Tara and George

Tara and George, photographed with Spitalfields-based artists Gilbert and George

Tara and George, photographed with Spitalfields-based artists Gilbert and George

 
 

Tara and George is a six-part radio series about two rough sleepers in Spitalfields, they’re neighbours (albeit with no homes) in the historic London area where Audrey Gillan lives. It was a Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4. The Observer made it the number one choice in the top ten radio shows and podcasts for 2018, with the journalist Miranda Sawyer writing about “producer-presenter Audrey Gillan’s beautiful, in-depth series on a couple living on the streets of east London”. In her initial review, Miranda said it was “an astonishing piece of work that would not have been broadcast even five years ago”.

The Times’s Gillian Reynolds said the programmes were ‘compelling’ whilst her colleague on the Sunday Times, Andrew Male, said: “Over the course of two years, Gillan sat down with the middle-aged couple, talking to them in hushed tones about their daily life, their troubled pasts. Sometimes funny, often upsetting, never exploitative, these six half-hour episodes give a voice and identity to a silenced, ignored minority.”

The Spectator appreciated “the unhurried pacing, the gradual reveal, as Gillan slowly lets go of what she knows over not just a single programme but six half-hour episodes. ‘Do you think your life is more complicated than others,’ asks Gillan. ‘Maybe so,’ says Tara, before adding, ‘When something goes wrong in your life, you’ll understand me.’”

Audrey wrote about homelessness and the making of the programme for London’s Evening Standard.


Who are Tara and George?

To all appearances a couple, Tara and George are happiest when they have a big bottle of cider, a packet of cigarettes and are sitting cross-legged on the doorstep of the early Georgian house belonging to iconoclastic art duo Gilbert & George – sometimes they listen to the radio or sing songs, sometimes they sit in silent communion.

Journalist Audrey Gillan lives around the corner from this doorstep and has known Tara and George, in passing, for years. But nearly two years ago now she started recording chats with them, amid the noise of the streets – bin lorries, motorcycle couriers, skateboarders. Audrey was interested in trying to tease out what has led them to a life on the streets. That is the question at the heart of this six-part series – along with a desire to understand why the pair remain there.

With time to talk, and someone to listen, Tara and George share sometimes confused glimpses of their pasts – happy and sad memories slowly reveal chaotic upbringings and troubled teenage years. Difficult family relationships emerge. The narratives are complex and often contradictory. Time can be fragmentary for them and memory, at times, unreliable.

Audrey tries to fix a timeline for each of them – a sequence of events that leads from George’s childhood in County Durham and Tara’s in east London to this moment now - in an effort to discover the key turning points that resulted in them being numbered among the many thousands of rough sleepers living in London today. (According to government statistics from the autumn of 2017 there are about 5000 people sleeping rough each night on the streets of England alone.)

Time can be fragmentary for them and memory, at times, unreliable.

Both hard drinkers, Tara is 48, George is 47, and their health is ailing. Life exposed to the elements – temperatures of more than 30 degrees in summer and the bitter cold and sometimes snow of winter – is harsh, but these two prefer to be outside. As George says, indoors “has never been my cup of tea”.

‘Tara and George’ is a love story, of sorts. One that’s hard to pin down. Each provides for the other an anchor, something to hold onto. Together they seem more resilient, better able to deal with the vagaries of street life, than they might on their own. But Tara and George have their own individual stories that deserve to be heard.

Tara and George was a Falling Tree Production, made by Audrey Gillan and Alan Hall for BBC Radio 4.


Beyond Tara and George

Beyond Tara and George is a single episode  follow-up to Tara and George, broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on 11 February 11, 2019 at 8pm, another Falling Tree production, made by Audrey Gillan and Alan Hall.

“In the six months since Radio 4 shared the stories of Tara and George, a pair of rough sleepers on the streets of east London, the government has published statistics that reveal the true toll of being homeless – last year there were nearly 600 deaths on the streets of the UK and the average life expectancy has fallen again.

“Tara and George, as well as being familiar figures in their neighbourhood, are also on the radar of local agencies and charities. George has a regular hostel place, Tara's situation is more complex. But, as they revealed to Audrey Gillan in an intimate series of documentaries last summer, sleeping rough is typically a symptom of myriad other issues.

“In this follow-up documentary recorded during the new year's first Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (the SWEP), Audrey catches up with Tara and George to see how they're coping with the cold and she pursues a simple question, prompted by attendance at a memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields for those who’ve died on the streets in the last year – what would it take to prevent the unnecessary deaths of homeless people?”