Residents of Staines remembered the filming of Ali G Indahouse, who turns 20 on Tuesday (March 22, 2022). They shared memories of filming and a fondness for the show’s star, Sacha Baron Cohen, who took the time to sign everything from baseball caps to paper plates.
You might expect Staines families to respond with the kind of eye roll you get in Woking when you mention This pizza place. But the response was huge and positive, and showed the incredible affection that many locals still have for the city’s most famous fictional resident.
The movie and the character weren’t for everyone. Nick Pollard, curator of the Spelthorne Museum in Staines, says he’s had his critics over the years, not least because he misidentified Staines as being in Berkshire. He says: “The film is harmless entertainment, but I don’t think the people at Staines were very impressed. It is said that part of the reason for the name change to [‘Staines-upon-Thames’] was to move away from the image of Ali G.”
Read more: Ali G’s legacy on Staines: Was the city’s rise due to the voice of da yoof?
There’s no doubt what a massive pop culture phenomenon Ali G was in the early 2000s – he was someone who would go on to conduct mock interviews with everyone from Buzz Aldrin to Beckhams to Donald Trump before the White House. And for many people living in and around Staines at the time, it was an exciting prospect for Sacha Baron Cohen and his co-stars to film in the area, especially since the character was a stepping stone.
But Ali G was already hugely famous by this point on The Da Ali G Show and Channel 4’s 11 O’Clock Show, and had conducted interviews with Mohammed Al-Fayed, John Humphrys and even a young Jacob Rees-Mogg. Her appearance in the clip for Madonna’s 2000 hit “Music” also showed her recognition across the Atlantic.
There are a number of scenes for those familiar with Staines – a downtown car chase between rival gangs that never exceeds 20/30 mph speed limits, scenes of Ali G at his home (identified by globalfilmlocations.net as Grosvenor Road) and a hunger strike scene which sees the character with his underwear pulled down outside the town hall, opposite The George pub.
Nicola Clarence recalls meeting Baron Cohen in a suit just outside the town hall in a director’s chair. She says: “Several people said he gave Staines a bad name, in fact I don’t believe he did – You can say ‘Ali G’, and people know where Staines is, so it’s kind of nice to refer to that when you say where you live.”
“It was around 2001 I think, when I was doing my GCSEs at Magna Carta [secondary school] on the road. Several of us had finished our exams, so we were walking home, and there were a lot of people around the town hall. We being us, we were very curious and went further.
“It was surreal that they were filming in Staines. I got his autograph, can’t remember where it is now, but I went after I grabbed a piece of paper, and he was actually very friendly and did it for us, which was really nice.”
She is not the only one to have received a signature. Carolyn Allen says she had a more unusual article signed after spotting Ali G in her RV while filming.
She says: “I asked the security guard outside if he could get him to sign a paper plate I had just bought for my son’s birthday! signed (I hope Ali G and not the security guard)!”
Based on a Google image search for Ali G’s signature, it was a convincing fake of the security guard if there ever was one. The signature reads “Chanan Respek” and is signed in character as Ali G, which Carolyn still retains today.
Chloe Holland recalls Baron Cohen signing everyone’s caps and visors – “I was only young then (14) and my friends at the time let him sign his Gap visor but I didn’t want to get in trouble with my mom for that!”
Lisa Duguid says she understands why Ali G’s association with the city might annoy some older members of the community, but she only has fond memories of filming, and she was lucky enough to get a photo with Sacha Baron Cohen in costume.
“It was amazing, especially when you’re young. Looking back on it, those are really great memories. There’s nothing negative about it. If you watch this movie and you have the good sense of humour, you’ll find it’s funny.”
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