BBC documentary about Mayfair reveals it to be an area the wealthy and the waged coexist
Sunday night’s BBC documentary Modern Times: Welcome to Mayfair was a mixed bag. Though it managed to show that this area of extreme affluence to also be home to ordinary people and though it sensibly avoided featuring the stereotypical rich Arabs and Russians found in other programmes of this type, the producers did opt to include some especially curious individuals.
The reasoning for opening and closing the programme with an affected parrot carrying resident was plain: The makers wanted to portray ridiculousness on a grand scale and in finding Manthe Penton Harrap, they certainly achieved just that.
Penton Harrap – clad in Edwardian garb because “political correctness didn’t exist in the 1800s” – began by trying to argue that she was ordinary by stating: “A lot of people think of Mayfair as a lot of big cheeses but it’s simply not true… Just simple people like me who started out as a farm girl in Africa”.
“I dare say that ‘Fuzzy Bear’ [her partner, Anthony Lorenz] may be coming up the stairs as I always feel him when he comes up without hearing him… I take ‘Fuzzy Bear’ to a world of fun and frivolity… In nicer parts of London, one gets away with being whom one is”.
On a more level-headed note, the choice of the local NHS doctor – whose patients included both residents of social housing and billionaires – illustrated a very different kind of person. That Dr Nazeer sympathised with the case of a servant to a wealthy Indian family who wanted to go home in commenting: “It’s very sad; they’ve taken her passport away” but also admitted to drinking champagne with a wealthy Grosvenor Square resident on home visits, showed someone capable of crossing the social divide.
The area’s leading estate agent, Peter Wetherell of Wetherell, meanwhile, illustrated his extensive knowledge of the wealthiest parts of this enclave and in taking viewers on a tour of some of the more spectacular homes of the neighbourhood, provided insights into what new residents look for. His world of luxury is alien to most but in commenting: “We actually invented gentrification in the middle of the eighteenth century”, Wetherell certainly had a point.
Derek Stratton, a cabbie living in social housing just south of Oxford Street, provided contrast but what was notable was that both he and Wetherell – be it on very different levels – understood the importance of community.
With the revival of interest in Mayfair as a place to live, the programme showed a change that is both for the good and for the bad. The return of residents has resulted in offices being turned into residences and a demand for retail space from the best brands and the finest of restaurants. It has also, sadly, caused the closure of some of the area’s longstanding businesses.
Forced out because of rising rents, the owners of a traditional café and Trevor Pickett of the luxury brand Pickett, both lamented the actions of greedy landlords. Paul Thomas, a Shepherd Market florist, continued this theme by taking viewers on a tour of his area of Mayfair. In pointing out how many shops have vacated their premises, all three showed that homogenisation is not the way forward. Pret sandwich stores and Starbucks coffee shops do not make for a community; local stores do and for them to prosper residents must support them.
Whilst Penton Harrap reasoned that: “One is allowed to be eccentric in Mayfair”, she entirely missed the point. Mayfair is a milieu but it is one where the wealthy and the waged can actually comfortably co-exist. It’s just a matter of being reasonable and here again is evidence that the local authority and landlords need to be more accommodating.
Watch Modern Times: Welcome to Mayfair on BBC iPlayer by clicking here.
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