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Sunday, July 27, 2008

"The Knowledge"

Last night on BBC 4 there was a pleasant surprise. They were doing an evening about cab drivers in the course of which they showed "The Knowledge", Jack Rosenthal's 1979 TV drama about the two-year ordeal that people have to go through to qualify for a cab drivers' badge. When it was originally shown on ITV there were only two TV channels. Consequently everyone you knew watched it and talked about it at work afterwards.

It was interesting, particularly to Londoners, for the light it shed on what was involved in getting to commit to memory every street within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. Nigel Hawthorne as the inspector they call "the vampire" emphasises that no city in the world requires its cab drivers to know even a fraction of what London asks of its own. "Not many brain surgeons either. But there you are. That's how we built an empire. Probably how we knocked the bleeder down as well."

Nowadays I work near the Public Carriage Office in London and so every day I see the men in suits smoking nervously outside on the pavement as they mug up on the direct route between Manor House and Gibson Square and the hundreds of other "runs" they still have to master. Makes you strangely proud to be a Londoner.

You can watch it here for the next week.