Jack London's People of the Abyss, Radio 4, Monday
Wireless Nights, Radio 4, Thursday

Out of the abyss of poverty and into the dark night of the soul

There's been a bit around lately about the contemporary relevance of George Orwell's The Road To Wigan Pier. He was directly inspired by an earlier exploration of poverty in Britain, and in Jack London's People of the Abyss the historian Dan Cruickshank, East End resident for 35 years, retraced London's steps – and examined the veracity of his gripping account, published in 1903, of the lower orders.

When I began to read a few bits of The People of the Abyss online, my first thought was that he was making it up – too florid, too vivid. It seems I was being cynical – after all, he was there – but only slightly so. The story was always the thing for Jack London, whether he was turning out fiction or non-fiction, and he had his sources, especially the 1890 book How the Other Half Lives. The whiff of plagiarism hung around him throughout his life, but then as another historian, Alex Kershaw, told Cruickshank, he rather admires London's disdain for literary convention: "He was all about trying to shock people and stir people up. He was a firebrand – he didn't care where he got his words from."

London also had unpleasant, right-wing, eugenicist views, and though Cruickshank made a heartfelt plea that his concern for the poor was genuine, I'm not so sure. Take the following sentence, describing a scene in Frying Pan Alley: "A spawn of children cluttered the slimy pavement, for all the world like tadpoles just turned to frogs on the bottom of a dry pond." That sounds less like compassion and dangerously like contempt. But it was a cracking programme, and, as was pointed out, the "abyss" of poverty hasn't gone away.

When Jarvis Cocker was living in poverty, on the dole in Sheffield, he inhabited a disused factory. He would sleep during the day and walk back in the dark after spending most of the night in clubs. "The night seemed much more alive to me," he murmured lugubriously in his fascinating series Wireless Nights, in which he explores "the night around us and the night within us".

He visited an all-night poker club, and talked to Al Alvarez, poet and nocturnophile, who wrote of "The light of the moon and the dark night of the soul". But the star of the show was Mark Daniels, an art teacher at a school for excluded pupils in Sussex. Night-time for him means visits to his allotment on the edge of Hastings, and Cocker went with him looking for the badgers that sometimes pay a visit. For all the mood music and the philosophising in the rest of the programme (not to mention the colourful characters at the poker club), this was the highlight, as Mark and Cocker sat together sipping from a hip flask.

Mark talked about his father, "who was cruel at the best of times" but could never kill a mole – "though he did have some very human enemies". He would trap moles on his plot, and Mark reminisced fondly about accompanying him on torchlit trips to his enemies' allotments, where he would set the moles free. As they listened to two owls, the central theme of the series came to mind. "What do we hope to find at night?" Cocker asked. "Why, ourselves of course."

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral