Thursday, October 28, 2010

Paradise Drive

I saw the 1968 film Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush which has been released on blu-ray by the British Film Insitute. The BFI have released a lot of rare 1960s films over the last couple of years, and they've provided a nice opportunity to wallow in the shopping centres and cityscapes of another era on Saturday evenings in the Odana household. Often, these films aren't actually very good, so the fun comes from noting small background details like type-faces in shop signs or hair-styles of passers-by. These films can often evoke painful feelings of nostalgia in me. The Mulberry Bush film was set in Stevenage, one of the "new towns" that was built in the 1950s as a result of the New Towns Act of 1946. I grew up in Peterlee - another new town, and Stevenage town centre looked very similar - boxy buildings, lots of open spaces, pedestrian walkways under roads and minimalist white fencing. There was something utopian about growing up in one of these new towns - apparently the area where I lived was nicknamed "Paradise Drive" by local councillors. Then came 1979 and the area suffered heavily from unemployment, drugs and crime. Thank you Mrs Thatcher. I won't be sending you any flowers when you die.

An extra level of nostalgia is provided by the lead in Mulberry Bush - Barry Evans, who played the teacher in the racially sterotyping sitcom Mind Your Language. Evans plays a sex-mad A Level student who spends most of the film trying to get women to go out with him. Later he graduated to the more explicit film "Adventures of a Taxi Driver". But he found it hard to get work after Mind Your Language, and actually became a taxi driver himself in the 1990s. He was found dead in 1997 at the age of 53, and although a teenager was arrested for his death, the charge was later dropped. Evans - so vibrant and full of life in 1968, seems almost emblematic of the way that some British new towns went wrong.

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