kernow to opine.
    As you’ll note the adage “‘Tre’, ‘Pol’ and ‘Pen’ by these ye shall know Cornishmen”.
    For generations in Cornwall the Trenear-Harvey family have engaged in farming, mining, fishing (and possibly smuggling too!)
    The motto (in Cornish) on my family armorial bearings is “Harth Mes Len” – “Boldly but sincerely”. There is even an heraldic pun on the escutcheon featuring three Cornish Choughs viz three near: ‘TRENEAR’ Ho Ho! I’m Cornish through and through.
    But when I return to the county I’m often greeted by “You bain’t be from round ‘ere me ‘andsome, are ye?”
    The indigenous Cornish are kind, welcoming folk. The will eagerly take your money for the splendid produce, accommodation and services they provide. Rarely will you hear moans about ‘emmets’ or ‘grockles’.
    However the large number of retired folk who have moved to Cornwall (the largest influx in the U.K.) are another matter. They have brought with them their ‘Nimby’ prejudices and are most likely to be resentful to the ‘emmets’ and ‘grockles’ and would endorse Noel Coward’s (tounge-in-cheek) observation:
    “What a pity the awful people travel and the nice people stay at home”.
    I do agree with the editor about caravans though. They can be an absolute pest.


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