Captured on film: the changing times of an English town

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An Essex man has filmed the passing of history on the streets of his home town. Paul McCann, Media Correspondent, watches the minutiae of 40 years' living slip past.

The English eccentric is alive and well and living in Chingford. Better known for Lord Tebbit and Birds of a Feather, the Essex commuter town is home to one David Piggott, a man who has amassed a unique archive of 40 years of self-made newsreels of his home town.

No world event has been too small that Mr Piggott has not captured its effect on Chingford for posterity. They include the great storm of 1987, the Queen's Silver Jubilee and the time in 1958 when a starlet called Sabrina came to open Tyre Specialists Ltd.

Mr Piggott, a self-confessed news addict, started making super-8 films of his town when he failed to get into the BBC: "They offered me a job in the accounts department, but I didn't want to spend my life in accounts."

So since then, in his spare time, he has dutifully stalked the streets of Chingford looking for news. He edits his films, collects jaunty soundtrack music, creates titles and narrates a commentary. The result is an archive of films that captures the changing face of Britain over 40 years. Every 12 months he shows his year in the life of the town at a local hall.

He has catalogued changing styles, the increase in traffic and, most obviously, the decline of any sense of community in the average British town.

Where once his newsreels were full of "Chingford Day" parades and local events complete with mayors and bunting, lack of interest has put an end to the annual pageants. Locally owned haberdashers and merchants disappear in front of Mr Piggott's lens to reappear as national chain stores and anonymous burger joints.

"The Silver Jubilee was a time of a wonderful spirit," says Mr Piggott. "I don't think we'll see an event like that again."

The future of the newsreels themselves is now threatened because Kodak has stopped making the kind of film Mr Piggott needs to make his films, and the company has only a few months' supply left.

Not all of the events covered by the newsreels make the most scintillating news stories, but the slower-paced and gentle nature of the past comes through the years to us. Sometime during the Seventies a man finds an old coin in his garden and Mr Piggott is there with his camera to film him pointing soberly at the small hole in the garden where the coin was found. Mr Piggott has found the time to film the changing telephone boxes of Chingford and to record the day the council ordered the end of dustbins and imposed black bin liners. There is a kind of Zen dullness operating in the films that is quietly relaxing, so BBC2 tracked down Mr Piggott and put him in Picture This, its series about people who are gently out of the ordinary. After 40 years he has at last managed to get in to the BBC.

`Picture This' is on BBC 2 on Tuesday at 9.50pm.

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