thu 27/01/2022

The Great Estate: The Rise and Fall of the Council House, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

The Great Estate: The Rise and Fall of the Council House, BBC Four

The Great Estate: The Rise and Fall of the Council House, BBC Four

Fascinating but flawed examination of social housing's history

Author and journalist Michael Collins with Terry Gooch, the first tenant of Thamesmead in 1968

In 2004 Michael Collins wrote a fascinating book, The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class. It was part memoir of his south-London childhood, part history of the area and part polemic. Two-thirds was an excellent read, a thoroughly researched and well-written account of the many generations of his family who had lived in Walworth, but the last third was a confused mess of an argument about what he saw as the plight of the modern-day white working class - marginalised and despised by the middle-class media and forgotten by the establishment. I had a similar response to this programme; it was meticulously researched and engagingly presented, but had at its heart a deeply flawed conclusion.

In 2004 Michael Collins wrote a fascinating book, The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class. It was part memoir of his south-London childhood, part history of the area and part polemic. Two-thirds was an excellent read, a thoroughly researched and well-written account of the many generations of his family who had lived in Walworth, but the last third was a confused mess of an argument about what he saw as the plight of the modern-day white working class - marginalised and despised by the middle-class media and forgotten by the establishment. I had a similar response to this programme; it was meticulously researched and engagingly presented, but had at its heart a deeply flawed conclusion.

‘The archive footage, much of it original and some from Collins’s own family, was fascinating’

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Surprised no mention of Lynsey Handley's masterful book "Estates: An Intimate History", which covered all the same ground as this documentary in far more interesting fashion...

The reason he gave for the decline was I thought, the Homelessness legislation of the 1970s, which tended to shut out local people who often didn't have enough 'housing need' to qualify for a council house.This followed the scandal of homelessness illustrated by 'Cathy Come Home' and other such stuff. In the 1960s my local authority had an 'engaged couples' list which aimed to give a home to couples almost as soon as they married. The attack on council housing was from Margaret Thatcher's government - the notion that people living in what was always assumed to be subsidised housing might contain grown up families with 2 or more cars!! Of course people should have homes for life.

This was the best documentary I have seen on the BBC for years, and it was, incidentally, another reminder of how much we in Britain owe to Nye Bevan, who not only gave us the NHS, now under attack by this terrible coalition government, but also contributed so much to developing council housing. I think we are in need not only of politicians of his calibre again, but also of council housing for ordinary people who cannot afford anywhere decent to live.

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