The first episode in the much praised BBC documentary series, “The Secret History of Our Streets” told the story of how Deptford High Street area was damaged by redevelopment in the 1960s. But since its was broadcast (see our comment) a month ago, there has been widespread criticism from some local residents, who claim the programme offered a distorted view.
The documentary, produced by Joseph Bullman for the Open University, told how the people used to live and work around the once prosperous High Street, which was once known as “the Oxford Street of south London” until the mass clearing of Victorian terrace houses made way for 1960s tower blocks, which destroyed the area’s community and the fortunes of local businesses. It was hailed by Lucy Mangan in “The Guardian” for being “both informative and emotive, melancholic and angry, but without a cheap shot or manipulative moment ever coming near”.
However there has been a huge backlash from many local people who felt the documentary was misleading and a website and leaflet, both called “Deptford: Putting the Record straight” contains many comments providing an alternative view to the grim depiction of Deptford.
The site points out that Deptford has improved since the 1960s: “the Street is packed full of churches, cafes, restaurants, community centres, all doing things to bring communities together and improve lives”. Contributors also claim the documentary also failed to mention that the market was saved after a campaign by local residents in 1975 and was even voted “the most vibrant and diverse market in London” by Yellow Pages in 2005.
Posts on the website include ones from someone called Chris who said: “that programme was an insult to the people of Deptford today and seemed to have an agenda. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story! I was very disappointed in the lack of balance shown by the programme”. Rod also commented: “It (the documentary) completely omits the regeneration dimension of the Deptford story, physically represented by the new school and library, the Albany Centre, the rebuilt railway station, and the very exciting Deptford Project”.
Samantha Hunt attacked the ”undercurrent” to the programme’s narrative ”which seemed to be saying that once all the hard working white families moved out, the immigrants arrived and the whole place went to the dogs.” Local councillor Mike Harris agreed: “I found the characterisation of immigration as a negative influence on the area as factually incorrect, and entirely misleading.”
However some local people defended the documentary: Emma Brown commented that her family don’t “feel safe on Deptford High Street” and “the pleasantness of local people has ceased”. Dianne Collett who has lived in Deptford since the 1950s wrote: “I certainly wouldn’t go out in the dark. Which is nothing like the way I grew up in Deptford when I was young”.
The website also defends Nicholas Taylor, the former chairman of the local planning authority, who is said to have been unfairly portrayed as the man responsible for the orders to destruct the Victorian terraced houses; in fact, he actually attained his position after the plans were passed. The site claims: “Mr Taylor was one of the first people in the UK to campaign against the then prevailing planning policy of pulling down terraced houses and replacing them with tower blocks”.
Nicholas Taylor told the website he was “deeply grateful, not primarily for myself but for Deptford, for all the contributions to this debate, which has helped us all to respond to the false impressions given by that TV programme”.
ELL contacted the makers of the documentary series, Bare Films, but they did not respond to a request for a response to the criticisms.
The six-part documentary series, which looked at how some streets in London have changed since they were surveyed by the Victorian social historian Charles Booth in the late 19th century, has been hugely successful with episodes on streets including Caledonian Road in Islington and Camberwell Grove in Southwark. The last episode, on Arnold Circus in Shoreditch, is shown tonight.
The Secret History of Our Streets: Deptford High Street can be watched on the BBC iPlayer:
Here is Bullman’s blog on the origins of the series.
By Oliver Shaw