South Oxhey Film

The Estate Now and Then

By John Schad

Fred Dalmasso, working with current South Oxhey residents and the local poet Michael Crowley, has made a short documentary film around and about John Schad’s play about the very early days of the estate, Nowhere Near London. Click here to see the film

The film has been released now to coincide with the premiere of the play at the Watford Palace Theatre on Monday, July 4, 2016 – details at

An article in the Watford Observer 16 April 2016 states

“It’s in 1953 – everyone is inside, their curtains closed as they watch the Queen’s Coronation while the rain falls outside. And while the ceremony draws to a close and the overcast clouds disappear, people emerge in the streets, in fancy dress, children skip through the puddles as they make their way to one of the many street parties held across the South Oxhey estate that day.

This was the description from an article by the Watford Observer at the time and something former South Oxhey resident John Schad draws upon in his debut film, Nowhere Near Utopia.

He says that quotes used from various article in the paper from back in the day add “minute historical detail” and testify to how times were in the very early days. “On the one hand they were very hard, there were, for several years, no roads, no schools, no shops and nowhere to meet. But on the other hand, it was very special being marked by a terrific utopian spirit as an almost exclusively working class community that had the freedom to self organise and remake the world for themselves.”

The film is about John’s play, Nowhere Near London, which is an adaptation of his 2012 novel, The Late Walter Benjamin. The 55-year-old explains: “The film attempts to add context to the play – primarily, visual with many shots of the estate, focussing in particular on the fields, trees and open spaces, all of which are important to the play.

“There are also some memories recounted – some mine of growing up on the estate in the ‘60s, some from current residents dating back to the early 1950s, and some from the wonderful poet Michael Crowley, who also grew up on the estate in the ‘60s – he reads one or two of his poems about that time from his collection Close to Home (2012) as well as talking about his memories, as a teenager, of the political scene on the estate in the 1970s.”

John, who is a Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Lancaster, adds that the novel and play purely focus on the early days, around 1948, when estate first emerged, adding that the novel in particular is a “mixture of realism and surrealism.

“The action is confined to one house,” he says. “Five bombed-out Londoners, four wandering men and one magnetic woman, all come and go, each one trying to decide if the new estate is heaven or hell.

“There is one other character in the novel – a strange enigmatic figure who just turns up claiming to be the German-Jewish intellectual, Walter Benjamin; this is peculiar in several respects, not least because Walter Benjamin had committed suicide in 1940. Like these bombed-out Londoners, however, he knew what it was like to be an exile or migrant – he had killed himself whilst on the run in France, attempting to escape to the pursuing Nazis.”

The film meanwhile, looks at South Oxhey during the ‘60s and ‘70s. John, a father of three and avid Watford FC fan, explains, moved to the estate in 1965, when he was five-years-old.

He says: “My father was the minister of St Martin’s church and there we lived until 1981.

This page was added on 28/06/2016.

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  • An interesting but somewhat confusing film.  It does give the impression that all the original residents of the South Oxhey Estate came from  the bombed out areas of London.  This was not the case, many of the residents who moved here in 1948 came from various areas of the country and for various reasons.

    Does contain some really nice views of the area.  Glad the ‘Trees’ were mentioned as they really have enhanced the area over the years.

    Nice to have some video footage on the website of an area shortly to undergo a lot of redevelopment.

    By Susan Waller (29/06/2016)