What does the future hold for the men of the night-time meat market at Smithfield? The modern world of political correctness and customer service is proving a challenge for some.
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This programme contains strong language
The night time world of London's wholesale food markets is beginning to stir.
These London institutions have been supplying the city with fish, meat and fruit
and vegetables for centuries, and are a rich seam in London's history.
But how relevant are they today,
and what will their role be in the London of tomorrow?
Smithfield, Britain's biggest and oldest wholesale meat market,
is the last of the Corporation of London's food markets
still trading on its original site.
Once the location of London's livestock market in the 12th century,
it began trading in meat when this building was completed
nearly 150 years ago.
For decades, it went unchallenged
as the sole supplier of wholesale meat and poultry to the capital.
And with this monopoly, it could afford to play by its own rules.
It ain't the same as it was years ago.
If someone had a go at one of us,
then you had a go at 2,000 of us, because we all stick together.
If you ever come down the market to cause trouble,
then you're in the wrong place.
The customer service, although it's there, it's...
the political correctness isn't as strong here
as it would be in, like, an office.
We're lucky, in that sense.
Today, the market's 42 businesses and 500 employees
have to come to terms with a new world.
Supermarkets, and increasingly the catering and butcher trade,
now buy their meat direct from abattoirs,
so Smithfield's dominance is in decline.
And with the country in the grip of recession,
it now needs its customers more than ever.
But for some, it's hard to change the habits of a lifetime.
-What is it?
-One that's rolled up.
Boneless, all ready for the oven.
Yeah, boneless, what, what... How is it? I don't want that one.
Well, I'm not giving you that one, I'm giving you this one.
It's not like that, is it?
Well, of course it ain't, that one's like that, that one's like that.
Norman and Steve are salesmen for Warman & Guttridge,
and between them have clocked up over 60 years' service on the market.
-I want it on the bone.
-Sweetheart, I don't think we're going to be able to agree.
-You want a pork loin?
She just said she don't want it like that.
-With some fat.
-With a bit of fat?
Sweetheart, you're always best to come on a Saturday.
-Saturday, is it open on Saturday?
-So, why am I...?
I've been giving that out for you. You're not sure?
The rudeness of some people -
when you have a busy day and you're right under it, there's no manners.
Standing there, clicking their fingers at you, tapping the window.
Like the Africans, for example, but it's not rude,
it's not being rude to them.
They'll just come up and go, "How much?" Like that.
It's not the way it gets served in this shop.
It's mid-November, and the nightly deliveries have arrived,
bringing nearly 400 tonnes of produce to Smithfield
from all corners of the globe.
Beef from Argentina, Africa, Argyle and Derbyshire.
Lamb from New Zealand, Yorkshire and Devon,
pork from Belgium, Spain, and all around Britain.
Selling over the counter to members of the public
and trading from the back of the shops with butchers, caterers, hotels and restaurants,
Smithfield market turns over around three quarters of a billion pounds a year.
Greg Lawrence joined the market as a trainee salesman in 1969,
and has since become one of Smithfield's most successful businessmen.
'We serve caterers, restaurants, butchers' shops,'
anyone who buys meat.
From the top level down to the pub on the corner.
On a daily basis, we'll cut 300 pigs, 500 lambs, beef.
We try to fill the premises up every night,
we try to put volume through.
It's a low margin, low percentage on profit.
Unlike the supermarkets,
whose meat is largely cut and packaged at the abattoirs,
Smithfield still has a team of skilled meat cutters
working at the back of the shops.
John, better known as Biffo,
has been butchering pigs for the last 37 years.
There's not a lot of skilled men left on the market now,
only about 20, 30 men on the market now.
The technique of the truly skilled cutter has hardly changed,
having been handed down from man to man from decade to decade.
My grandfather worked down here when they first opened up,
when they had to queue up for a job.
They used to queue for jobs.
Then my father worked down here - you know, it's like family.
Years ago, if you never - it was a closed shop -
if you never knew anyone, you never got in the market.
This is called the outer belly, what I'm taking off now,
they have to be a certain size for the chops.
We go four bones up, this is the neck end, that's the neck end,
and this is your loin.
This is your outer belly,
you've taken it off, come to the joint,
and it's off.
That's your belly, and that's where you get your spare rib chops from.
Now, if you have barbecue or spare rib chops,
that's where you get that from.
These, it's your neck end.
He's left with the loin.
Which you get all your chops off of.
Where you get your pork chops. Then it comes to your leg.
So, everything gets used?
Yeah, tails, tails,
What do people do with those?
Three of these are a yard of meat. Three feet!
It's a good life down here, all laughing and joking -
I mean, Paul's been down here as long as me.
To see the changes up here, you wouldn't believe it, would you?
No, it's not the same market.
It ain't the same market as it was years ago.
I mean, I come up here one day, opened my locker up,
and all my clothes were gone.
They'd left me an African war suit, green, blue, you name the colour.
So, I put it on and I went home in it.
Cos once you're bit up here, that was your lot.
If they can get the better of you, they'll slaughter you.
Biffo's been a shop steward in the union for over 30 years.
