Filmed on the Island

Before the arrival of the new Canary Wharf development, very few TV programmes or films were made on the Island. Most notable exceptions were:

  • Sparrows Don’t Sing
  • Saturday Night Out
  • Long Good Friday
  • Prospects
  • The Professionals

[ And something I forgot in the original post, The Chinese Detective. Thanks Malcolm Garrett for the reminder. ]

Sparrows Don’t Sing

“Sparrows Don’t Sing” is an odd film (well, I think it’s odd), directed by theatre director Joan Littlewood (good friend of Waterman”s Arms landlord, Daniel Farson) and based on a story by Stephen Lewis (better known as Blakey in ‘On the Buses’). It tells the story of Charlie, a sailor who comes home from a long voyage to find that his house has been demolished, and that his wife is living with a bus driver and a new baby in a council flat.

Full of cockney and Yiddish characters and language, the film was apparently the first English-language film to be shown with English subtitles in the US. It was filmed in Stepney and on the Island, mostly in and around the Pride of the Isle pub at the corner of Cheval St and Havannah St (the pub was demolished to make room for the Barkantine Estate).

The film was full of well known actors, mostly from East London: James Booth, Barbara Windsor, Roy Kinnear, Brian Murphy, George Sewell, Arthur Mullard, Stephen Lewis, Victor Spinetti, Yootha Joyce, Queenie Watts, Harry H Corbett and more. Apparently, the Kray twins make a cameo appearance at the end of the film, but I have watched the DVD many times and still not been able to spot them.

Barbara Windsor walking down Havannah St with West Ferry Rd in the background.

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Outside the Pride of the Isle, on Cheval St.

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Havannah St.

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Inside the pub.

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Island kids sitting on the wall next to the debris on Havannah St.

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Miscellaneous scenes close to Havannah St.

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Saturday Night Out

“Saturday Night Out” is a 1964 comedy about a trio of merchant seamen who arrive in West India Docks and go out for a Saturday night’s entertainment. Pretty awful film, but some nice images of the Island and Poplar.

The baker’s at the corner of Mellish St and West Ferry Rd.

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Mellish St, with St Hubert’s House in the background.

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Lollar and Glengall Wharves, the site of the later John McDougall’s park.

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The Chinese Detective (Text: Con Maloney)

Scenes from The Chinese Detective BBC TV series in 1981. Filmed in Tiller Road, Mellish Street on the Isle of Dogs, on & around what was known as The Glass Bridge (Glengall Road Bridge). The bridge ran across the Millwall Inner Dock from 1965 to 1983 & comprised a walkway that was 1,140ft long, 30ft above the ground, 7ft 6in. wide at foot level, and 8ft high, with a hollow rectangular-section steel frame, aluminium roof and translucent glass sides.

The bridge was immediately renamed by local people as ‘The Glass Bridge’. It gave the public the dubious privilege of a walk high over the Millwall Docks in an enclosed glazed tube. The ‘glass bridge’ immediately became a prime target for vandals and pedestrians were so intimidated that few used it.Severe damage to the glass and the lifts in 1975–6 caused the bridge to be closed and it was demolished by the London Development Corporation (LDDC) in 1983.

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Long Good Friday

Set in the early 1980s, the late Bob Hoskins played a gangster with plans to work with US mobsters to take advantage of the recently closed docks. but who then gets on the wrong side of the IRA. Set in various parts of dockland, the film was not about the Isle of Dogs in particular, but contained many scenes filmed in the West India Docks and the Waterman’s Arms.

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Prospects

The 12-episode Prospects TV series, produced by Euston Films (creators of The Sweeney and Minder), was originally shown on Channel 4 in 1986. Its main characters were Jimmy ‘Pincy’ Pince (played by the late Gary Olsen) and Billy ‘Bill’ Pearson (played by Brian Bovell).

I must admit to not having seen the series when it first came out, but if I watch it now, I do think it sympathetically portrays the Island and Islanders, and now provides – 30 years later – an invaluable inventory of how the Island looked in the early 1980s; a period in which the Island was arguably at its lowest ebb.

The main characters, Pincy and Bill, were typical wide boys or wheeler dealers, and were presented as living on Roffey St. Roffey House was already empty at the time, due for dereliction, and was used for many of the interior shots. Cubitt House was used for most external shots.

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The area around Roffey St – for example East Ferry Rd and Castalia Square – were well represented.

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In fact, all ‘corners’ of the Island in the 1980s are to be seen. Manchester Rd opposite George Green’s school.

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The junction of Alpha Grove and Mellish St.

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West Ferry Rd opposite the Barkantine Estate.

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Hesperus Crescent.

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Glengall Grove, with the George on the left.

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The entrance to the Mudchute at Pier St.

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The Queen pub (sadly missed).

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Waterman’s Arms

Watermans Arms, 1986, Prospects 1

The Ferry House

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The Professionals

The series was filmed over London and the south east of England, with one or two episodes filmed on the Island.

Stewart St.

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Waterman’s Arms

Watermans Arms, 1978, The Professionals 1

The Gun

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Odds and Sods

A scene from an unknown film set in the 1950s (wish I knew which film). This scene was filmed close to the bridge which preceded the Blue Bridge.

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A scene from The Bill. Cubitt House.

