Top Deck Tales

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Back in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher allegedly said that "any man who finds himself on a bus at the age of 26 can account himself a failure". Robert Elms couldn't disagree more. The BBC London broadcaster, former punk, New Romantic and self-appointed social commentator is passionate about the capital's trademark red double deckers. Once a week he devotes a section of his show on BBC London to a different bus route.

For Tales from the Top Deck, Robert has chosen the number 36 which slices through London on a long diagonal journey from New Cross Gate to Queen's Park. He wanted a transpontine bus - in other words a bus which crosses a bridge over the Thames - and one which serves both north and south London as well as busy tourist spots like Victoria, Paddington and Marble Arch.

He celebrates the diversity of the capital as the bus travels through a multitude of different areas at all times of day and night picking up a remarkable mixture of Londoners. In Camberwell he meets a fashion designer for the over 40s who teaches yoga and 'body painting'. A bit further up the road on the top deck he sits next to a serving prisoner on day release trying to find a job mending boilers.

Robert finds romantic stories such as the shopkeeper from Deptford who called the 36 his 'love bus'. He was so besotted with a girl who lived in Queen's Park that he often spent an hour and a half travelling the whole route to see her, all the way from South east to North west London. In the canteen at New Cross Gate garage he meets Natasha and Marcellin - a couple of bus drivers who fell in love, married and are now planning to retire to the Caribbean island of Nevis. For them the 36 has been a vehicle to their dreams. And he meets driver Hassan - a Turkish Cypriot who simply adores his job.

There are also darker moments. Along the Harrow Road he meets Mohammed, a man who was once on death row in Iraq and fled to London after Saddam Hussein murdered one brother and nearly killed another by posioning him.

Robert also stops off at some notable landmarks along the route from the iconic Peckham Library to the bustling 24 hour Ranoush Juice Bar on Edgware Road; from the sedate stands of the Oval Cricket ground to the burgeoning gay scene in Vauxhall. Chatting to grannies and school children, late night clubbers and early morning cleaners, refugees and ladies who lunch, Robert builds up a vibrant picture of 21st century London.

Producer: Lucy Ash.

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30 minutes

Last on

Mon 12 Jul 2010 20:00

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