In Smithfield's heyday from the 1950s to the '80s,
the union ruled the market,
protecting the 2,000 men who worked there,
and who each had their own specific job title.
On the lorry, you'd have what they call fullerbacks,
the fullerbacks pull the meat off, put it on to the pitchers' backs,
and they'd pitch it into the shops.
That was the idea of pitchers,
they just put it on all the hooks, that was that.
That's when it was ranked union up here,
I mean, the governors never had a say, they run the market.
Any governor upset them, they won't put their meat in the shop,
they'll pitch everyone else's meat in, they won't pitch your meat in.
You used to have, like,
there could be 150 pigs in the shop that had to be chopped down.
But then there were eight of us in the shop,
and you have three or four cutters.
Then you'd have what they called humpers.
As you cut the meat they used to hump it on to the scales.
Then you'd have the scalesman to weigh the meat over,
that was a job on its own, they never moved from behind the scale.
Finally, the purchased meat was delivered to waiting vans
by self-employed porters, otherwise known as bummarees.
But when the market was forced to modernise to meet EU regulations
in the mid-nineties, most of these roles became defunct,
and the union's power diminished, along with its members.
Many of the old guards still mourn the loss of the golden age of Smithfield.
They paid all the pitchers and fullerbacks 20 grand to leave the market,
and that was the end of the union, that was it.
It was a big change, because years ago it was a laugh,
it used to be absolute... a laugh a minute.
But for Biffo's boss, John,
there was nothing funny about the union's dominance of the market.
A lot of people in Smithfield 20, 30 years ago,
didn't consider they worked for the company,
they almost felt as if they worked for the union.
And, um, thankfully, those days are gone now.
With the modernisation of the market,
the 21st century is bringing new faces and new ways to Smithfield,
whether it likes it or not.
At JF Edwards, single mother Dee
is the first woman ever to take the 2-8am shift
amongst the meat cutters at the back.
How long have you been working down here, Dee?
Six months, yeah.
-How did you end up at the market?
-I was a housewife,
I was a stay-at-home mum for nearly ten years,
and I literally couldn't find any... no-one would employ me.
And I know John, our manager, and he said,
"If you want to come down and try it, you're quite happy to do so,"
and I've been here ever since.
The amount of men's a bit daunting, first of all, really,
but they're all quite nice, really. Very nice boss, he's very fair.
They're all OK.
How do I do here, Ken, am I OK?
Have you had women here before?
We've had a few salesmen,
but nothing on the back site, on the actual physical side of it.
-Yeah, I'm unique.
-As far as I know, you're the first.
They don't like early mornings,
they don't like handling bloody stuff and, um...
I mean, it's heavy work, it can get heavy, so...
-It's cos I'm special!
-In the olden days it was a men-only domain.
Yeah, there would never have been a woman here,
-I'd have been sold as a wife, wouldn't I?
-Yeah, sold as slaves.
Do you think people will be turning in their graves?
I would think so, yeah.
You stop that right now.
-I beg your pardon?
-I bet you really couldn't wait to do that, could you?
'My actual female friends, they think I'm quite inspiring
'for doing it, they're like, "well done".
'Everyone that I tell what I do is like that, "Oh!"
'They're a little bit shocked,'
then they go, "Oh, good for you."
It's a good thing, it's girl power, I suppose,
it's all that kind of stuff, really, yeah.
I don't really mind the shift because I'm available,
I'm awake all day long, so I can do the house work, see the kids,
cook the dinners. It actually suits me to do this.
So, when do you sleep?
Seven or eight o'clock tomorrow night.
Yeah, for four and a half hours. I get 25 hours' sleep a week.
Come Friday, I'm like that.
I can't go anywhere, I can't do anything,
because I'm just falling asleep all over the place.
But it doesn't really bother me cos I'm working,
that's the main thing - putting food on the table.
I've got two children to support, yeah.
Is your idea to stay here and try to build a bit of a career?
Yeah, I wouldn't mind getting out the front of the shops
and selling stuff, yeah, dealing with the customers.
Is there a chance that that can happen?
Not too sure - who knows. I'm the only woman down here,
it would be a big thing for them, because everyone else is a man.
-Excuse me, is a man.
So, I don't know.
I mean, I'd hope so, but it's so institutionalised, really,
I'm not too sure.
I'd like to say yes, but you never know, do you?
It could be the one thing that holds me back, I suppose.
Breaking into sales will certainly be a challenge for Dee.
As well as selling to those outside the market,
some of the toughest negotiations are between the traders themselves,
who buy and sell to each other
so they can meet their customers' orders.
Warman & Guttridge has a market monopoly on mince production,
and for Norman, negotiating price with the other traders
can test relationships to their limit.
Cost you five pound a kilo, I told you yesterday, you ain't getting it at 4.40.
-I got told 4.40 yesterday.
-Well, who served you?
My Andy came up...
Well, tell him, who, who served you?
You ain't paying 4.40 for best mince.
It's as easy as that, five pound a kilo.
I'll tell you what, you fucking moron.
-I tell you what, I fucking...what do you mean?
-You want to get trappy, get trappy.
-Don't fucking joke.
