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Bristol City Council claims “FUCK ABOUT” graffiti offensive. Locals are less sure…

June 25, 2009

Whilst he was up a ladder cleaning off the damaged Banksy Mild Mild West,  Chris Chalkley of PRSC was handed this letter from Denise James, Project Officer for Bristol Clean and Green.Council-letterwordpress

These are pictures of the offending work.grafffuckwordpress


This is our considered reply:

Dear Denise,

Thank you for your e-mail bringing to my attention the alleged profanity of a piece of work which appeared this week on the Ashley Road practice wall. I intended to take action this morning (24th June) to address the issue, but was delayed by events. As you may know, the Banksy Mild Mild West piece was attacked (Again),  and we felt that its repair should take priority.

In the event no remedial action was necessary to the allegedly offensive graffiti, because another piece of work was painted over it in the afternoon; a natural course of events on a practice wall. The wall is heavily used, and locals report that tagging and random graffiti has declined markedly in the area, which is enormously positive, in my view.

Before forming an opinion as to whether the “Fuck About” piece was offensive, I went to the wall and conducted a straw poll. I spoke to 21 passers-by, including motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, asking the questions “Do you find this graffiti offensive? Should we remove it?”

For 73% of this admittedly small sample, the answer was that the painting was not offensive, and that it should not be removed… This sample included MaryAnne Kempf, Chair of St. Pauls Unlimited, and a local resident, Des Bowring who I had never met before. He sent me the following e-mail:

Hi Chris

I was appalled to hear that the city council are threatening to vandalise the graffiti art on Stokes Croft/Ashley Road practice wall because they deem the word ‘fuck’ to be offensive.

The word in question is such common currency in today’s culture that it has long lost its power to shock. It retains a value in expressing anger in political and other statements, as well as in the service of humour. In the interests of freedom of expression there is absolutely no justification for demanding it to be removed. It is integral to the rest of the work on the wall, and is not particularly ‘in your face’ or used gratuitously – in fact I would go so far as to say it is a very discreet ‘fuck’!

I don’t think the council is in any position to lecture the people of Bristol about street art, given the former’s lamentable record on this issue in the past, and I hope you are successful in keeping the artwork intact for as long as you want it there, without interference from our moral guardians at Bristol City Council.



I would have been willing to modify this piece of work, because I agree that we do not want to offend. However, I think the reaction of the local populace suggests that they are less easily offended than you might think, and perhaps value freedom of expression a little more than you might think.

In the interests of openness and encouraging public debate, I have posted a sign on the practice wall and will copy the correspondence onto the PRSC blog. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.

As you know, one of the declared aims of PRSC is to help the area to flourish. The Arts play an enormous role in this. And Stokes Croft is fast becoming an Outdoor Art Gallery of some repute. It receives a very positive mention on the City Museum’s flyer for the ground-breaking Banksy show. We fervently hope that you will get behind our project in a positive and meaningful way, since it seems to gaining support, and we do seem to be seeing positive change in the area.

Best Regards,

Chris Chalkley



Another piece of work was painted over the allegedly offensive graffiti in the afternoon ofthe 24th , as is a natural course of events on a practice wall.


In the interests of openness and encouraging public debate, we posted a sign on the practice wall for all to read.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2009 4:25 pm

    I’m a local resident and offer my full support to the PRSC.

    If the council want to suggest that certain Graf work is offensive I would counter with the point that dereliction and neglect are substantially more offensive; massive advertising boards are substantially more offensive the councils attitude to the people of Bristol is substantially more offensive.

    Kudos to Chris Chalkey who, among others, works night and day to create an antidote to the councils attitude towards Stokes Croft, its residents and its visitors.

  2. Cllr Mark Wright permalink
    July 2, 2009 10:28 am

    Chris, how many of your sample were parents walking young children along the road? The Council is obliged to remove “offensive” grafitti when it is reported as such by the public. While the word (and even the “C” word) is not offensive to you, or me, or many others, it still is to a significant number of people. I think you need to bear that in mind, especially as this is a busy public route, it’s much better to keep the mainstream public onside in this issue.

