A rather special TV series begins on BBC2 tonight. The Secret History of Our Streets is a six-parter, with each episode telling the social history of a particular London street. The first instalment takes a walk down Deptford High Street, a uniquely fascinating area that has altered dramatically within the lifetimes of its oldest residents.
Using Charles Booth’s poverty maps from the turn of the last century, the programme charts how the street moved from relative affluence (“the Oxford Street of the south”) to slum conditions. In one memorable scene, a planning officer who served on the local council in the 1970s is taken round the area. His colleagues were responsible for knocking down perfectly serviceable Victorian housing to build an unpopular low-rise estate, a decision he attempts to justify but with obvious discomfort.
The BBC have conjured up something truly special here. You’ll never forget the moment when one elderly resident is taken, at night, into the street where he grew up, there to be shown cine footage from his childhood projected onto the side of a house. Nor the ebullient shopkeeper who sells next to nothing, but spends his day yakking with passers-by.
We’ve been blessed with some superb programming about the capital recently. Earlier in the year, The Tube gave an insightful if forgivably one-sided view of London Underground. The recent one-off about building the Shard was bombastic yet brilliant. And the ongoing series about London’s traditional markets (final part tomorrow) reveals them to be self-contained worlds of graft and banter. Having watched two preview episodes, The Secret History of our Streets is the best of the lot, and we urge you to tune in tonight.
The Secret History Of Our Streets is on BBC2 tonight (6 June) at 9pm. We previously reviewed the also excellent book of the series. And if you want to further investigate the social history of London through Booth’s poverty maps, we can also recommend a walk with Sean Patterson through Deptford or Clerkenwell.