What's the matter with you?
Don't fucking... You fuck off, just fuck off.
I'm going up that way.
Sometimes things get to you and sometimes they don't!
He wants best meat for silly money - that's not the point,
it's just the principle of it,
we don't sell best mince at under five pound a kilo,
he's telling me he paid £4.40 for it.
He was adamant, so, that's what he got for his sauce.
I don't think I'd serve him again.
I might have lost him.
Not that I'm too worried about it, so...
Norman's boss is Mark,
who took the business over from his dad a few years back,
after his ambitions to become a golf pro failed to take off.
But establishing himself as part of a new generation,
with new ideas for Smithfield, has been far from plain sailing.
'When I first started out,
'Norman never gave me the time of day, not at all.
'But, to be fair to him, you know, I didn't know anything.
'You kind of have to be here a little while to know how you work,'
and to build the respect of these guys
that have been down here 40 years,
to kind of earn their respect, do you know what I mean?
It's not like you can just come here,
and after ten minutes, everyone's going, "Oh, you're the boss."
I suppose it's like any job, to a certain degree.
If you're the new man, especially if you're the boss' son,
then you've got to kind of get their respect, really.
Three shops down from Mark, at James Burden's stand,
new shop boy Anthony is trying to find his place
in the hidden, twilight world of Smithfield.
His boss, Jason, believes he's worthy to join the ranks,
and is planning an initiation ceremony that's as old as the market itself.
He's been with us three months, works in a man's market,
and, because it's quite a closed market, as you can well imagine,
and we all work closely with each other,
we see the same people day in, day out.
And, um, yeah, you form some good friendships,
because it is an obscure place to work, as most markets are.
And, um, for a new kid, young kid as well, it's quite daunting.
As long as he takes it like a man,
we will, equally, respect him for that.
Everyone's been gearing themselves up with various rotten products,
eggs and blood and offal, all bagged up, ready to go.
Smells lovely, I can tell you that.
Just need him to come out, and we're going to get him.
Mate, that is cold.
It's happened for decades, had it done myself, many years ago.
No sympathy here.
LAUGHTER AND SHOUTING
Go on, get in the road.
'You get people that I didn't even know coming up to you and saying,
'"Oh, well done for that, you took that really well."
'You start becoming part of their little family, I suppose.
'It's nice to feel like this is like a little home.'
What about the rest of your life,
what about your friends who work normal hours?
Well, it's a bit hard to, sort of, stay in contact,
cos obviously they're working days, I'm working nights.
I've got friends here now,
so, it's no big loss, I suppose.
There are other new faces entering the traditional world of Smithfield
and adapting to its peculiar ways.
At 2.30 in the morning, six miles away in north London, Mark,
otherwise known as Marky Markets,
sets out on his hunt for the best cuts of meat
at the best possible prices.
With his pioneering use of social media,
Mark is a personal shopper for trendy Londoners
who like the idea of fresh market meat,
but not the unsociable shopping hours.
'You get hold of me on Twitter, email, phone me,
'tell me what you want, and I go and buy it to order
'for you at the market.'
Armed with the skills his 25 years in advertising taught him
about promoting a new business,
Mark traded in his daylight career
for the nocturnal world of the market.
It's a completely different world, no-one else is up around -
well, there's clubbers, and that sort of thing.
But even though they're up at the same time,
they're on opposite sides of the street, literally and metaphorically.
They see through each other, those drinkers and the butchers,
they never mix.
So, yes, this Smithfield world is a whole new world,
it's really exciting.
Have you got any bavette?
-Just the two kilo bag of that.
-Two bag, yeah?
Comes to £24, yes? Thank you.
-A kilo of that, as well.
Just a kilo, yeah.
'It's quite scary going down the first time,
'you feel you have to earn your place in the market.'
-£14 a bag, darling.
'It's a bit odd, the way that you feel a bit happier than it really warrants
'when you get a nod or a hello off a butcher in the morning.
'You think, "Oh, I've arrived! I've just got a nod off a butcher."'
See you later.
Just give us the smallest shoulder, neck end, that you've got,
and then a neck end, boned out.
'I do get better prices.
'When I happen to be standing next to somebody who orders the same as me,'
I realise that I've been offered a better price.
So, that's quite nice.
I forgot, I need a kilo of sirloin, please.
-You're fucking useless, aren't you?
I haven't had any coffee though.
You've got a great, big book there, and you still...
It was right at the end in little writing.
Do it like a grown up, then, write big writing, yeah?
What sort of mark up are you able to make?
Um, generally, about 30%, I think.
I make sure that I can stay competitive, really.
Right, do you want to check your list, see if there's anything else?
'It's so macho down there, it's all just jab, big, old, bald headed guys.
'They've got knives!'
They've got knives and chain mail gloves, they're big fellas,
they've got a very closed shop.
You know, they all know each other, they all work day in, day out,
with each other, night in, night out, with each other.
And they never really see many other people
outside that small, closed world of Smithfield,
and so it becomes - I don't mean it derogatively -
but it seems like a bit of a playground mentality.
You can see there's gangs, you know?
'There is so little influence of women down there.
