The Death of the Spiv

The Death of the Spiv


It was always going to be tricky getting a precise grip on the nature of the spiv – those weaselly, sharp-dressed chancers found skulking in dingy corners whispering enticements – but poet Paul Henry does a pretty darned good job.

That might be because he settles on the Cockney sparrow as the archetypal spiv. The narrowing of focus allows him to stretch all the way from the black market opportunists of the Second World War to the figures of fun that were Arthur in Minder and Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses. 

Political commentator Owen Jones even goes so far as to suggest that the spiv could be seen in the City's "barrow boy" traders of the 1980s, and that in some way the culture of free enterprise has made spivs of all of us. Have all the spivs moved off the street corner and are now buying and selling on eBay?


Poet Paul Henry embarks on a quest to track down the elusive spivs, petty criminals who rose to prominence in the years following the Second World War by selling black-market goods to those hoping to circumvent post-war rationing. Paul reveals how the spiv's origins can be traced back to the turn of the 20th century, and to small-time crook Henry `the Spiv' Bagster. From there, the archetypical dodgy dealer entered the fictional world, charming audiences in the form of Private Joe Walker in Dad's Army, and in the comedy of entertainer Arthur English. Includes contributions by actor Alan Ford, crime historian Clive Emsley, and a self-confessed former spiv. From 2012.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Paul Henry
Contributor Alan Ford
Contributor Clive Emsley
Producer Sarah Langan