Grim Britannia

k-punk

Spectres of Mark
This is the one of 1977's grimmest moments - a documentary about football hooligans who may well no longer exist in a South East London that's become obsolete - I'm not sure which bits are most interesting / depressing ; the opening shot (which, with the sound turned off, could easily be from some post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama, as a long-haired teenager guides a child around a wasteland and lifts him up on a grassy bank overlooking a Canary Wharf-free and dilapidated Docklands) ; the sheer unfashionability of it all (we're talking shit-brown, orange and murky-blue striped cardigans that riot against taste and symmetry, flares that look like they hinder walking) ; the scene with the band in the pub, some awful heavy rock that's defiantly stuck in a rut, the band come across like dead men strumming - in contrast, the part where The Clash come on the jukebox is like a flash of modernity; the Richard Allen-style pulp reportage, harshly blue-lit bars where members of Treatment gather to "..recall past glories, vendettas lodged like shrapnel in the brain", while the actual kids (and where are they all now? Has anyone ever tried to trace them, or are these images their only imprints?) rant against Tottenham, and argue, "I've had a hard life....people like you'se, grew up with university, I grew up with streetfighting"; NF offices where the quaint Union Jack clocks actually look so ugly, they wouldn't even make it into an Austin Powers spoof ; hardcore nutters who look like Noel Edmonds and boast names like 'Mad Pat' and 'Bobby the Wolf' ; Charles Wheeler's warning that "The following report contains language not usually heard on television" (though it's not a patch on Big Brother) .....you can't come away from this without hearing a whirring in your ears, and a profound 'thank fuck' that punk, ragga and acid house happened, it really is watching a city of lost souls, a part of London lost forever.

See also Horace Ove's Pressure ('76) and bits of that punk film DOA ('81?) for some grimy 70s London.
- Martin, from the Hauntology thread

Martin really is the poet of Grim Britannia, his writing viscerally evocative of a bygone England no-one can remember, nor seems to want to.

Watching Life on Mars again this evening, I was struck by how WRONG it feels. The rough n ready unPC PCs actually turn out to be rather cutesy cartoon-types, ten times less menacing than Regan and Carter never mind what you can only imagine yer actual copper of the period was like. None of the haircuts look right; the clothes look too smart, nowhere near Polish enough; and yeh the office is dingy but kinda designer dingy.

This also follows on from some discussions over at the Pillbox, esp here.

I wonder if anyone else has suggestions about convincing evocations of grim GB on film/ TV... or can suggest reasons as to why that side of Britain seems so difficult to capture, especially now...
 
Last edited:
a friend mate a good point to me about why the cars always look to shiny in things like life on mars. you can't get austin maxis and Rover 3500s anymore, you have to go to car club enthusiast types to borrow them, obviously they're kept in perfect condition - and they wouldn't want to see them being scuzzed up for a TV production

a lot of the other details in it scream prop warehouse to me, the types of phone, everything. if you watch something from 1974 you probably don't notice the strange product design, its sort of subliminal. but in modern productions these details are pushed forward too much, sort of signposted. that Jericho detective thing with Robert Lindsay was the same, everytime someone picked up a pack of fags you had to notice the authentic design...
 

john eden

male pale and stale
Yeah I think it's very hard to recreate because we have memories (whether false or not) of what it was like. So we know what shouldn't be there...

Well I do anyway - my Dad used to work in London and it was always really exciting coming down on the train in the summer holidays in the 70s or driving through... the decay was really jarring compared to even the grimmest bits of suburbia.

So best to stick to films which were actually shot at the time - often rubbish films are rescued because of the great footage.

Strictly London:

Jubilee
Rude Boy (The Clash film - amazing shots of the Westway, ANL demos, sectarian political posters, etc - mostly not staged as far as I can tell)
Clockwork Orange - for footage of the South Bank before redevelopment
Babylon - of course... south London but also Piccadilly etc.
Pressure, like the man said.

We should have an evening or two of screening this stuff?

One of the most interesting aspects of David Keenan's "England's Hidden Reverse" book was remembering the sheer seediness of central london in the early 80s - people squatting massive ex-offices on Tottenham Court road. I remember walking from Kings Cross down to Oxford Street with my Dad and seeing all these boarded up places, anarchist graffiti etc.

It's a good reminder that things change and that all the redevelopment/gentrification etc can be swept away with the fluctuations of the market (soon to be picturesque ruins...)
 

matt b

Indexing all opinion
k-punk said:
- I wonder if anyone else has suggestions about convincing evocations of grim GB on film/ TV... or can suggest reasons as to why that side of Britain seems so difficult to capture, especially now...
likely lads
get carter

both capture (at least parts) of the north east- newcastle wasn't much changed in the early 1990s-whole streets boarded up/ being knocked down etc, before gateshead kicked off.
parts of sunderland still look like it, just with added shellsuits
 
Play for Today, Rosenthal's 1977 'Spend Spend Spend', watched recently, seemed a pretty accurate depicition of Grim Brittania, in particular, Castleford, Yorkshire. Not only there tho - the almost-equal grimness of 'moneyed' life in the '60s....and the way Viv Nicholson's story is picked up by, e.g., Morrissey and feeds into a particularly bored and depressed British miserablism, obsessed with child murder, quick cash and the twitching cutains of suburbia...plus, the film was made for very little money only a decade or so after the events it depicted, which probably adds to its authentic grimness....