'There are women down there,
'but you notice them because there are so few.'
Hiya, there's a ticket in there for me.
-My mum made me promise to show.
-Thanks very much.
-Thanks, see you later.
Of the half dozen women working on the market,
almost all are cocooned in porta cabins working as cashiers.
Jo's been sat in hers for the last three years.
'Once I actually got in my little cabin and I was safe,
'yeah, I loved it from the word go.'
But you have still got to be a woman up here,
you have still got to have that respect,
and, as I say, 98%, they show me respect as a woman up here,
and that's important to me,
you know, I don't want to be treated like one of the blokes.
Um, but the banter's good, I like the banter.
Loads of innuendos, but, again, you have to stay one step ahead of it,
and they know that they don't break the line.
They know how far to go with the innuendo, um,
and they tend to stick to it.
They know the rules
and you lay them down very, very firmly to start with.
How do you do that?
Um, if it's inappropriate, you tell them.
You say, cut it out, that's enough.
Dee's duties, meanwhile, have been extended
to include washing down the display cabinets at the front of the shop,
which is bringing her into contact with more of the men on the market.
Let's see my next picture then.
Did you really take that just for me?
You look beautiful.
-You've got to give as good as you get, huh?
-Yeah, down here you do, definitely.
One of them, the man who was just showing me the pictures
was him in a pair of red sequinned pants and a Santa hat,
and that's what the picture was.
The other day, he had one of him in a sombrero and not much else.
-There you go, mate, all right?
-Thanks a lot.
With the night fast turning to day,
Mark, like Smithfield's other customers, is in a rush to get away
before the 7am congestion charge kicks in, and adds £10 to his costs.
For Steve and Norman,
the charge is yet another blow to the changing fortunes of the market.
That's about it, now the congestion charge is hitting in, off they go.
Party's over. We used to stand here at ten o'clock,
people still coming by, ten o'clock. As soon as that come in -
what, five or six years ago now? - straight out the window.
It's that Ken Livingstone for you - brains of a rocking horse, the boy.
'I use the tube with my trolley,
'freezer blocks and chiller boxes,
'and, yeah, deliver it as soon as I can to people's offices.'
Excuse me, sorry.
'Of course, there are some overs
'because there are minimum amounts I have to buy,
'and so if there's any spare, that's when I get on Twitter
'and really use social media and sell the overs down at my Soho office.'
# Santa baby just slip a sable under the tree for me...#
In the week before Christmas, the market is pulling in the punters,
much to the relief of the traders, who need to make enough money now
to cover the lean months of January and February.
You'd think these people haven't ate for a year.
You can't move out there.
It's like it every year, but there's no money about in the country,
they keep telling us.
What do you think when you see people buying all that much meat?
I just laugh.
Do you think they need it, or are they just buying it?
Nah, they just... I don't know,
I think half of it's just greed, isn't it?
For Biffo's boss, John,
the hoards are a reminder of the market's glory days
before its fortunes began to change,
along with the changing face of London.
Going back to when I started in '66,
it was a whole different scenario up here.
The market was an absolute hive of activity,
ten o'clock in the morning, you couldn't move.
There'd be barrows and people and lorries and vehicles -
the place was a real, real hive of activity.
But everything changes.
The supermarkets, for instance, they don't trade with us now.
I mean, back in '66, everything came through Smithfield market,
certainly in the South East and the home counties,
every stick of meat, every ounce of meat,
went through Smithfield market,
and, obviously, the supermarkets are much, much bigger now
than they were in '66.
Do you like Christmas?
No, I don't.
Ever since my mum died, I've got no interest in it, really.
It's just for the kids, isn't it?
When did she die?
Oh, God, '75 she died, probably.
My brother got killed when he was 14.
On the back of a motorbike.
But you just lose interest, really.
Your mum's your best mate, isn't she? When you think about it.
Just nipping off, I'll be two seconds.
She used to go to me, "You'll never learn, will you?" I said, "Nah".
I was always in trouble, always in fights and whatever.
When you first started here, were you still that way?
Were you still angry?
I remember when I started here, I was known as "Stuart with the black eye".
It wasn't my left eye, it was my right eye.
That's how I got my name, Biffo.
All the geezers used to laugh, "Here he comes,
"see what he's got wrong today."
I'm not saying I won them all - won a few, lost a few.
Have you mellowed out a bit now?
Yeah, I've got to now, I'm only 21.
With the hectic Christmas rush soon to be over,
most of the traders are looking forward to a restful four-day break over the holidays.
We are, officially, opening Christmas Eve,
but I can tell you now, both of my companies won't be open.
If we haven't made it by Friday,
I'm not going to drag people here
on a Christmas Eve, on a Saturday - forget it.
I'll leave that to one or two of our other more cold and hungry traders.
The annual Christmas Eve auction is yet another Smithfield tradition,
originally created to shift stock
that might otherwise languish over the holidays.
It's a bargain hunters' bonanza, while at the same time
generating a tidy profit for Greg Lawrence,
the only Smithfield trader open for business on Christmas Eve.
Have the money ready, there's no change on these,
there's no change, these are whole rumps.
