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Thamesmead 1968

A short film celebrating the planning and construction of Thamesmead in south-east London, envisaged as a utopia for modern living.

Documentary 1968 15 mins

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Directed by Jack Saward, who would make several more films about the estate, this film offers an overview of the history and construction of Thamesmead as it neared completion. The narrator discusses the way recreation, leisure and work are all built into the plan, which would feature a variety of modern housing, an "international yacht harbour", space for private enterprise and a focus on water and the river. Made by the GLC.

The tone is upbeat as we hear of the planners’ good intentions and see clips of construction and people at work, home and play. The film is keen to demonstrate a consistency with London’s past – a city built on its river –and also to emphasise that Thamesmead would be part of the wider London, not a new town marooned on the fringes. The ambition is commendable but it didn’t quite work in practise, with Thamesmead becoming a notoriously problematic estate and its architects perceived as exhibiting many of the faults of post-war planning, with communities being tinkered with from above like a real-life experiment. This is where utopia meets authoritarianism.