Monday, 12 October 2015
Humanity thrives upon communities coming together and co-operating in order to ensure society has some sort of common objective to work towards that will preserve our sometimes feckless ways. And this is why we've managed to upgrade our lives from crouching in dank, dark caves into a society where, at least for the majority of us, we can now stretch out in the comfort of centrally heated and fully lit homes.
Man's advancement is a compelling one, but due to the vast amount of time involved in this evolution, the narrative has generally concentrated on society as a whole rather than individuals. Come the late 1990s, though, we began to wonder about the stories behind the people scurrying around in these bustling societies and, thus, docusoaps were born.
They were a fantastic exercise in voyeurism and allowed us to peer into the lives of "people just like us" and see how they dealt with the rigours of life. Perhaps we should have been investigating our own lives and trying to better ourselves, but the stars of docusoaps were cast and edited to ensure that their lives were much more exciting. And it was perhaps never done better than in Paddington Green.
Transmission: 28/12/1998 - 24/07/2001
Paddington Green is a curious little corner of West London which, when first recorded in 1549, consisted of little more than wastelands and a medieval church. Hardly a startling backdrop for people's lives to play out against, but by 1617 there was a fishpond there, so heady times indeed. I'm on a bit of a schedule, though, so can't fanny about and discuss the introduction of the first bird table in Paddington Green. Instead, I'll nip forward about 380 years and take a look at what was going on in Paddington Green in the late 1990s.
Perhaps the most notable event was that the BBC were sticking their cameras and boom mics into the lives of those living in Paddington Green. And it wasn't just a random selection of people they'd met down at the pub, no, in fact, it was a highly varied cross section of the bubbling community of Paddington Green.
The most famous face followed around the Green was Jackie McAuliffe who was a highly complex soul. Jackie, of course, started off as humble Jason McAuliffe, but by the mid 1990s underwent gender reassignment surgery and the chirpy Jackie was born. And how did Jackie earn her crust? That's right! She was a prostitute down at Sussex Gardens. I told you she was complex.
Whilst Jackie was coming to terms with her new life, there was plenty of people finding themselves locked out of their houses or even needing ancient safes unlocking. Enter Jason Osborne, a 24 hour locksmith who laughed in the face of 'uncrackable' safes and appeared to never sleep. Now, this hectic on-call lifestyle probably pays well in the cash stakes, but in terms of love, it was putting a huge strain on his relationship with his beloved Anna.
Harry Gilbert, though, seemed to have finally - at the age of 85 - snared himself a sweetheart in the form of dear old Joyce. However, even in his twilight years, he was being kept on his toes by more than his beau as old Mr Gilbert was still running his wig shop. And a 'hotel' above it. Then there was his revolutionary 'skin cream' he was formulating in his basement which looked like a health and safety officer's nightmare. Give him his dues, though, Harry didn't look too bad for 85, so maybe there was something in his dubious goo after all.
Those three were perhaps the most famous and most featured, but plenty of other memorable characters popped up throughout the series' run.
There was the wonderfully curvy and beautiful Claudia who relentlessly fought with her Dad to revolutionise their scooter shop and bring it up to date. Testing his business partner's mental health on a daily basis was Dave, a good old fashioned wheeler dealer in the mould of Del Boy who could sniff a 'bargain' at 50 yards. And who can forget the good time, laid back bus conductor Danny?
Oh and we also got to follow the early tentative steps of Kelly in the world of modelling, but she's now best known as Kelly Harrison who's barely kept off our screens since.
The Docusoap Boom
Big Brother was still a couple years away, so the British public hadn't been exposed to the full insanity of reality TV and were being kept busy with a sudden interest in docusoaps - kickstarted in no small part by some crazy Welsh learner drive by the name of Maureen Rees in Driving School. And what better place to set the latest docusoap than London? It's a thriving old place, so just perfect for plucking out a few stories to titillate the viewers.
Paddington Green was created by Lion Television and filming began in the summer of 1998 with the first series airing just after Christmas 1998. A total of six series aired between 1998 and 2001 with Ross Kemp narrating the first three series before handing over the torch to his Eastenders co-star Todd Carty for the final three. Paddington Green did not receive any terrestrial repeats, but some episodes were re-aired on BBC Choice in 1999 and episodes also received screen time in 2006 on UKTV People. The first two series are currently up on YouTube, but nothing else is available from the later series!
The jazzy score to Paddington Green was cooked up by the amazing composer Guy Dagul, so we asked him for a quick recap of his involvement with the show:
I followed the producers Bridget Sneyd and Ludo Graham straight from scoring the complete DK Eyewitness Films for them at BBC Worldwide. The brief was simple…raw, urban and sexy.
Thus using "Take Five" (Brubeck) as my template, I let rip! I knew Phil Todd (sax) from my days working on films such as Angel Heart, Mississippi Burning and Arachnophobia. The theme tune was weaved in and out, as variations, throughout as the underscore.
Taking a Trip To Paddington Green
Blimey, Paddington Green! It only seems like yesterday that we werr glued to our screens watching the residents' intriguing lives unfold, but, oh Christ, it was actually 17 years ago which reminds us we're not getting anything but a little further over the hill with each passing day.
Anyway, we bloody loved Paddington Green!
You see, as a 16 year old squirt, these tales of suburban life in the big smog filled monster of London seemed like amazing little glimpses into this exciting adult world we were clamouring to be part of. "Oh please let us into the party and let us dance with Jason at the Notting Hill Carnival and then go pick a few locks! PLEASE!" our teenage self would scream.