You cannot beat the value, one price only, get ready, £20.
Yes, one of you.
One here, one here.
One at a time!
Money ready, one at a time.
One, only one, I can only have one at a time.
One price, and one price only, £20 a bird.
Well, we're just buying for about four families
and about six chest freezers, meat for a year.
Oh, it's for the year?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
So, we won't have to go to the butchers again for a year,
-and we're here every year.
It's a slick operation now, we've got buyers, we've got some carriers,
-and we're guarding the meat.
-Do you use the market otherwise?
No, not personally, no.
Do you think we need to, do you really think we need to use the meat market otherwise?
We don't buy meat in the year!
Come here, quick, got to take the angry bird, what a deal, what a deal.
What a deal, what a deal! What a deal, what a deal!
Take it, take it.
A seasoned market man, Greg's perfected the mix of showmanship
and innovative sales technique that keeps the money pouring in.
-If you win the toss, you get that for nothing.
If you win the toss.
If you lose the toss, you've got to give me 20 quid. Who wants a bet?
Right, here we go, who's first?
Right, that gentleman there.
Hold on, this gentleman is the witness on the call.
Ready, here we go.
-It's tails! Give him the loin of pork.
That man there is the next man, ready? Here we go, here we go.
-Heads or tails?
-I'll have a head.
-Heads, what is it, sir?
Give me 20 quid.
It's been a very good Christmas, an excellent Christmas,
there's nothing better than taking money.
You've got to keep taking the money, our motto is keep taking the money.
If they're ready, if they want to buy goods,
we've got the goods for them. You must keep taking the money,
because we'll suffer in January and February,
because it's the quiet period.
I think 2012 and 2013 will be very, very difficult,
I think people will be more cautious in spending.
I think they'll be more, not only cautious, but more wiser in spending,
and we're going to be in for a very, very difficult time, I really do.
As the new year commences,
refrigerators at Smithfield are in need of replenishing,
and Greg Lawrence has placed an order for 320 of Devon's finest lambs.
Bring them along, bring them along, bring them along.
Right, the lambs came in during the course of the evening,
we've killed 480 this morning.
We kill about 215 hour,
so they're all dead by nine o'clock, put in the chiller.
Later on this morning they'll be selected for various customers,
and loaded tomorrow morning
and dispatched to Smithfield on Sunday night.
Peter owns West Devon Meats,
an abattoir that's been supplying beef and lamb to Smithfield
for over 30 years.
This lamb here is an ideal... The grade is a U3L,
and that is an ideal lamb for butchers or wholesalers.
Weighs 19 kilos, you can see how rounded it is,
and it's just got a nice covering of fat on it.
There's one that's a bad confirmation - in other words,
it hasn't got the shape there - there's two there -
it hasn't got the shape,
there's no roundness in the legs, and that's in the breeding.
We will pay less for them, and we'll sell them for less money as well.
With the season for new spring lamb just around the corner,
the profit in year-old lamb, or hoggets, is slim.
At the moment we would be paying four pounds a kilo for it,
and we wouldn't be making much more than four pound a kilo for it either.
So, we're reliant on the skins, which is our profit margin.
-You make no profit from the carcasses?
-No, no, not at this precise moment.
That seems incredible.
Yeah, it is.
Unfortunately, that's the way the trade is at the moment -
the offal sells separately, the liver, the heart.
Then, of course, you've got your runner,
which is sold for sausage skins, that's all sold separately.
And what kind of money can you make from that?
That's my business!
As someone who's been supplying meat to Smithfield
for the past three decades,
Peter is well placed to see what its future may hold.
I think they're under threat with where they're situated,
to start with. Smithfield market has always traditionally been
in the middle of London, but I think, as time goes on,
they need to relocate to the outskirts of London
for accessibility - not just for ourselves,
but for the customers to get in there.
It would be much better situated in an outside area,
whether it be Kent, Surrey, Sussex or whatever,
with accessibility for large vehicles to get to.
These are lambs that have come in from Devon, West Devon abattoir.
These are good lambs, perfect lambs, perfect shape.
The price finds its level, it's all to do with supply and demand.
Legs of lamb, for example,
could start off this morning at 5.50 a kilo,
and within an hour, they could reach 6.50 a kilo.
It all depends on the demand, and you get the feel of it,
it's just like any other market.
Though a relative newcomer compared to Greg,
Mark from Warman & Guttridge has been quick to learn how the meat trade works.
'Everyone's got their own sort of margin that they work to.'
To a certain degree.
Really, it depends on what you've bought, and what you can sell.
Some of the really expensive stuff, you don't make hardly anything on it.
You know, you're lucky to get 5%, if you're lucky.
On some of the more valuable stuff like the fillets,
some of the old strip loins, the rib eyes, that sort of thing.
But, obviously, when the country's in, like, a recession -
and it does make a bit of a difference - people haven't got the money, so...
We've noticed this year that your margins are, obviously, lower,
because you've still got to sell the stuff,
to get it away you've got to drop your margin a little bit, you know?
Apart from dealing with a squeeze on profit margins,
the Smithfield traders are now also facing the prospect of a hike in rent,
in keeping with other central London properties.
