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
- 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.
Outside the Pride of the Isle, on Cheval St.
Inside the pub.
Island kids sitting on the wall next to the debris on Havannah St.
Miscellaneous scenes close to Havannah St.
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.
Mellish St, with St Hubert’s House in the background.
Lollar and Glengall Wharves, the site of the later John McDougall’s park.
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.
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.
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.
The area around Roffey St – for example East Ferry Rd and Castalia Square – were well represented.
In fact, all ‘corners’ of the Island in the 1980s are to be seen. Manchester Rd opposite George Green’s school.
The junction of Alpha Grove and Mellish St.
West Ferry Rd opposite the Barkantine Estate.
Glengall Grove, with the George on the left.
The entrance to the Mudchute at Pier St.
The Queen pub (sadly missed).
The Ferry House
The series was filmed over London and the south east of England, with one or two episodes filmed on the Island.
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.
A scene from The Bill. Cubitt House.