In Top Boy culture, the Summerhouse Estate holds the crown as the most well-known location. This neighborhood is watched by competing gangs because it is home to Sully and Dushane. As well as drug raids, there have been shootings in the area.
“It’s the heart of the show, isn’t it?” adds producer Tina Pawlik. So much has changed over the years… We’ve witnessed friendships formed and broken, relationships developed and evolved, and everything in between.
The Samuda Estate is the inspiration for Summerhouse, and as such, it deserves a famous set. Built in 1967, the Isle of Dogs estate is still home to 300 residents who enjoy a vibrant community life.
However, when Netflix revived Top Boy in 2017, Samuda wasn’t the first person they thought of. “We spent a lot of the pre-production time looking for an empty estate that we could use as our Summerhouse,” explains Pawlik. “We initially believed there was no way to accomplish our goals with the property.”
And to be really honest, I think it works with the tale we’re telling: there aren’t many undeveloped plots of land in or near London anymore. Many of them were destroyed to make way for new housing developments… So, we hoped to locate the backup estate in time for filming, but we were unsuccessful.
Samuda, which was spared by the developer, gained even more prominence as a result, and the Top Boy crew eventually had to approach “every single resident in the Samuda estate” for permission to shoot there. It was unanimously decided to proceed, as Pawlik puts it. It’s incredible what we were able to do.
Especially when you consider the vastness of the land. “No matter how much you plan, how many suspensions you buy from the council, or how much security you have,” says Andy Orr, Assistant Locations Manager. “If someone parks their car in the wrong place, you’re done.”
“Fortunately, this only occurred a handful of times, and it was thrilling (due to the planning we did) to bring out my book of automobile registrations and know who owned which car, so we could transfer it fast. However, there were still moments when I woke up drenched in sweat.
In charge of the Samuda side of things was One Housing’s services manager Sharon Clachar. S makes it quite evident that Top Boy was well-received by the citizens of Samuda. Many of them even made it a routine to provide the cast and crew with tea while they worked.
“One resident told me that she was coming in with her shopping bags when Dushane’s actor, Ashley Walters, walked in the door, and she screamed and dropped her bags,” said Clachar. I asked, “Do you get it? Many of them are simply thrilled to rub elbows with celebrities. And to realize that their land is included in it. In reality, the most curious residents of the estate can be found sitting in the audience.
Samuda played a significant role in researching the contemporary issues that the people of Summerhouse face, namely immigration and gentrification, despite the residents’ high levels of optimism. Over the course of three seasons, we have witnessed Summerhouse’s decline and subsequent takeover by developers, as well as ad hoc police raids targeting those they suspect of being in the country illegally.
Samuda’s invincibility is the lone snag. Pawlik gushes over the work of the art department, which “was running around with skips and dressing that could be put on quickly,” to create the orange grilles advertising the sale and closure of the building’s apartments.
We’d have to fake an abandoned neighborhood on the property soon. Still, it was obvious that its original population of 300 was still present. As a result, we had to either dress in the stairwells or around them. And when the scene was complete, we had to pack everything and go without a trace.
True to the Summerhouse ethos, filming has also benefited Samuda’s estate financially.
“We’re spending the money, so to speak,” Clachar explains with a wry grin. Thanks to Top Boy, “we’ve done trips, we did Legoland on Monday, we’re doing a cockney musical for the older generation, and we’re still giving back to the community.”
Top Boy is massive, Orr remarks.”I’ve never had so much respect from my friends, relatives, nephews, etc., as when they learned I worked on it. But I lost them soon because I wouldn’t reveal the outcome of the new season or whether or not Jamie had survived.
It was challenging in ways I had never experienced before, but I’m quite pleased with the results we achieved as a team and in the final production. One of the final sequences in the park is one of the ones I’m most anticipating. I was a mile away directing dog walkers, as is typical for Locations, but I think it will be truly remarkable.
Top Boy will be available on Netflix beginning September 7th.
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