Pilfering, pranks and working-class pride – a review of the BBC’s ‘Cradle to Grave’

The BBC sitcom Cradle to Grave is a sympathetic and engaging portrait of working-class London, set at a key time for class struggle. Colin Revolting reviews.

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Film-maker Ken Loach says, “the left often forgets to attend to the living details of working class life.” A good stab at doing just that emerged from an unlikely source – a BBC sitcom.

Cradle to the Grave is based on Danny Baker’s amusing autobiography about growing up in south east London in the 1970s (which I would also recommend).

Danny’s dad was a docker and the TV series portrays him and his workmates running rings round the dock bosses and ship owners. Acts of redistributing wealth are common and a pleasure to watch – how different it looks to tales of Amazon’s warehouses. The dockers’ cocky class confidence is a joy to behold.

Many of their tricks and tales have that ring of truth – if told with Baker’s nostalgia for the era and council estate life – viewed from his self-proclaimed ‘Toad Hall’ home in Blackheath.

The teenagers also get up to the sort of trouble and laughs that teenagers have done for as long as they have existed. Like Ken Loach’s classic film Kes, which the series references, school is shown as somewhere that offers opportunities but also has a strict socialising agenda – which the school friends dodge and subvert as often as possible.

The show is set at a pivotal time for the dockers and Britain’s working class in general: the intense, heightened period of class struggle known as the Upturn. In the midst of this the employers began transporting cargo in containers, making dockers redundant and threatening their livelihoods. They went on strike to protect their jobs and five leading dockers were sent to Pentonville prison for defying an injunction against picketing. This led to an almost general strike across the country – until the Government had to relent and release the Pentonville Five. But I’m getting carried away – you’ll have to look elsewhere, for instance this brilliant 15 minute film, to see those events portrayed.

As well as now being available on DVD the series has helped to raise another two finger salute to the powers that be. On Sunday Morning TV last week, Squeeze sang the show’s theme song to an audience sitting on Andrew Marr’s studio sofa, which included…David Cameron.

 

I grew up in council housing,

Part of what made Britain great,

There are some here who are hellbent,

On the destruction of the welfare state.”

 

The spirit of cocky class pride lives on.

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