The second in the BBC2 series "The Secret Life of Streets" aired last night. And the BBC are to be totally commended on this piece of thought provoking programme commissioning. But, whilst last night's was an interesting programme, featuring Camberwell Grove (surely one of the finest streets in London), and dealing with issues of 1960s alternative lifestyles and gentrification, it was nothing like as moving as last week's broadcast on the "slum clearance" around Deptford High Street (see my blog).
But last week's programme also caused a furore. I was very pleased that David Knight posted a comment on this blog, putting me right on the position of Nicholas Taylor (btw not to be confused with the silver fox lawyer of the same name who used to sit at Godfrey Bradman's right hand). As David says (of my piece) "the argument stated here was exactly the one Taylor was trying to make, on this documentary and more importantly in his book "The Village in the City" (1973), which was a condemnation of the kind of planning that the documentary, er, condemns. The portrayal of Taylor in this documentary as exactly the kind of planner he tilted against is appalling".
This is very important. And it troubles me. In my blog I had identified that Nicholas Taylor was clearly well meaning. And I did suspect that this was not the whole story. Smelling a rat, I had already watched the programme again at the weekend to try to understand the nuances. And, particularly now David Knight points it out, I can see that poor Mr Taylor was misrepresented. Not great.
Thank goodness nobody has "any particular problem with the main gist of the argument" I was expressing in my blog, but "the example of Taylor you cite is the result of a very poor bit of journalism on the part of the documentary makers". Feelings, locally in Deptford, and in planning historian circles nationally, understandably, run high and apparently this has gone wild on Twitter, with Owen Hatherley mobilising the forces of goodness and light in Mr Taylor's defence. You will see we are being directed to a very authoritative blog which discusses Nicholas Taylor taking councillors around Deptford on a coach to show them the realities of the place they'd been elected to serve.
And this is the nub of it: the programme makers couldn't get the real villains of the piece to appear, and in such circumstances, the hard-pressed corner-cutting journalist will re-cast the only planner they can get in the role of bogey person. That is a travesty. Nick Taylor belongs to that noble band of those whose contract with the world is trying to leave it in a better place than he found it. This necessarily meant he had to choose his battle grounds. Just because he told the truth about that, he should not have been subject of skilful editing to resoundingly cast him as a baddie.
I stand corrected. I am grateful to David and Owen for intervening, and I will be seeking out Nicholas Taylor's book (espousing what is still best practice even though it was written nearly forty years ago now!). And I think the BBC can expect a couple of letters on this issue. As I say, feelings run high, and there are so many real villains to choose from in post-war planning, that one of the truly decent guys in the piece really did not deserve to be misrepresented. And this is a shame for the BBC as, in the main, this series is wholly admirable.