As far as Mark's concerned,
it might be time to consider joining the city's fish and fruit and veg markets
that have already moved to the outskirts.
I think we'll move to a different venue.
You know, we're in the centre of London,
there's great, big artics lurking about,
and it's not an easy place to get in and out of.
And what would become of this amazing building,
-and all the history?
-They'd make it into little shops, wouldn't they?
Little, boutique-y type shops, I'm sure.
Rent it out for a fortune,
because the property's worth a fortune, isn't it?
You know, let's not kid ourselves, it's worth big, big money.
They don't - City of London -
probably don't want us here for a certain degree.
I wouldn't have thought they'd have wanted us here.
Making all this rubbish, making all this mess, making all this... you know.
All this...they want it to be...
so, it's not so busy, I'm thinking.
So, you wouldn't be sad to go?
I'm sure some people would be, but, no,
cos I can see the benefits of moving somewhere
that would benefit our company.
But for others on the market,
any strides to improve on the original Smithfield
have been backwards ones.
Steve Thompson, a beef cutter at Central Meats,
has spent his whole working life in the London meat trade.
If you could have seen Smithfield before they developed it,
or made it into what it is now, it was a much, much better market.
Why do you think that?
Oh, it was much easier to work, it was all open, um,
and don't quote me on this,
but I think the new market was designed by a woman, and it shows.
Cos she has not got a clue.
Why do you say that?
Because it isn't built for what we do.
I mean, it's completely different from what it was years ago,
but it's still a unique place, as such.
Eventually, this place will go, and it will never be replaced.
I don't think they'll be able to duplicate this sort of environment,
you know? Hopefully, they won't get a woman to design it this time,
they'll design it properly.
Despite all the talk of change,
Smithfield's been the one thing that has remained constant in Norman's life,
and it's something he'll find hard to give up.
This is not like a job, it's a way of life, always been that way.
How long have you been in Smithfield now, then?
Uh, May '61.
50, 51 years this May.
There used to be a shop where that tobacconist is now,
used to have a heads shop, just for heads, calf heads, lamb heads.
I said, are there any jobs?
Got the job.
Walked in the shop, all it was was heads,
heads all over the floor, just heads.
All had the hair on, all full of blood and maggots and everything,
you name it, it was there.
Anyway, I picked one up, I didn't want to touch it,
just didn't want to touch it.
Being as I was only 16,
you have two years to have yourself an apprenticeship.
By the time you're 18, you're big enough to carry the carcasses.
Are you going to be here for a long time more?
Well, he don't want me to go, the guv'nor.
Whenever. It's not a problem.
He's been with me for goodness knows how many years.
I'd never force it upon himself. If he said to me one day, "Mark,
"I just want to cut back,"
If you want to stop it all together, not a problem.
This Thursday. First of March.
But I'm not going to be here forever,
but while I'm fit and healthy,
I'm pleased to come here with the lads.
You can have a chuckle.
Not physically hard, or nothing.
While I'm still fit and can do the job for him, it helps them out.
Helps everyone out.
I'd only get bored indoors, anyway.
It's a funny old job.
You get these people that just can't leave.
They're sort of like working all the time.
Norman - a little while ago, his wife passed away.
And I think sometimes he comes up here
just to see all his mates, really.
62, she was. Brain tumour.
Just out the blue.
Couple of weeks, it was all over.
There you go.
It must have been a terrible shock?
Yeah. Oh, it was. Yeah.
How was it facing in here?
It was all right.
Get over it, don't you? Life goes on, as they say.
Distract yourself with it?
It's no good sitting around moping, is it? Nothing's going to change.
Just carry on.
-Do you miss her?
I must go.
After a life devoted to Smithfield,
leaving it for a daylight existence can be daunting.
With 42 years under his belt as a Smithfield man,
Terry - one of Greg Lawrence's salesmen -
is on the cusp of retirement.
'Funny thing when you're going to retire.
'It's a bit scary.
'When I'm not here, I'll miss it.
'When I'm here, I think, "What the hell am I doing here,
'"this time of the morning?"
'Started off as a humper. I used to hump all the meat all about,'
then I became a cutter.
Then I was a salesman
for about a year.
Then I had a chance to run me own business here.
We had four shops.
I think over about 17 years,
and I end up - we call it "getting knocked" -
we got knocked for a lot of money. A hell of a lot.
I just didn't want to carry on no more.
So we shut them, parted, and I came to Greg.
Now, it comes to the time when you can have it easy.
I play golf. I like gardening,
but, I don't know,
I think I'll miss it,
after 42 years.
Is your wife looking forward to having you back
on normal hours again?
I think so! HE LAUGHS
-Who's the best looking here?
While Norman and Terry have clocked up nearly a century's service
to Smithfield between them,
it seems the next market generation
is lacking that staying power.
If you get a kid of 17 or 18 who's willing to learn,
I'm quite willing to teach them.
But you get someone who comes in who just wants to piss around,
then they've wasted my time.
Is that the problem - they don't really want to learn?
They're not interested.
They want to earn a quick buck outside.
You've seen them.
