Big in the '80s

Throwback: Bob Hoskins talks about urban planning in London's South Bank

The actor Bob Hoskins was the star of the 1980 film, The Long Good Friday, a London gangster movie that reflected on major anxieties, opportunities, and economic changes taking place in the U.K. In 1982 Hoskins led Barry Norman and the BBC on a riverside walk along the South Bank, and while pointing to new concrete office blocks he calls “Mars Bars” he confronts change in the guise of urban development along the Thames.

The coming redevelopment Hoskins claims (and was he ever right) will make the 1960s “redevelopment epidemic look like a rash.” Next to a Coin Street vacant lot, once the site of row houses, but torn down for the 1951 Festival of Britain, he points to another Mars Bar. You see that (the BBC overlays outlines the proposed structures) is what happens if you “don’t consult with local people.” In 1970 “a big property group said they would build flats, shops, and a hotel if they could build a great tower for their staff. Once they got that tower the company brass pushed off down to Surrey and their building was sold off and the new owners are new doing up a bit to let and now they say they are moving out of the tower as well.” Now thanks to these planning decisions what we have is an area that “looks and feels completely dead.” Hoskins was not just a great actor but with deep understanding of culture implicitly understood bottom-up planning. We need planners with his insight and passion.

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