Inside Billingsgate Review: Introducing ‘The Bastard of Billingsgate’..


Billingsgate is Britain’s biggest inland fish market, an institution lying in the shadow of Canary Warf, next to the banks. How things operate there has changed little since Elizabethan times: fish merchants trade from 2am, but fish may only be moved when a bell rings at 5am.

“What goes on here is very similar to what goes on over there in Canary Warf,â€? explains Roger Barton, a trader who has been unfortunately labelled as “the Bastard of Billingsgateâ€?. He’s perhaps the biggest character in The Fish Market: Inside Billingsgate, a documentary about how Billingsgate must adapt if it’s to continue to exist in these increasingly troubled times.

I suppose, in that way, it’s not like Canary Warf at all, but I understand what the bastard means. Roger’s on the phone all day, buying and selling; his ruthless attitude is presumably how he earned his prestigious title. But nevertheless, he seems like a nice man when he speaks to the camera, and even his ex-wife has some kind words to say about him. She owns a restaurant now and buys fish from Roger. She confesses that while she was married to Roger, he was married to fish—or selling them at least.

“A lot of the men here have busted marriages,â€? says one of the fish merchants. “We talk about these things. I suppose we’re a bit like a family.â€?

Many of the merchants can’t explain the appeal of working at Billingsgate, although it could very well be for the comedy. Oh, how they chortle! There’s even a little small montage of various merchants laughing themselves stupid, which climaxes with a man with his shirt pulled over his head, parading around the market with his juggling beer gut on show.

“Whey!â€? everybody cheers. The very sombre narration insists that this is where the heart of Billingsgate’s “distinctive characterâ€? lies. I’m sure they don’t mean this literally, of course.

It’s a very touching, humorous programme. There’s also a lot of profanity, not to mention graphic shots of gross-looking, slack-mouthed fish. But still, that doesn’t put the customers that go there off. To the patrons, the fish market is as important as it must be to the people who work there. Unfortunately, though, it might not be around for much longer, which make it all very bittersweet, and therefore moving television.