As long as they get some shit up their nose,
or a bit of the old whacky baccy,
At the start of a new week,
the position once occupied by JF Edwards' only female
cutting room employee
is once again being advertised by her manager, Ken.
Is Dee around here?
She's not. She's gone.
She left us yesterday.
Can you tell me what happened?
I think it was the pressure of things happening at home,
as well as market life.
I don't think the two go together. HE LAUGHS
What do you mean?
You're working silly hours -
you're working from two o'clock in the morning.
So, you're about when the kids are not,
and then the kids are at home, and you're not.
So it makes it very, very awkward.
I think there's a few things that have been happening,
and she got stressed out, and just thought that was it.
But for Dee, it was more than just the night shift
that began to take its toll on her.
I just expected it to stop,
after I'd proved that I could do the job.
I was quite competent. I thought it would just...
slowly sort of eel off, and it didn't, really.
What sort of things?
One of them made me a bone in the shape of a penis.
One of them showed me
a video of his penis.
One of them...
asked me if I'd like to go upstairs and have sex with him.
Would I like to have an affair?
I had all sorts of stupid little people touching me
on my hip, inappropriately,
asking me inappropriate questions all the time.
And these were supposed to be people
that I liaised with,
cos they didn't only work for the company I worked for,
they worked for other companies.
I was supposed to just,
"OK, then!" Just take it.
But after a little while, I think you find it a bit demeaning, really.
That's Smithfield market, unfortunately.
Which is probably why there's not so many women...
Dee was the only one I knew that was working on the actual shop floor.
You get a few of the cashiers that are female.
But they're inside their little boxes,
so they probably don't come face-to-face with it.
I can imagine Dee, going in whatever shop she went in,
was getting the same thing from all the blokes.
To give Dee her due, she gave them a bit back.
Which is the way you've got to be.
There were a couple of comments that really upset her.
I went and had a word with one of our directors,
and he went and had a word with the guy involved.
He said he didn't mean anything by the comments.
I won't say what the comment was.
But he went and apologised to her, and said it was no hard feelings,
that he didn't mean her to take it personally - it was a bit of banter.
I don't suppose I minded it for a little bit,
because I thought it would stop, but it didn't stop.
I used to say to them, "How would you feel if this was your wife?"
And they'd all go, "I wouldn't want her working here.
"I wouldn't like what's being said to you
"being said to my wife".
When you think about what goes on down there -
you sort of take a back step about what actually happens there -
they are a bit Neanderthal.
They are a bit backwards.
It's almost like being in a Victorian market, slightly.
They could have transported the people really quickly and easily.
Just add, "Hear ye!" onto a few things,
and we're back there. Some straw on the floor.
It wouldn't take much, I don't think.
You're a right fucking James Hunt, you are.
I fucking asked you, "Beef or lamb?" You went, "lamb".
Tell me we didn't have that conversation(!)
No lamb heads.
I'm not going to give you fucking cow heads, am I?
If you each didn't have a brain cell, you could be a plant.
'It's a funny place to work.
'It's not like working anywhere else.'
You wouldn't get... Your human resources and stuff,
People wouldn't get away with working or talking to clients
the way they do. That kind of stuff, I think,
is a little bit - not disturbing - I think it's shocking
the first time you hear them.
But opposite Dee's old workplace,
Ian, working the front counter at Central Meat,
has a different view to her
when it comes to customer relations at Smithfield.
You deal with customers here...
Because they know the way you are...
you can, er...
I can be as rude as I want, or,
if someone upsets you, you can tell them where to go, basically.
If you try that in any other place or walk of life,
it's one of the things where it's shunned upon.
Like Ian, Steve Thompson believes
that anyone familiar with the market
understands it's an oasis from the PC world outside.
'People that come onto Smithfield market,
'they should know what they're going to get.
'They know what they're going to get.
'We have a lot of banter out there with the customers.
'Invariably, they have a laugh and a joke with us.
'You get the odd one or two that take it the wrong way.'
A couple of times we've been accused of being racist.
Most of our customers -
like the Muslims and the ethnics -
we have a bit of banter with them.
But it's not meant in a horrible, racist way.
It's meant as a joke -
something to break the ice when they're coming to see you.
She's coming back to you, mate.
Steve, we're going for something to eat, yeah?
'I don't worry about other people, to tell you the truth.
'I speak to people as I like to be spoken to myself,
'otherwise I have a word.'
Might be ignorant to people, cos they're foreigners,
but "please" and "thank you" is easy to say.
I always tell them, and all.
To work with the public's hard work, anyway.
It is hard work, it's not easy.
You can't be complacent.
It's no good. You can't keep...
You're not having a go at people -
you just tell them what you think.
Smithfield has its own kind of...
Yeah. There's no airs and graces. What you see is what you get.
If you don't like it, fuck off.
We don't do ones, dear.
..I asked you that.
£5 a kilo.
I sell them in pounds, sweetheart.
Shut up, you fat...
My money is spent now.
Well, that's £11.
-Do me a favour...
-I'll do you a favour.
I'll cut them up for free. How's that?
Talk to me, darling.
Yeah? You've found another pound, have you?