In fact, we did, at some point, plan some type of pilgrimage to Paddington Green to visit all the landmarks, but, as with most teenage follies, it didn't happen and we just sat at home reading the NME, dreaming about girls who were well out of our league and wallowing in the sickening reality that we weren't a rock star.
Fast forward nearly 20 years, though, and we were over all that teenage angst nonsense (yeah right!) and decided it was high time we rewatched Paddington Green. Luckily, the first two series went up on YouTube earlier this year, so we could finally reconnect with it.
The first aspect of the show that got the old nostalgia juices flowing was Guy Dagul's jazzy theme. Again, to a 16 year old Britpop fan, the world of jazz was a mysterious world which tempted us in to a new world of time signatures and complex sax arpeggios. And it still stands up. It's bright, it's cool and it sums up a late night stroll through London's beguiling streets.
Oh and the characters! They made such an indelible impression on us at the time, so we were quite literally hysterical with excitement over the prospect of revisiting this old bunch of charmers. And, you know what? They've still bloody got it! Well, some of them...
Because, you know, with such a diverse cast it's obvious that some are going to be that little bit more sparkling than others.
Jason the locksmith was always our favourite due to him being bestowed with an almost shamanistic ability to magically open locks with just a few furtive twists of his wrist. It created a sense of amazement, plus he seemed to get paid big wodges of cash for about 5 minutes work - nice work if you can get it. Jason, though, wasn't purely a one dimensional workaholic. He also had a couple of fractious relationships on his plate with his mother and his girlfriend. And God knows we've all been there - gender specific of course.
Mr Gilbert, too, was a charming old stunner of a gent. Completely rude to his customers, but this he promised was simply down to his no-nonsense dispensing of the truth and, come on, all he wanted to do was make them ladies look their prettiest. The wig shop side of things was rather sedate though due to a lack of trade, but his skin rejuvenating cream was a marked piece of genius. God knows what went in it, but again it was an intriguing angle to his character and highlighted his sense of enterprise even in his twilight years.
Jackie, of course, brought a huge helping of poignancy to Paddington Green and was a real case study in the trials and tribulations of humanity. Despite numerous setbacks throughout life such as being fostered as a child, gender identity crises and having to work the seedy streets of west London as a prostitute, she generally remained resolutely upbeat. A world away from the rest of the cast, Jackie helped bring a unique story to the show to stop the series being mired in the mundanity of life.
And, yeah, some of the characters were a little mundane and failed to inspire that devotion to giving two hoots about their unstimulating lives. Thankfully, the editors of Paddington Green soon seemed to cotton on to who the more curious characters were and either consigned the lesser characters to the dustbin or shunted them to the sidelines for nothing more than brief appearances.
That's not to say the main characters didn't slip into mundanity at times. You see, life on this ever revolving, but never truly changing globe is, generally, one quotidian event after the other, so that's why we bear witness to such earth shattering events as Danny going overdrawn. Oh man, he's overdrawn! Jesus! Whatever next? He's lost his favourite scarf?!
But, you know what? By this point we've invested a substantial amount of interest and empathy in Danny's cheery way of life. Seeing his freewheeling ways come off the rails and not being able to afford a night down the pub cuts deep. It's not like Hitler's gone and got himself overdrawn buying one too many lederhosen for his upcoming rally, is it? So, remember: Danny - YES! Hitler - NO!
The original characters, however, slowly started to leave Paddington Green after the first couple of series and, as so often happens, the replacements were unable to imbue that initial connection now that our sensory receptors had been filled by their predecessors. That's not to say the later series weren't full of insightful social intrigue, just take the story of Gary, a survivor of the 1999 Soho pub bombings trying put life in perspective after such a harrowing ordeal.
But the horse had bolted and our attention waned. Although, to be fair, this was also partly down to us finally getting the keys to the adult world and wanting to make our own mark on the world i.e. get drunk and act stupid.
Paddington Green was a great piece of late 90s television. Sure, it didn't always reflect the true horrors of urban life, so, in some ways, is very misleading in it's representation of society, but it was able to deliver a fantastic examination of the humdrum life of a living, breathing human chasing those highs and hot tailing it away from the dreaded lows which so often define our character.
One aspect of the show which really stood out was the real sense of enterprise on show by the characters which sums up the power of money in the modern society. Jason relentlessly chases another job sometimes at the expense of his relationships, Dave is constantly searching for that next big deal and Jackie seizes back the power from her schoolhood bullies by exploiting their leering lusts financially.
It's this aspect which gives the show an aspirational feel, but at the same time underlines how us humans can be a magnanimous, but foolhardy bunch. So, we're a bunch of twits, but we don't half love having a fiver in our back pocket at the end of all our endeavours and to hell with the mental ramifications!
What followed in Paddington Green's wake has perhaps tarnished it slightly in the annals of TV history, but come on, it's not like any of the Paddington Green characters were directly responsible for the ignominy of Kinga and that wine bottle in Big Brother was it?! Regardless, it's not actually as well remembered as it perhaps deserves to be. Despite being a popular show to discuss at the time it seems to have faded from many people's memories, so perhaps it's time to start working on that 20th anniversary reunion special.
In the meantime, head over to YouTube and reacquaint yourself with the genteel charms of Paddington Green and let us know who your favourite characters were and why!