As a kid, I remember my father's total infatuation with his Ford Capri (Mk II?), with its metallic blue paint and black-and-white chequered seats. It looked absolutely bloody awful and has always reminded me of the ugliness of late 70s aspiration...but that was about the cultural influence the 70s had in the countryside. Tho reckon the sparrows could have done with some brown and orange jerseys in the winter.
 

mms

sometimes
richard burtons gay gangster flic 'villain' is paticulary grim and british, violence, sexual repression, good cars, and a weird soundtrack, no likeable characters whatsoever.

maybe it's my memory but i remember a programme called rockliffes babies being maybe the last time this was all captured, miserable downbeat cop show based in london late 80's. Maybe it wasn't grim and just shit i was very young.
 
Last edited:

k-punk

Spectres of Mark
magic pendulum said:
a lot of the other details in it scream prop warehouse to me, the types of phone, everything. if you watch something from 1974 you probably don't notice the strange product design, its sort of subliminal. but in modern productions these details are pushed forward too much, sort of signposted. that Jericho detective thing with Robert Lindsay was the same, everytime someone picked up a pack of fags you had to notice the authentic design...
yeh, the nothing subliminal point is absolutely crucial. That's the problem with these sort of dramas in a nutshell --- everything is so over-conscious, which is why they have a curious flatness.

Cars thing too is right... as I said before, nothing feels lived in. It's too obviously a seventies museum with the actors dragged up in carefully-preserved clobber.

Course for real 70s drear you need On the Buses...
 

Grievous Angel

Beast of Burden
In the seventies I used to go down to London on Saturdays with my dad to play snooker and go down Brick Lane market and places like that. I remember the vast amount of bomb damaged blocks that were still around in London then. It was a completely different city. Loads of the land around HMS Belfast was just rubble. Docklands before Canary Wharf? Yeah... I went to St Katherine's dock before it got developed...

He had a Capri too, bronze mark III it was, absolutely no space in the back for three kids, went like the clappers, I thought it was brilliant (I am from Essex). I preferred the fat blue Merc he had though, the first one he had, mid seventies, blue of course, had a compass inside so you could navigate which I thought was the coolest thing ever.

Fuck, it was violent then though. I remember starting to go to youth club in 1978 and every week it being this horrible confrontation with NF boys, all these kids who suddenly turned racist and violent as soon as they went to secondary school as a sort of rite of passage. Massive outrage at how Ilford had been "taken over" by Pakistanis. I don't think you'd get that now.

Mark bang on the money about Martin...
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
We covered it over with a bright, shiny Spice Girls poster, which got progressively more tattered and weather-stained and finally peeled off altogether a few years ago.
 

john eden

male pale and stale
On my walks around London recently I’ve noticed that there isn’t that much litter or graffiti these days. there are a few boarded up shops and will be more.

But people generally have better clothes than what you’d see even in the 90s. (For example the protests or the “Summer on the Estate” documentary - both on YouTube.)

London might get hollowed out again but the grimness may express itself differently
 

DannyL

Wild Horses
I was in central London last week, and it was empty, like a ghostown and a few of my favourite cafes had gone. It reminded me of an empty estate agents model. Its nothing like it used to be in terms of both the grim/criminal and also street life - I remember getting joke propositioned by brasses on the streets of Soho. I guess like a lot of criminality (dealing etc) you won't see this now because it's all moved online/takes place via mobile. No need to risk the streets.

I can imagine going somewhere in a few years time and being struck by the vibrancy of street life again. It's a particular British joylessness that cancels this out. That said, I still like London's street markets. They still seem alive to me.
 
Last edited:

DannyL

Wild Horses
We talked before about graf - I think for it to be a street presence again you need a large population of daft teens moving around, which we don't have. There is a whole subculture of guys doing trains but they tend to be a few years older and have pretty advanced breaking and entering skills. Not your average teenager tbh by definition.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
I was in central London last week, and it was empty, like a ghostown and a few of my favourite cafes had gone. But its nothing like it used to be in terms of both the grim/criminal and also street life - I remember getting joke propositioned by brasses on the streets of Soho. I guess like a lot of criminality (dealing etc) you won't see this now because it's all moved online/takes place via mobile. No need to risk the streets.
How do you know they were joking? Was it that obvious that you didn't have any money?
 

luka

Well-known member
Staff member
Still a fair bit of very visible street dealing in shoreditch and soho and Camden and Brixton, and very slightly less visible everywhere else with major foot traffic. Stand around Stratford train station or somewhere like it for an hour and you'll start to pick up the patterns and see the strategems in use
 

sufi

lala
yes i've identified a lot of activity around our estate that i hadnt really noticed before lockdown - meetups and dropoffs
 

luka

Well-known member
Staff member
It's made it all much more obvious. Retired people like my mum already knew though. There's nothing retired people don't see. They understand our cities far better than most young people do.
 
Top