It’s in 1953 - everyone is inside, their curtains closed as they watch the Queen’s Coronation while the rain falls outside. And while the ceremony draws to a close and the overcast clouds disappear, people emerge in the streets, in fancy dress, children skip through the puddles as they make their way to one of the many street parties held across the South Oxhey estate that day.

This was the description from an article by the Watford Observer at the time and something former South Oxhey resident John Schad draws upon in his debut film, Nowhere Near Utopia.

He says that quotes used from various article in the paper from back in the day add “minute historical detail” and testify to how times were in the very early days. “On the one hand they were very hard, there were, for several years, no roads, no schools, no shops and nowhere to meet. But on the other hand, it was very special being marked by a terrific utopian spirit as an almost exclusively working class community that had the freedom to self organise and remake the world for themselves.”

Watford Observer:

The film is about John’s play, Nowhere Near London, which is an adaptation of his 2012 novel, The Late Walter Benjamin. The 55-year-old explains: “The film attempts to add context to the play – primarily, visual with many shots of the estate, focussing in particular on the fields, trees and open spaces, all of which are important to the play.

“There are also some memories recounted – some mine of growing up on the estate in the ‘60s, some from current residents dating back to the early 1950s, and some from the wonderful poet Michael Crowley, who also grew up on the estate in the ‘60s – he reads one or two of his poems about that time from his collection Close to Home (2012) as well as talking about his memories, as a teenager, of the political scene on the estate in the 1970s.”

Watford Observer:

John, who is a Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Lancaster, adds that the novel and play purely focus on the early days, around 1948, when estate first emerged, adding that the novel in particular is a “mixture of realism and surrealism.

“The action is confined to one house,” he says. “Five bombed-out Londoners, four wandering men and one magnetic woman, all come and go, each one trying to decide if the new estate is heaven or hell.

“There is one other character in the novel - a strange enigmatic figure who just turns up claiming to be the German-Jewish intellectual, Walter Benjamin; this is peculiar in several respects, not least because Walter Benjamin had committed suicide in 1940. Like these bombed-out Londoners, however, he knew what it was like to be an exile or migrant – he had killed himself whilst on the run in France, attempting to escape to the pursuing Nazis.”

The film meanwhile, looks at South Oxhey during the ‘60s and ‘70s. John, a father of three and avid Watford FC fan, explains, moved to the estate in 1965, when he was five-years-old.

He says: “My father was the minister of St Martin’s church and there we lived until 1981.

“I really enjoyed my time on the estate and have particularly fond memories of forever playing football with friends on the patch of grass near my house in Muirfield Road.”

The former Greenfields Primary School and Watford Grammar School pupil admits that he doesn’t come back to South Oxhey often anymore. “I’m not living in Lancaster and unfortunately I have no family there.

“I have, though, been back several times in the last few years to meet people regarding the novel, the play and the film. It doesn’t seem to have changed a lot, though there are many more privately-owned houses now. So, in some ways it is more affluent and at ease; on the other hand, there does seem to be less green space.”

Watford Observer:

John has also expanded his play Nowhere Near London, which will be performed at Watford Palace Theatre in July.

Anyone who wants to share their memories of life on the South Oxhey estate back in day should contact John on