Edition No. 21, July 2011
Set up in 2008, the Hackney Podcast was set up to record different
aspects of life in one of London's culturally richest, yet economically poorest boroughs. Since then there have been
many topics covered - literature, politics, music, the arts, the environment - using the technique of montage
coupled with iinterviews with the people living and working there.
Wild Hackney was inspired by the canal and the surrounding flood plains,
and took as its starting-point the Victorian Gothic novel After London by Richard Jefferies (1885), which imagines
the city returning to a primeval state after the River Thames burst its banks. Only a few citizens survive, eking out a living
in one of the few green areas left.
Although rooted in fiction, this scenario did have a basis in fact; in 1928 the River
Thames flooded the city, while twenty-five years later the North Sea levels rose to record heights following a storm, and
flooded much of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. 307 people lost their lives. Following that disaster major investments
were made in sea defences, culminating in the building of the Thames Barrier.
Wild Hackney featured Felix, a central character exploring the landscape
after the flood had struck. He was fascinated by what he saw: a muddy plain comprised of the remains of dead people, and a
green oasis reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. Through patient study, he discovered how water, in its ebbs and flows, is symbolic
of changing time; things never stay the same, however much people would like to believe otherwise. The only way to survive
is to learn how to be adaptable (even in an urban ruin), and to make use of the available resources to construct a lifestyle
The podcast was narrated by Frank Burnett in authoritative tones, warning us of just
how widespread the disaster would be if the Thames were to burst its banks. Producers Francesca Panetta and Russell Finch
used a montage technique, combining dialogue with archive footage recalling the 1953 events, and an historic documentary telling
Londoners to find out the facts about flooding before it was too late.
Although only fifteen minutes long, Wild Hackney gave a fascinating insight
into London's history, even while creating an apocalyptic vision of a city experiencing total destruction. I look forward
to hearing more contributions to the series.