TV review: The Secret History Of Our Streets: Deptford; EastEnders

This wonderful film traced the history of Deptford High Street from market stalls to wrecking balls

The Secret History of Our Streets: Deptford (BBC2) was a kind of Who Do You Think You Are? rendered in bricks and mortar instead of flesh and bone. Deptford thought it was a tight-knit working-class community with friends and family jostling happily for space amid the market stalls passed down through generations, in the houses that were handed down likewise and using the dozen pubs nearby as homes from home. The council and its environmental health officers of the passionately modernist 1960s thought it was a motley collection of slums and undesirables – the perfect place, therefore, to begin living their dream of re-organising chaotic London into a sleekly efficient city fit for the shining future. So they started pulling Deptford down.

The history of Deptford High Street and surrounds was told through maps. They began with those of Victorian social researcher Charles Booth, who painstakingly colour-coded every city street: pink for "fairly comfortable", dark blue for "chronic want", black for "vicious, semi-criminal", and so on. Deptford High Street was red – "middle class, well-to-do" – with a few pink islands round it, in the middle of a blue-black sea.

The maps were brought to life by John Price and his family, who can trace their roots in Deptford back for 250 years. He walked round the 70s estates, conjuring up his early life ("You could hear the winkles screaming!" he remembered as he sketched the archways, yards and livelihoods long gone), and lives earlier than that.

But the council had the power of definition and of demolition. More maps were drawn up, this time marking the condemned streets, and wrecking balls began to swing. Those who defied the council had their streets pulled down around them until their homes were both uninhabitable and unsellable when they finally had to move out: "You couldn't fight the council," said John. "You couldn't even get to them."

The filmmakers had unearthed documents that proved officials could find no reason to condemn many houses, including John's, but had bulldozed them anyway. Such details, it seemed, could not be allowed to stand in the way of such a great experiment. It was telling that even 50 years on and bearing no responsibility for the deceit, as he came in after the rebuilding was under way, the former chair of the Lewisham planning council, Nicholas Taylor, still could not find it with himself to express sorrow. Somewhere, the dream still shone with progressive light for him.

It was a wonderful programme – stuffed with great material and a truly mesmerising cast of characters (John, his family, his customers, the preacher engaged in a "spiritual mapping" of the area to drive out "the demons of Deptford" were all absolute gifts to the camera). It managed to be both informative and emotive, melancholic and angry, but without a cheap shot or manipulative moment ever coming near. It allowed a handful of streets to lead us into the highways and byways of the English class system, power relations, the vagaries of history and the mutability of memory. It prodded your brain awake as it broke your heart. Like I said – wonderful.

Away at the other end of the televisual spectrum … EastEnders (BBC1). Or, episode four billion and six of People Go Shout-Shout. In a special hour-long edition – presumably in case people were feeling their spirits rise as a result of the jubilee celebrations that displaced Tuesday's edition – Michael took to framing Jean as – in Janine's delicate phrasing – "a total psycho", planting stolen baby paraphernalia in her room, sending her to meetings-that-never-were and generally tormenting her beyond endurance so that she gives up asking for the return of the £10,000 he conned out of her.

Meanwhile, Heather is still dead, Ben still did it, Ian is still missing, Lucy is still trying to do her GCSEs, run her father's cafe and look after her little half-brother without anyone giving a crap about it, and everyone at the Argee Bhajee is still desperately searching for a decent storyline. It's as if coming up with something as unnatural as a humorous name for the restaurant permanently exhausted the writers on the Indian family front.

If I were an environmental health officer, I'd pull the whole square down and I wouldn't bother relocating anyone except Kim – who walks and talks like an actual warm, funny, normal person and who has dropped into Walford like manna-with-comedy-chops from heaven. Just raze it. Raze it to the ground.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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