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Boys from the Brown Stuff

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One flush and as if by magic our waste disappears forever, but hidden beneath our streets is a subterranean wonderland where everything we drop down the loo ends up. The boys from the brown stuff are the unsung heroes who pick up from where we leave off. Picking their way through build-ups of fat, with rats for company, it’s their job to make sure our movements keep on moving all the way to the sewage treatment plant.

Documentary maker David Clews follows the men, known in the sewage trade as flushers, who work under the streets of London. For 150 years flushers have spent their working lives knee deep in excrement, a special band of brothers united in their goal to keep our streets faeces free and save us from infectious waste and diseases. They date back to times when men weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, a job was for life and a day’s work meant hard graft.

But times are changing for the flushers of London. Since privatisation and the introduction of modern machinery flusher numbers have plummeted. Once an army 900 strong, now there are only 39 left. One more is about to go too, as Kenny, the boss, is retiring after 30 years of service.

And a new era is also about to begin. For the first time in years the next generation of flushers have been hired. But can the pampered young cope with life underground?