1 9 6 7 – 1 9 6 9 (UK)
Pre-dating EastEnders by two decades, this Cockney soap drama was created by Louis Marks and centred around a London street market and its traders and customers. The producers said; “we’re not a southern Coronation Street – we’re a series not a serial”.
Based on the bustle and vivacity of the pavement jungle in Soho’s Berwick Street Market, the series was launched in April 1967 and had overtaken long-standing programmes in the ratings within a week.
Each episode told a story of a particular character working or living in the market: Billy Bush (John Bennett), a hard-bitten gambler who was usually facing economic disaster on a major or minor scale cheerfully worked alongside vegetable seller Dave Sampson (Ray Lonnen), who was after a spot for his younger brother, Mike (Ian Gregory).
Widow Polly Jessel (Pat Nye) ran a busy fruit stall while her dim-witted son Danny (Brian Rawlinson) did odd jobs to earn a bit of cash.
Flamboyant Harry Jolson (Ivor Salter) ran the flower stall, always kept a carnation in his buttonhole and had a nice line in cheeky-chat for the women. He was everything that Billy Bush wasn’t and the two men had a smouldering dislike for each other.
The man who usually ended up as peacemaker for the two of them was Sam English (Michael Golden), Chairman of the Honey Lane Street Traders’ Association, who also ran a fruit stall.
Then there were the fly pitchers – boys who worked out of a suitcase, drumming up a crowd to make a sale and swiftly moving on, or those on the hunt to get a stall at any cost.
One of the most extensive open air sets ever built for TV drama was constructed by ATV at Elstree for the series, with shops, stalls and a pub. 18 years later the BBC bought the studio and did exactly the same thing with EastEnders.
The outdoor set cost £20,000 to build and the stalls were hired on a weekly basis from a dealer at £5 pounds a barrow for the ten regulars. The street lamps, (eight of them) were bought from a London council for £15 each, and every window on the set (16 in total) lit individually.
The production team went to great lengths to give the market an air of authenticity with litter and decayed cabbages specially brought in daily from Covent Garden. Not everything was real – over £500 was spent on artificial goods such as plastic potatoes – but everything that was handled in front of the camera, such as flowers, were genuine.
The series ran for two years although the name was shortened to just Honey Lane in September 1968 when it became a twice-weekly afternoon show, screening for thirty minutes on Mondays and Wednesdays (It took the place of the unsuccessful soap Driveway which lasted just 16 episodes).
But after several changes to its transmission time – which saw the series run in the afternoons and late at night in different ITV areas – Honey Lane was dropped the following March, after six months in the soap business.