Open Door Jericho

A tale of pigeons and squatters, pub-goers and shoppers, also featuring children at the old St Barnabas School.

A 1974 TV programme in the series Open Door made by Jericho residents, Maggie Black and Lucy Willis.


At the Jericho Community Association AGM in April 2016, Maggie Black recalled how the programme was made

When I arrived in Jericho in 1971, the community was undergoing drastic change – having narrowly avoided total destruction in the very recent past. On my first day in my house in Cardigan Street, I looked out the back window to a scene of devastation, Albert Street houses torn down in preparation for re-building. The school was still at the bottom of the street, and houses further up had yet to be demolished to make way for the new one. Those houses still contained squatters three years later.

I was then working at Oxfam, where ideas about ‘community development’ and ‘participation’ were all the rage. Realisation dawned that we should apply at home what we preached for poor people in other countries. One day, a form came from a new venture, the Community Access Programme Unit at BBC2, inviting proposals for a late-night slot, called ‘Open Door’. Oxfam did not want to apply, so I took the form home and discussed it with my lodger, Lucy Willis. Lucy was studying at the Ruskin School of Art, and has since become a brilliant and successful artist.

We decided to put in a proposal about Jericho: ‘How many people in your organisation?’, asked the form. ‘Two’, I wrote. ‘Maggie Black and Lucy Willis’. ‘Numbers represented?’ ‘Two’. ‘Who are its officers?’ ‘Maggie Black and Lucy Willis’ – and so on. I never expected a response. But we were accepted. No other ordinary punters like us had applied, apparently. We were unique.

In keeping with best participatory practice, I wrote a note about the film, and printed out 800 copies on the Oxfam stencil machine. We distributed them to every Jericho home, inviting people to a meeting in the room above the Bakers Arms (the pub next door to my house). Whoever came to that meeting could be in the film. There was no more solid idea than that – the film would be an expression of what Jericho people thought about their community. ‘What are you trying to say, Maggie?’ the BBC team kept asking me. ‘It’s not up to us,’ I replied. ‘We are incomers here’. Lucy was mainly interested in the visual side, not the dialectics.

We had the most wonderful crew. The cameraman was Phil Mayhew, who later climbed so far up in his profession as to become the cinematographer for Casino Royale. Mick Burke, a mountaineer-photographer, was his assistant. Tragically Mick later died on Everest on a famous Chris Bonington expedition. Sound-man, Producer, they were all there. Even the head of the unit, Rowan Ayers, came down on Sunday to see what we were about. They kept laying down the law about union rules, and breaks, and trying to instil film-making discipline. I’m afraid we didn’t take a lot of notice, so they took us out to meals to impose a schedule.

The main problem was that we were not allowed much film. Most documentaries were made at a ratio of 40 to 1 – only one out of forty feet of film would be used. But we were only allowed around 4 to 1. I insisted I didn’t want to end up doing a lot of boring studio talking-heads – the easy way to save film. So every scene only got filmed until I started panicking and called ‘cut’, which meant that many were very short. The editor did a brilliant job with what we had.

The film remains a ‘day-in-the-life’ snapshot of Jericho at a time of great social change. Jericho had been saved, but whether its old character would survive, or would be irremediably gentrified, was still in the balance. We never tried to take a position. The question is still open. But it’s great to see all our celluloid friends again and hear Carly Simon’s ‘These are the good old days’, over the final titles.