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Residents hit back at 1968 documentary about Haverhill

Haverhill TV

Tuesday, 8th May 2012.

A group of local residents are to premiere their own ‘riposte’ to the hypercritical BBC Man Alive programme about Haverhill, shown over 40 years ago.

Their documentary film about the town's subsequent success will be part part of Haverhill Arts Festival in June.

The town sprang to national attention when, in 1968, the BBC Man Alive programme made the documentary about Haverhill’s expansion, attacking its high density housing, lack of infrastructure, poor amenities, employment issues, council leadership – and predicting a gloomy future for the town.

Now, over 40 years later, the group of amateur film-makers will demonstrate how the town has moved on, matured and succeeded.

The Haverhill Man Alive project was the brainchild of Haverhill born-and-bred Ron Walker and his wife Linda, supported by ‘newcomer’ Gary Pontin, a small group of likeminded individuals and some of the town’s councillors.

The Walkers were angered by the incessant criticism and dismissal of their town for its failings – and determined to set the record straight.

The new documentary shows how the town has recovered from a bad start, to become a successful, dynamic and vibrant community. Prior to its 1960s expansion, Haverhill was a small market town of under 5,000. Today, the population stands at over 23,000 – with further expansion currently planned as part of St. Edmundsbury’s Vision 2031 proposals.

“We are a group of enthusiastic amateurs – we are not professional film-makers," says Ron Walker. “But we felt the need to stand up, be counted and stop the incessant carping, innuendo and destructive criticism about the town.

"We believe the film portrays Haverhill in a positive light, with many of the benefits, brands and facilities that you would expect in any other successful town.

"We know there were challenges with the original town expansion – we were all here then - but we believe we were unreasonably and unfairly written off as doomed to failure and we have set out to set the record straight once and for all."

The new documentary, which has taken two years to produce, also includes input from a number of people with direct knowledge of Haverhill during ‘Overspill’ and its evolution since.

These include Sir Eldon Griffiths, the town’s former MP, who also appeared in the original BBC documentary; Christopher Gurteen, now head of the family which owns Gurteens, the town centre clothing maker, whose father took part in the 1968 programme; and Adrian Graves, son of the late Canon Eric Graves, who was both vicar and an independent councillor during the period of the expansion.

Turning to the town’s prospects for the future, the new film ends with some observations from Nic Rumsey, a partner in leading developer Carisbrooke, a committed investor in Haverhill.

The new documentary will be premiered as part of Haverhill Arts Festival at Haverhill Arts Centre on Wednesday, June 27. Final details, including timings, will be released in the near future.

The event will be free and open to the public, but advance booking will be required. The audience is already expected to include councillors, community leaders and guests, including Sir Eldon Griffiths.

The project has already gained a strong following, with hits and friends on its recently launched Facebook page running quickly into the hundreds.

Scores of local people have also revisited the original BBC Man Alive programme on YouTube.

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