Wednesday, 8 August 2018
Ever wondered who keeps the streets clean for our highly polished shoes first thing in the morning? Probably not as it's one of those things we take for granted. However, beavering away throughout the night - in major cities at least - and into the wee hours are an army of late night street cleaners. And Horace Stockford is one of the finest examples of what it means to be a Nightcleaner.
Nightcleaner was a short film directed by David Pearson and first aired on 12th January 1982 on BBC2 at 8.50pm. The ten minute film was soundtracked by the gentle tinkle of Ian Waring-Green's piano work and filming took place on location around Shepherd's Bush. The film received three repeat airings in 1983, 89 and 91 before being confined to a shelf somewhere deep within the BBC's archives.
Like so many of my fortuitous finds, Nightcleaner was lurking at the start of a VHS tape and clearly had Curious British Telly encoded into its DNA. And, at 10 minutes long, it offered a nostalgic oddity which wouldn't impinge too much on my real life activities (mainly searching for other prehistoric VHS tapes). Its short duration, however, doesn't preclude it from being packed full of engaging curiosity.
The short film centres around the night-time exploits of Horace Stockford, a street cleaner who spends his evenings sweeping and shovelling the muck off the streets of West London. Horace's work takes place against a backdrop of fast food restaurants, chatty restaurant owners (whose windows proudly sport Luncheon Voucher stickers) and, occasionally, violence and heartbreaking relationships.
London's night-time streets have always been full of violence as Horace is all too well aware of. Attacked by two men, one evening, Horace was left unable to speak and had to undertake extensive rehabilitation to recover, although he still struggles to write. More positively, Horace recounts the tale of a girl who he saw narrowly avoid getting run over on Wood Lane. Following this incident she would come and talk to him each evening. Then, one day, he mentioned he was married and never saw her again. That small, seemingly innocuous story, however, contains so much unseen and untold heartbreak that it may be one of the most tragic narratives I've heard in some time.
Despite his trials, tribulations and late nights, Horace remains resolutely upbeat and feels, to me, very much like a proto-Paddington Green character. It would have been nice to hear more about Horace's nocturnal explorations of London life, but this short film is all that exists of his life. Nonetheless, there's something deeply fascinating about Nightcleaner. From its gentle exterior through to it's slightly darker underbelly and, of course, the magnificent sights of early 80s London nightlife, Nightcleaner is a charming and multilayered watch.