Funny that, isn't it, eh(?)
£11, sweetheart. Yeah, I'll cut it for you, darling.
-Why won't you cut it for me?
-I WILL cut it for you!
Oxtails. Years ago, they'd have given it away.
It's £5 a kilo now.
The population of London now,
it's a lot more mixed.
Lot of Africans.
Now they've got oxtails. It's part of their culture.
So, obviously, the more customers you have of their origin,
the more oxtails you sell.
Is that who you're selling to?
The majority, yeah.
It's very rare you serve an Englishman an oxtail.
Obviously, I've more oxtails than anything else in the front now.
As I say,
it's just a reflection of the population of London now.
As a business owner, Steve's boss
Mark is well aware of how London's changed,
and the value of its ethnic communities to Smithfield.
If we didn't have them, there wouldn't be no market.
Especially all the lamb boys.
They really require - all the Turkish people -
the breasts and the shoulders, and that's a great trade for them.
We still sell loads of stuff to the Asian customers.
Oxtails, and all that sort of stuff, that they sell to everyone else.
So, really, it is a big trade.
We need everyone.
You couldn't say, "I'm not serving this group of people."
The market needs everyone.
By early spring,
Terry has finally hung up his Smithfield whites for good.
But his wife, Val, has her own worries
about becoming reacquainted
with the man she's hardly seen for much of their married life.
He'll miss the market,
-but will the market miss him? I doubt it.
Life goes on. There's always another face to arrive down there.
That's a little sad, isn't it?
It is, but perhaps I'm being realistic, I don't know.
But that's how I see it.
It'll be interesting for the both of you
to have all this new-found time on your hands to be together.
That's what's going to be difficult.
You've been ships in the night for a lot of your married life?
Yeah. Not "a lot", really.
ALL our married life.
She used to say to me, "Go to your second home."
Which it was.
They're stuck in a time warp down there, a lot of them.
They've not moved on with the times.
There's not a lot of people who will like what I just said,
but that's how I see it.
About women, or...?
Yeah. It's a very male-dominated environment, and...
When you've been down there a long while, it does stick.
They're very opinionated in a lot of things,
what Terry has come home and said.
This is where we've disagreed on a lot of things.
Because I think they're a lot of all old...
It's a different era of how they are nowadays.
I think there's a lot of them down there that are very...
got a lot of old-fashioned ways.
The market's nothing to what it used to be.
I think it will definitely move.
I think you'll have the fish market, fruit market, flower market.
I think they'll be all-in-one.
Those who survive it will become very wealthy people.
For me, it's an era come to an end.
The atmosphere's gone.
If you ask anyone there, they must say it to you,
the atmosphere is gone. I don't care who says that.
You used to perhaps see the people in the shop next to you,
when you were cutting - lift the bars up.
Have a talk to them.
Now, it's like in a factory or a depot.
Unless you're outside, you don't see no-one.
If you're stuck on that block in the back there
for six hours, you don't see no-one.
You know, it's not...
It's not the same life. For me, it's not. Put it that way.
Makes no difference to me, anyway. I won't be there no more.
MUSIC: "In the Wee Small Hours" by Frank Sinatra
# In the wee small hours of the morning... #
Good morning. How are you?
# ..While the whole wide world is fast asleep... #
I love the market. It's my life.
I've been about here 35 years.
I'm just beginning to like it(!)
-Do you think you've missed out on anything?
The only thing is,
if you're a young fella, and just got married, or whatever,
it ain't the type of job that you want,
because you can have problems with your wife, or whatever.
Because the hours ain't going to adapt to a lot of them.
Some of these young boys come in here nine, ten o'clock at night.
When you've got a young wife indoors,
they don't want to sit on their own all night, do they?
They've just got married.
There have been so many marriages break up here over it.
But it's a job. What do you do?
You either want the money and the work,
or you don't.
Did it affect your relationships over the years?
I've been divorced twice.
You know...I've got no regrets.
It's just one of these things that happens to you. Life goes on.
It's something you can't explain.
Unless you've worked here all your life, you can't explain it.
The way you work up here
is entirely different to anywhere else.
This is just a one-off gaff.
Though its future on this site may be uncertain,
for many at Smithfield, there's more to the market
than simply bricks, mortar, and butchers' blocks.
There's also its spirit,
and the glories of its history.
But for others,
this focus on the past could be a stumbling block
to the market's place in the London of tomorrow.
It does need to change.
What they do to get over that, I'm not too sure.
Start selling other products, probably.
Be a bit more nice to your customers. Open during the day.
There are things that they could implement
really easily to change things,
but I don't know if they're really ready for all of those changes.
They're always saying, "it's really changed down here."
I think they preferred it when it was a bit more archaic.
As how we buy and sell food changes,
what might the markets of tomorrow be like?
Listen to the experts, and share your views. Go to:
And follow the links to the Open University.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
The night-time market at Smithfield was once the sole supplier of meat and poultry to London and could play by its own rules.
But now the modern world of political correctness and customer service is proving a challenge for some in this closed, traditional man's world.
Smithfield has been supplying the capital with meat since the 12th century, but what does the future hold for the men of the meat market?