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19 Responses to Filmed on the Island

  1. Thank you so much I really enjoyed reading this article and of course seeing the photographs.I have order three films to watch on Saturday night, all from this era ( I was born in 1956 in SE1 ) ‘Sparrows’ being one of them.Not seen it for many many years.Queenie Watts and I had the same GP for a while when I lived with my Mother in Law for a while in Poplar.Her pub was just around the corner.I saw her name was Mary when I into see the Dr after her and her notes were still on his desk.Queenie was suffering from cancer then but cheerful and chatty in the waiting room.I have only recently found your blog and although I have no particular affiliation to the Isle of Dogs I have always been fascinated by Queenie Watts.Thank again and best wishes Karen.

  2. malcolm garrett says:

    Great article and photos. Here are a fewother film and TV references. No photos though I’m afraid.

    Many scenes in the TV series ‘The Chinese Detective’ (c1981) were shot both in LImehouse and on The Island. I vividly remember one scene with a chase across the glass bridge at the end of Tiller Road.

    Film maker Derek Jarman made his film ‘Carravagio’ in 1986 in Limehouse Studios which were in a repurposed warehouse where Canary Wharf Tower now stands.

    And of course, ‘Network 7’, Janet Street-Porter’s BAFTA-winning Sunday lunchtime show from the following year was filmed in a ‘caravan set’ built in the same studio.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_7

    • lemons says:

      You’re right about The Chinese Detective, Malcolm. Silly of me to miss that….I remember also the chase across the glass bridge. Plenty of films and programmes were made in Limehouse Studios, but I was most interested about the stuff filmed on the streets, which remind me of my childhood home. Thanks for your comment, I’ll update the article to include The Chinese Detective. Cheers, Mick.

      • malcolm garrett says:

        Thanks Mick. Yes, I realise the article is about filming on the streets, and it is great to see photos of how things were. Especially of interest to me are those from before the Barkantine Estate was developed.

        Maybe a separate article about Limehouse Studios would be interesting as there was a lot of activity at that time? I actually worked on ‘Network 7’ and my girlfriend on ‘Carravagio’ whilst we both were living on the Barkantine.

        I have lots of photos from 1978 until present day, by the way, as I periodically photographed the changing skyline from my balcony.

      • lemons says:

        I did write an article about the development of the Barkantine Estate, and a little information about Limehouse Studios in an article about (the original) Canary Wharf. Did you see them yet? I’d love to see some of your photos….

      • malcolm garrett says:

        I’ll have to look back through previous posts as I missed the Barkantine article!

        I have dozens of packs of prints back from the days before digital cameras. I recall there are some great shots of the dozens of cranes on the island when Canary Wharf was being built. And some interesting shots of buildings in the wall along Westferry road before Westferry circus was built. I never did get a photo of the ‘Welcome to the Isle of Dogs’ mural though. Just got so used to seeing it I never thought to capture it on film.

        I haven’t sifted through them for years, and they are all in boxes at the back of a storage unit. As soon as I get around to looking at them I’ll forward you anything of interest. In the meantime, I’ll see what digital treasures I can dig out. 🙂

      • lemons says:

        This blog is a bit of a spin off from a Facebook group…. “The Isle of Dogs – Then & Now”. You might like that too, if you’re on Facebook.

      • malcolm garrett says:

        Actually, yes I recall I did subscribe to Facebook group, but I haven’t check in a long while. I prefer Instagram, some docklands pictures can be seen on my page: @limehouselink

  3. Perry Munton says:

    Hello, I know that Perry Fenwick (Billy in Eastenders) was in a music video that was filmed in the flats behind Castallia Square. It was a rock song along the lines of ACDC. I went to school with Perry and we had a chat on the set. I wish I could remember the song and the band.

    • lemons says:

      It was Iron Maiden, Perry. In 1984 they filmed their video for 2 Minutes to Midnight in an empty flat in Roffey House (or Cubitt….one of the two).

  4. Another great post, The 50s film is not Pool of London is it ?
    Mostly shot around Poplar and the City.
    The story is a bit lame but interesting to see certain London locations.

  5. Paul 1976 says:

    I remember an episode of Special Branch from 1974 with a lot of filming around the West India Docks and a Children’s film called 4D Special agents from 1981 filmed all around the streets and docks on the island.

  6. Just found this site. I amazed ive found pics of Havannah street as my dad was born there in 1932 and I didn’t think id find anything from before their place was destroyed by bombing any idea of other bits on the syreet wartime or before, I’ve also found a street party pic and think i recognise my grandmother in it

  7. Stephen Burrows says:

    Firstly, thanks for creating such a superb blog.

    The Isle of Dogs was a regular fixture on a number of TV shows in the mid-80s because of Limehouse studios, which were located opposite Billingsgate Market, literally a stone’s throw away from what is now 1 Canada Water. The main show filmed there featuring the Isle of Dogs was “Treasure Hunt” featuring Anneka Rice. The link below features a celebrity special epsiode in which Kenny Lynch directs the Treasure Hunt chopper back to Limehouse Studios before the time runs out (about 44 minutes onwards).

    Channel 4 yoof TV pioneer Network 7 was another show from Limehouse Studios, which was filmed in one of the abandonned warehouses next to the studios.

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