The Boys from the Brown Stuff - BBC documentary lifts the lid on life in the sewers

Aug 24, 2007

"London: home to more than seven million people, producing over 2,800 million litres of waste every day. One flush, and just like magic, it disappears, out of sight and out of mind, but hidden beneath our streets is a subterranean wonderland where all our sewage ends up. "This is the world of the flushers. "

These are the opening lines to a new BBC TV documentary, which lifts the lids on the lives of a team of men who can be truly said to 'do the dirty work': the trunk sewer inspectors of Thames Water popularly known as the 'flushers'.

The documentary, entitled Boys from the Brown Stuff, which premieres on BBC2 on 27 August, was filmed over the course of nearly a year in the sewers of London, and focuses on the fortunes of five of the men who keep the sewers flowing:
Supervisor Kenny Young, 60, established trunk sewer inspectors Martin Wall, 44, and Vince Minney, 47, and new recruits Gary Bell, 35, and Craig White, 26. And, making a change from an established actor providing the voiceover, narration comes from real-life eastender Derek O'Connell, 59, a technician at Thames Water's sewage treatment works in Beckton.

The film follows the men at work and play, at home and on site, with many laughs, and some tears, along the way. It begins as a band of 12 raw recruits join Thames Water and follows them through their training, as they become fully-fledged flushers. In parallel, it focuses on the 'old guard', as represented by Kenny, Vince and Martin, men who have spent most of their working lives underground, keeping the sewers clean.

As well as painting a fascinating picture of the personalities behind a rarely seen profession, there is time for a glimpse into the challenges faced by the flushers, not least the problems caused by the build up of fat, oil and grease from fast food restaurants.

The film graphically demonstrates what happens when people carelessly dispose of fat and sanitary products down their sinks and toilets, with Kenny and his colleagues having to get their hands dirty cleaning up the results.

The message comes through clearly that the sewers may be out of sight, but they can never be out of mind, and we mistreat them at our peril.

Mike Gunn, one of the Thames Water trunk sewer managers shown training the new recruits, explains:
"Although the boys make it look easy, it's a very arduous and potentially dangerous job. There's the constant risk of being gassed or asphyxiated, and a sudden downpour could mean drowning if they don't escape from the tunnels in time.

"Combine these dangers with the foul-smelling congealed fat which people carelessly pour down the sink, and which blocks up the sewers causing flooding above ground, and the team have a very tough job to do.

"This film shows a hard-working committed band of men who do a difficult job, in difficult circumstances, but always in good humour. I hope that by watching this film more of our customers change their habits and start using the sewers properly, and to dispose of their rubbish in the dustbin rather than down the drain."

Boys from the Brown Stuff was produced and directed by David Clews and made by Blast! Films for BBC2. It will be broadcast at 9pm on Monday 27 August 2007.

For a DVD copy of the film, contact Clare Voyce at Blast! Films, Tel: +44 (0)20 7267 4260.

Further information:
Thames Water
Nicola Savage (Media Relations Manager)
Vastern Road
Reading RG1 8DB
Tel: +44 (0)118 373 8921

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