    The BBC has just had to retreat on the issue of swearing on TV because there is still a proportion of the population who – for whatever reason – are still upset by the sounds or sights of certain words. People who know me know that I swear like a trooper and always have done…but I make sure I dont when I’m on the radio or TV!

    PS Good work again repairing the Mild Mild West…

    • stokescroft permalink*
      July 2, 2009 5:06 pm

      Mark, I am not campaigning for the word, “Fuck” to be common currency, and I recognise that some people may have been offended…
      Interestingly enough, I did include a couple of people with small children in my impromptu survey… And they had no problem with the word. The survey simply highlights that BCC are not necessarily as in sync with the population as they might imagine, and that Stokes Croft, in particular, is more tolerant than generally assumed, with many people perhaps valuing freedom of expression over the isk of offense…

      Chris Chalkley

  3. Anita Mason permalink
    July 3, 2009 10:25 am

    The Council should stop being such an officious busybody and get on with something that really would improve the Stokes Croft area, like (a) sorting out Westmoreland House, (b) dealing with dog shit. The latter is far more likely to upset people taking their children along the pavement than graffiti. And Ms James should learn the use of the apostrophe.

  4. Gabby Mejias - Mino permalink
    July 23, 2009 12:05 pm

    the ‘Fuck off’ is not offencive! thats just like saying that Banksy’s art is all offencive. If Bristol City council has such a problem about this then why don’t they get a special area like a wall or two that people that do grafeaty can just use and then you would have less of these problems. People like doing grafeaty. And why is it called that. Its another form of art so just call the proper peices are and call the rest that are just random scribbles on the wall. For some people the art may have meening to them. Some people could look at them and be like yeh thats a point. and get sumthing out of it. This is a 15 year old grl writting this. i hate grafeaty but i love the art that people do! because i find meening in them. So give people a break about it. Many thanks.

    • Gareth Jones permalink
      August 9, 2010 5:36 pm

      Hi Gabby. I’ve been trying to contact you. Could you please get in touch. xx

    • Shane Vincent permalink
      August 18, 2010 12:44 am

      Hi Gabby,

      I do appologys I really need you to contact me…I have recently come into contact with my biological father and im hoping you could help me out.
      Please e-mail me as soon as you can at


  5. August 29, 2009 2:19 pm

    Gabby i agree, kinda, but i think we need to “keep an open mind about this!”

  6. Rachael permalink
    October 1, 2009 1:46 pm

    I agree with Rob and Anita that some other things can be just as offensive to our souls as the f word, i.e. huges advertising boards, dog poop, etc. – but I didn’t think it was a matter of two can play that game here.

    I thought the point of positive graffiti/artwork was just that, positivity – and community. The PRSC work brings a smile to my face often when I pass through Stokes Croft; it shows the vibrant community living in this area.
    Even when the graffiti depicts alternative viewpoints on the political landscape and/or moral/ethical arguments, it’s often done in a thoughtful, emotionally provoking but not offensive manner.
    Surely that in itself shows importance in providing views of how we wish our world to be?

    The alternative is random tagging and desecration of public spaces, which brings an area or building down. I class swearing in this category. Surely we want intelligent artwork, which has no need to use swearing to get it’s point across?

    I don’t always use the cleanest language myself, but I do take care around people who may be offended or with whom I don’t consider it appropriate i.e. children.

    Shouldn’t artwork in public spaces do the same, as like much of the other work PRSC has provided us with?

  7. Gareth Jones permalink
    August 26, 2010 1:36 pm

    Gabby you have a point. I wonder though was it really necessary to include a word that is offensive to so many people?

    I used to live in worle in Weston Super Mare and there are places there that have grafiti. If they were well drawn and didn’t contain bad language, I didn’t mind seeing them too much.

    I also used to live in oakleigh Avenue in Bristol and near there you find a lot of this form of art especially the cycle path.

    I’m still looking and I hope I find more soon.

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