IT’S a fair bet any genuine Cockney would get a funny feeling inside of him, just walking up and down.
Yet this is Elstree in Hertfordshire. Bow Bells are miles away out of earshot. I’m on the set of Market In Honey Lane (Mondays).
I’m not exactly a stranger to London markets, either. Walked up and down Petticoat Lane on a Sunday morning (and came away with my shirt still on). Once bought a genuine “pup” in a suburban market. (A corgi, it was called. But it was a crossbred greyhound. Anyway, I got my money back.)
And there is something special about market shopping. A feeling of belonging. A camaraderie and communication between buyer and seller that is unique.
Today, I’ve got that haven’t-I-been-here- before sensation; there’s that freewheeling feeling in the air in this, probably, the greatest make-believe market in the world.
How has this authenticity been created?
Well, there’s the market people. They do look like London market people. Over 100 actors and actresses were interviewed to select the 13 regulars for the series.
There’s Billy Bush (played by John Bennett). That’s him on the vegetable stall. Lean-faced, quick-witted, perky.
Grafts only when he runs out of money; can’t stand unions, any kind of organisation, respectability means nothing to him. Always a fighter for the underdog, a Scotch drinker, big-time gambler, four-time loser.
“Hey,” he says, “watch those spuds — they squeak!”
I’m weighing up a couple of King Edwards from his stall (not barrow; Honey Lane people, like real market folk, object strongly to being tagged barrow-boys. They’re stallholders. Difference is a question of licences, apparently). But back to the potato. It does squeak. Over £500 was spent on artificial goods. Billy was lumbered with novelty potatoes. That’s his sort of luck…
But these flowers look real. “Course, they are,” says Harry Jolson (played by Ivor Salter). “Every item we handle in front of camera is genuine. Only the background stuff is plastic. Only the choicest blooms on my stall, mate.”
This is Harry all over. Flamboyant. The olde worlde dash, the carnation buttonhole, the small cigar, cheeky-chat for the birds. Every inch a business man and inclined to be mean with it.
He’s everything Billy Bush isn’t; the dreamer, not the realist. Little wonder they have a smouldering dislike for each other.
Mind, Sam English (Michael Golden) over here, is usually the man in the middle, the peace-maker. Chairman of Honey Lane Street Traders’ Association, runs a fruit stall, red-hot on market affairs… licences, breaches of the law, gossip.
A man of integrity with a big heart, yet not a sentimentalist.
As you wander down Honey Lane, you realise these people are real, human. Nothing fancy or pretentious. And you realise why Market in Honey Lane has such authenticity.
Here’s another fruit stall, run by Polly Jessel (Pat Nye) and her son Danny (Brian Rawlinson). Polly, tough, a widow, hard bargainer, yet with an acute humour. Protects her son Danny like a lioness. She is fully aware that he’s not the quick-thinking type.
Polly is aptly cast — Pat Nye keeps an antique stall in the Portobello Road market in Kensington, London, every Saturday. Honey Lane is a real home from home for her.
I must remember to nip down and see her next time I’m looking for an antique snuff-box…
Her Honey Lane son Danny might be thick, but he’s a cheerful type that you can’t help but like.
Easily distracted from the job, kind to animals, a bit like a pup himself. Bachelor by inclination, never gets involved in market politics, enjoys lashings of chips, soft fizzy drinks, and fondly imagines it’s him looking after his Mum — but it’s the other way round.
Just the opposite type to, say, Dave Sampson (Ray Lonnen) across on the vegetable stall. Dark, good-looking, sharp, go ahead, inclined to be shady if it earns a bob. Younger brother Mike (Iain Gregory) is scatty; the bird-chaser.
Yes, Honey Lane people are real all right. But then, so is this incredible set, probably the most ambitious ever erected by an ITV company.
It’s cost over £20,000… real sterling, too, not the “Bank of Funland” notes in all their tills. It is 150ft by 120ft, tucked away on a waste patch at Elstree Studios. The roads and pavements were laid by a 12-strong gang of construction workers in a month.
The barrows… sorry, stalls… are real and are hired weekly from a dealer at £5 per week for the 10 regulars. The street-lamps (eight of them) were bought from a London council for £15 each. They say the sparrows even flew in specially from King’s Cross station.
Every window on the set (16) lights individually. There’s enough power here to feed a street of 15 houses, plus something like 20 miles of cabling!
It looks right. It even smells right. Litter and decayed cabbages are specially brought in every day from Covent Garden, and spread around.
Books and magazines in the bookshop look real. But most just have saucy covers. Inside the subjects range from cookery to a guide on stage lighting — a disappointment for the night raiders on the set. They’ve had two break-ins so far.
Yes, life is indeed interesting in the Market in Honey Lane, where reality and make-believe merge almost completely. You never really know where you stand. Like right now. There’s Billy, Sam and Harry heading for the Duchess of Verona public bar. I think I’ll join them.
Well, you never know. There might be real beer in there…