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Croydon facelift: 20 years after Peep Show, London's biggest borough finds itself in Oscar spotlight | We are all strangers

And also the awards that Andrew Hay has already received We are all strangersit can claim the less obvious prize of being the first feature film shot in Croydon.

Haig shot most of the film at his old childhood home in Sunderstead, a pleasant leafy suburb south of Croydon, where I also grew up, eight doors down from Haig. Andrew Scott's character, Adam, and his parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) are also shown visiting a mall in South Central London city.

Haye chooses to explain his locations in Croydon – we see Adam arriving at Sunderstead station and the Whitgift Center is named specifically, its sign drawn in one shot. In contrast, we are not told the location of the eerie tower with breathtaking views where Adam lives (the building is actually in Stratford, east London, but the interior scenes were shot on set and the background window panes show the skyline).

Jamie Bell on Riddlesdown, south of Sunderstead, South Croydon, in We Are All Strangers. Photo: AP

Although this is Croydon's big screen debut as himself, the town is often used for filming, not least because some of the post-war development is easily adapted to different conditions. “Croydon is very versatile as a location,” says Andrew Pavord of the Croydon Film Office, who is co-ordinating filming on location in the town. Earlier this year, Croydon stood in for Eastern Europe in Idris Elba's film Heads of stateand will play New York in the upcoming Netflix drama. For the 2017 action film Istanbul, it even doubled American killer.

When Croydon once became a film location – 1991 Let himabout The case of Bentley and Craig – parts of Liverpool and Reading were used to recreate what the city looked like in the early 1950s.

Croydon has a cinematic pedigree. One of Britain's greatest film directors, David Lean, grew up there and is celebrated by the town's small independent cinema. But he never turned his camera on the area, and it seems to have a negative effect on him: a dreary suburban place to escape from through cinema. “I discovered life through cinema,” he once said. “Put it in with Croydon and you realize how exciting it was.”

Dylan O'Brien in American Assassin.
Dylan O'Brien in American Assassin. Photo: CBS Films/Christian Black/Allstar

In fact, Croydon's screen presence has so far been limited to two TV comedies – Terry and June (BBC, 1979-87) and Peep show (Channel 4, 2003-15) – which could hardly be more different, but which neatly highlight the contrasting aspects of the area's identity.

Terry and June are set in cozy Pearly, in the leafy southern half of Croydon Peep show Inhabits sandy areas north of the city center. It is a division that long defines the ideas about the territory.

Interestingly, there is another connection between the two sitcoms: Rosemary Frankau, mother of Pip Show co-creator Sam Bain, played June Beatty's friend on Terry and June.

“You'll probably be the first person to tell me that Terry and June is set in Croydon – I was very young when it was on and it was basically a studio sitcom,” says Bain. “I'm happy to be part of Croydon's comedy lineage.”

But why did Terry and June end up in Croydon in the first place? Terry Scott and June Whitfield, a gentle middle-aged married couple, have already been seen in the Happily ever afterwhich took place in Ealing, but due to a quarrel with the writers of the series, they had to find a new car – with a new name and a new house.

“It was in Pearly because Peter Whitmore, the director, lived in Pearly, and it's a great name,” recalls Terry and June writer John Kane. “It's a cozy middle-class name, and all I wanted to do was create a cozy middle-class situation comedy.”

A move to south London meant Terry and June joined other suburban sitcoms of the 1970s A good life (Surbiton) and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (Norbiton) in convenient areas south of the river.

Although most of the show was filmed on set, the specific Croydon setting was highlighted by the opening credits, which show Terry and June missing each other at various city center landmarks, including the Whitgift Centre.

Peep Show's Croydon isn't quite a suburb, but a large part of south London: urban and edgy but far from cool or hip, a place where two low-income middle-class men like Mark and Jez in a block of flats might find themselves, and him could be threatened by local children. It was filmed on location in West Croydon, the first two series in a real flat in Zodiac Court, or Apollo House as it is called in the show. (In subsequent episodes, the apartment was remodeled on set.)

The Whitgift Center in Croydon
Croydon landmark … the Whitgift Centre. Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

The decision to film in Croydon was a product of practical concerns. “The bottom line was that line producer Barry Reid had good connections with estate agents in south London and Croydon,” says Jeremy Wooding, director of the first series of Peep Show. “He got a whole bunch of ideas for a flat and one of them was this flat in West Croydon. It was very practical and for budgetary reasons we went there.'

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But Bain says Croydon approached him and a co-writer Jesse Armstronglong-standing vision of the show. “Croydon was not imposed on us. Originally, before the first series came out, we were hoping to set it in Telford – Jesse grew up in Shropshire. Without any denigration of Telford's population, it felt like you were in the middle of nowhere. Filming in Telford never took place – Croydon was London's Telford.

“Our characters felt strongly that they were missing out on what everyone else was doing. Fomo is an important theme of Peep Show. We could have chosen anything as it was a FlatShare sitcom, but we didn't want Notting Hill or anywhere exciting.

“This was the Croydon of the mind we were aiming for. You would like to live in Notting Hill but you live in Croydon and you have to deal with it.'

In fact, Wooding says Channel 4 initially didn't want Peep Show to look like it was filmed anywhere in particular because The Office, a huge hit at the time, was so associated with Slough. “The management wanted the series to be set in Anywheresville. The main concern was that it didn't feel like The Office.'

Tom Courtney, Eileen Atkins and Paul Reynolds in Let It Be (1991)
Set in Croydon… Tom Courtney, Eileen Atkins and Paul Reynolds in Leave It To Him (1991). Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

This meant he was banned from filming Croydon's new and “visually interesting” tram system; and so the early scene where Sophie sits on Mark's arm took place on the bus. (Croydon's trams in the early 20th century fascinated a young David Lynn and inspired Doctor Zhivago– he told his biographer Kevin Brownlow.)

However, Wooding says that the show “grew into a West Croydon identity”, with subsequent episodes making occasional references to the area (“We're Croydon Bullingdon,” Mark tells a neighbor as Jerry's flatmate is put in a sleeping bag).

We Are All Strangers revisits the suburban landscape of sitcomland, but evokes something mysterious and even mystical, perhaps tapping into Croydon's deeper history as part of ancient Surrey caught in London's force field.

Despite its urban appearance, the Borough of Croydon is on the outskirts of London, and on its southern edge the suburbs begin to meet the countryside, where patches of ancient woodland and commons remain among the alleys of Tudor-era fake houses. The house where Adam visits his parents is high up in the North Downs, and in a scene shown in the trailer, we see him looking out over the ethereal Mitchley Wood, part of Riddlesdown's vast green space.

Croydon Tower Saffron and Surroundings
A City Transformed … Croydon's Saffron Tower and Surroundings. Photo: Steve Teare/Alamy

Adam and his parents visit the Whitgift Center in a scene at the end of the film; Adam said that he wished he had been there more as a child. To anyone who knows Croydon today, the idea of ​​visiting the delightful Whitgift Center must seem like a sad joke – the shopping center is a shadow of its former self, with many shops closed and its future uncertain. But the tribute to Adam makes sense as a cherished wish of a child whose connection to the area was severed in the 1980s.

Haig's film feels like a deeply personal statement: his decision to film and name-check Croydon highlights his own connection to the area. And yet Adam's return to the lost world of his youth resonates with the mixed emotions we all feel about our past. Somehow Hay makes Croydon – with its dreary suburbs and decaying city center – the character that creates this mood.


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