Last Night's Viewing: The Secret History of Our Streets, BBC2
Lewis, ITV1


Infographics have thrived in the age of the internet, but "information visualisation" existed long before the information superhighway. Try Googling Charles Minard's remarkable 1869 "Carte Figurative" illustration of Napoleon's advance on, and retreat from, Moscow – or just look at the London Tube map, designed by Harry Beck in 1931.

 The primary source for BBC2's fascinating new documentary series, The Secret History of Our Streets, is also a series of infographic maps of London, produced in the late 19th century by Charles Booth, a "social explorer" who colour-coded each street and neighbourhood according to the class of its residents.

Booth recorded the city's demographic fluctuations, the shifting layers of London society: one neighbourhood becoming gentrified, just as another slumped into poverty and criminality. Taking his maps as a starting point, the programme-makers have charted the development and redevelopment of six different London streets over the past century and a bit, beginning last night with Deptford High Street, which, in 1899, when Booth first visited, was known as "the Oxford Street of south London". Thanks to its thriving parade of shops and market stalls, it was marked red by the cartographer, signifying "well-to-do", his map's second highest social rank.

Even after the Second World War, Deptford had a prosperous market, high employment, and rising levels of home ownership. But some of its side streets were less salubrious than others, and, in the 1960s, London's urban planners decided that the area's "ugly" housing ought to be pulled down and replaced with a futuristic, concrete metropolis. They too produced an infographic to illustrate their grand vision; while west and north London were left largely untouched, swathes of the east and south were sacrificed to modernity. The environmental health officers given the power to label streets as slums were social, not civil, engineers.

Voluble John Price is descended from generations of Deptford shopkeepers, and now has a discount store in the High Street. His family, he explained, resisted the council's compulsory purchase orders at first, but were eventually driven out in the diaspora to Charlton, Brockley and Woolwich, their homes demolished to make way for the GLC's new tower block estates. None of the local residents wanted to live in the blocks, which were instead filled by recent immigrants, altering the face of Deptford for good. Now the high street is marked blue for "poor" on Booth-like maps, and is one of the most deprived areas in London.

The tone of the programme was elegiac, and there's more than a hint of romanticism in its thesis: that the modernist social project of the 1960s was completely misconceived. But it's a compelling thought, nevertheless. Like Booth's maps, the series is focused on London, but it's a story that surely resonates way beyond the capital. Everyone in Britain is fascinated by house prices, after all, and the punchline to Deptford High Street's tragicomic tale is nearby Albury Street. Once solidly middle class, by 1960 Albury Street was a slum, scheduled for clearance. By some quirk of council planning, it escaped the bulldozer. Today, its rather lovely terraced houses are going for £750,000, or thereabouts.

There's something elegiac and pre-modern about Lewis, too, which still features that comforting mix of familiar TV faces paying the bills, and recent drama school graduates doing their first bit of screen work. Last night's old hands included David Soul, best known as Starsky or Hutch, playing an American professor who'd come to genteel Oxford to give a lecture on criminality. Before anyone could really appreciate the meta-televisual irony of his casting, however, he'd been bumped off in the politest way possible: strangled with his own tie, while gazing into the quadrangle.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk