BBC series focuses on Bangladeshis in Brick Lane
9th March, 2006

Abdul Gaffer arrived in East London's Brick Lane as a young man in the 1950s hoping to earn enough money to return to Bangladesh and buy land.

Despite not knowing English, he settled down to work, and fifty years later is still there.

Brick Lane has changed beyond recognition with successive waves of immigration as newer communities reclaim the area as their own and older ones move out - from French Huguenots to Jewish immigrants and more recently Bangladeshi residents.

An upcoming BBC series titled A Night on Brick Lane is now planning to use documentaries and drama to reconstruct how these different groups have successively shaped the town.

Understanding the area has wider implication too. A recently published study titled The New East End recorded how post-war immigration and government policies on providing housing at the time has led to a feeling of resentment against immigrants.

By 2001 a third of the population and three-fifths of school enrolments in Tower Hamlets were from the Bangladeshi community.

The series is focusing instead on the changing cultural markers that define the area. A 50 minute documentary ('Brick Lane') will bring to life the personal stories of people who have made the street their home. While it has been enriching for some, others have only found extreme poverty.

A drama titled Banglatown Banquet shows a middle-aged Bangladeshi woman, played by the Indian actress Shabana Azmi as Sofia, living in a council tenement block near Brick Lane since coming to England as a young bride.

Her life is turned upside down when her husband returns from the sub-continent with a new wife – much younger than Sofia and pregnant too. Divorce is severely frowned upon by her local community and Sofia feels she has to stay with him, but she is far from sure she can live with these new marital arrangements.

Written by Tanika Gupta, it also stars Shobu Kapoor and Shelly King.

And finally, three short two-minute documentaries will bring to life a 24 hour period in Brick Lane through the people who live, work and party on the street today.

The BBC is hoping the A Night on Brick Lane will follow in the success of its series on British Pakistanis last year. That was produced by the Asian Programmes Unit and attracted significant acclaim.

An BBC employee privately told AIM that though there was an initial desire to produce a series around British Bangladeshis, it was later thought prudent to make it broader by focusing on the area Brick Lane.

A Night on Brick Lane is on 25th March BBC2, starting 9pm