Yet more London books to bankrupt us! Matthew Sweet has produced an account of lives, losses and inconsiderate love-making in ‘The West End Front’, from the egregious con man Sir Curtis Lampson to the louche inhabitants of the ‘Pink Sink’ bar, Fifth columnists, communists, spies, spivs, charlatans and deposed monarchs, they’re all here. Delightfully gossipy and often moving, it shines an affectionate search-light on an forgotten chapter of World War Two.
Sweet also wrote a well-informed, funny history of the lost world of British cinema called ‘Shepperton Babylon’. Sweet’s theory is that British films did not deserve their reputation for stolidity and conservatism, but were passionate, permissive and frequently enthralling. Scenes of sexual ambiguity, degenerate glamour and perverse psychological cruelty were unhampered by a Hollywood Hays code, and performances were often a reflection of our stars’ lives. Novello’s sexuality certainly didn’t damage his career, nor did the unorthodox sleeping arrangements of a dozen other early British stars, grouped together as ‘ambisextrous’ social radicals.
Many Ealing films sought to project an image of Britain as a leader in social reform and a champion of civil liberties, yet some critics consider the comedies to be snobbish and insular. This, Sweet points out, is a gross distortion, and if we really want to remind ourselves of backward-looking arrogance we should watch James Bond films.
Nigel Jones’s ‘Tower: An Epic History of the Tower of London’ is full of surprises – the first Norman tower was put up in a week, Rudolph Hess thought his prison there was charming, and the daughter of the Duke of Clarence (he of ‘being drowned in a butt of Malmsey’ fame) wore a silver wine barrel on his wrist as a memento of the event until she, too, was executed there.
Meanwhile, those of you who enjoyed the sight of London being reduced to a breeding ground for flesh-eating viruses in the hit multi-author novel ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ (of which I am a part) may be pleased to know there’s an even more intelligent sequel on the way. I’ve just finished my bit.