In 2008 Rebecca Adlington put Mansfield on the map with her heroics at the Beijing Olympics, filling a slightly embarrassing gap south of Sheffield. Since then there has been enough success from British sports stars, musicians and actors that a spokesman for the AA now believes that their road map contains ‘at least 90% of the towns in Britain’.
‘For years we’ve been producing our maps with huge empty spaces on them where we just didn’t know what was there. A couple of hundred years ago you could get away with putting “here be dragons”, but we tried that a few years back with an area just east of Derby and people laughed at us.’ said Steve King who claims that the AA have ‘the most complete map of places in Britain where people have done something vaguely noteworthy’.
When the AA first started producing their road maps of Britain all that was on them was London, which was fine for Londoners as it confirmed their suspicions that there was nothing outside of the M25. But then people from outside of London started making headlines and it turned out that they didn’t all live in trees or fields.
‘The first really big one that I remember was in the 1960s when the Beatles put Liverpool on the map, but we still had an awful lot of empty space on there. Since then we’ve gradually filled in the gaps as people have put their towns on the map by being in films, good at sport or by being a reasonably successful recording artist,’ continued King.
‘Of course it’s not just in Britain where maps are made like this. If you go back even further then Hitler really put Germany on the map, even if it wasn’t quite so much of the map as he’d hoped. If he’d been successful then it would have made life a lot easier for map-makers to be honest, but I’m sure there could have been some downsides too.’
Lessons have been learned the hard way that celebrities should not be allowed to physically put their town on the map, and that job should be left to qualified cartographers.
‘We were producing a revised edition in the late 90s and offered to let David Beckham put his home town on for us, but he just drew a pony. In the middle of the Atlantic.’