I’m sure you’ve seen the twin films East Is East and West Is West (whose titles were nicked from the line of a Rudyard Kipling poem "Oh East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet".) It's about the seven Westernised Khan children headed by a white British mum and black Pakistani dad. I’ve both films on a memory stick and pick one to watch while I’m having my daily pile of chips. As East is East is lighter and funnier I usually go for that one.
Both films were written from direct experience by actor Ayub Khan-Din who was born of an English mum and Pakistani dad and raised in Salford, Manchester. In both films the family home on a terraced street is set in Salford too but they were filmed about six miles away on three streets in Openshaw, a threadbare part of Manchester. I’m afraid the rows of terraces were demolished in a slum-clearance project in about 2008. Here I am on the bland housing estate that now occupies the streets courtesy of Lovell Homes.
I wish I’d taken some photographs of the lines of boarded-up streets waiting for the wrecking ball. I didn’t know they were there but I went to pay a roofer whose office is nearby. To turn around I drove up and down the streets of deserted terraces. There’s something a bit eerie about rows of deserted houses without a soul in them - empty back yards, vacant cobbled ginnels and deserted alleys - all relics of a the Victorian era. For some reason I thought they’d be there for a long time but when I visited again the houses had vanished. The straight lines of the streets were still there but the area - about the size of a football pitch - had been levelled and grass grew in its place.
Here're some photos of the streets now in 2019. As you're heading into central Manchester (about five miles away) on Ashton Old Road you see some narrow streets off to the right. Some exterior filming was done are still there. Though the houses are occupied they're not finished. Some street have no signs up, cobbles still need to be covered and drains need capping off. The land has been developed by Lovell Homes who’s sales blurb says, “East Avenue is an impressive new development of 2, 3 and 4 bedroom family homes. As part of the area’s ongoing transformation, it is set to create a thriving community where people come together to enjoy life to the full.” They've omitted mention of the brothel on Ashton Old Road (I hear "Five Bellies Brenda" is terrific) or Gransmoor Avenue that often features a lovely burnt-out car or pile of stained mattresses. There's also the half-way house for men who have been disgorged from prison.
In East Is East a high camera pans over three streets running parallel but the external scenes were shot on the middle one Bowness Street. This ran between Gransmoor Road and Silverdale Street but it's not there anymore. The original Bowness Street is now the gardens of new-style houses on Gransmoor Road and Silverdale Street. Sadly all the houses are new and Lovell Homes have re-modelled the terrain to squeeze in the maximum number of houses. I've enclosed a photograph showing where Bowness Street was and it's a little sad to know it's now small gardens with bland decking, all-greens from B&Q and small square lawns.
When the film came out I didn't know it was filmed so close to home. Though it's a comedy there's a some domestic violence. You can feel the stress of George, the Pakistani head of the family, as his children reject Pakistani customs of dress, food, religion and living. He disowns his son Nazir for running out on his arranged marriage and then quickly starts arranging another marriage so another son in order to maintain his image at the mosque. Sadly Om Puri who brilliantly portrayed George died of a heart attack at home in 2017.
Thankfully there are still a few terraced streets surrounding the new estate. You can get around the back of them and catch glimpses of the outside toilets and rabbit runs of alleyways. For the second time I walked by the couple who told me this was Silverdale Street and had a chat with them. I said I wasn't a burglar scoping out the houses and two cults film had been filmed here. I think they were Polish so they hadn't heard of East is East or West Is West but the man typed in the title on his phone so hopefully he'll watch them and think to himself, "Blimey I'm living where it was filmed." At the end of the street I saw a man behind an upstairs curtain watching me. I pushed one of my cards through his letterbox so sate his curiosity.
Another day I drove a mile or two into Ashton to another filming location. The Khan family visit a cinema in Bradford but it was really filmed at The Metro. It was a cinema I went to a few times as a lad (I remember seeing the classic black and white three St Trinian's films there.) It was an arcade for many years but is presently looking sorry for itself as its for sale.
1. The film was banned in Egypt.
2. The Khan house doesn't have its own bathroom which was normal for the average terraced house of the time. A tin bath (as shown in the initial scenes) for washing with would be shared in a sitting room or bedroom between the family while the only toilet was an outhouse in the back garden.
3. The set department struggled to find authentic 1970s wallpaper and carpeting and had to pay a substantial amount of money to have it specially made for the production.
4. A cut scene featured a discussion where George's children tried to debate amongst themselves what their nationality was after Peggy cruelly calls Meenah a 'Paki'. The scene was initially intended to speak volumes about the mixed views each child had regarding nationality; only Maneer was shown to believe himself a Pakistani while the others determined to be Anglo-Indian or English.
5. The drawing of a penis with a foreskin that Saleem shows his brothers and sister proved unexpectedly difficult. An artist was commissioned to sketch the object in question but, upon seeing the finished result, it was quickly decided that it looked too odd. It transpired that the artist was in fact circumcised and had no familiarity with foreskins so the cast and crew were asked if anyone could draw and would like to volunteer their penis. Fortunately one of the set photographers fit both requirements.
6. The scenes where the children are running after the cars in the neighbourhood is true to life. In low rent districts and council housing estates until the late seventies, cars were rarely owned by residents and were considered a novelty by the neighbourhood children.
7. Despite playing 14-year-old Meenah, Archie Panjabi was actually 26 at the time of filming.
8. The cinema that the family visit in Bradford was filmed at what used to be The Metro in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Manchester.
9. Emma Rydal had to wear a wig as she had cut her hair drastically short months previous to casting for her part in Playing the Field.
10. The opening march was shot on an extremely cold day. If you look closely, you can see that some of the extras are clearly suffering in the cold.
11. The Bradford "shopping" scene was in fact filmed in Southall in Middlesex some 204 miles away.
A fan of East Is East sent me this link which reminded him of George Khan's half-baked ranting English...
Bowness Street then...
The first house on Toxteth Street...brill stuff...
The cinema in Bradford was formerly The Metro in Ashton-Under-Lyne...