I rely on reference books for a lot of my research when writing, but you can’t beat moving footage for atmosphere. There are several intriguing films on DVD about London’s past around at the moment. ‘Roll Out The Barrel’ is a collection (five hours’ worth!) of short films about pubs, from swinging London to expressionistic rural images, working men’s clubs in Sheffield to quirky wartime locals, full to the brim with the sights and sounds of the great British pub, exploring its role as a place of communal gathering, game playing and opinion debating throughout the ages.
‘Wonderful London’ offers travelogues contrasting different aspects of city life East End and West End, poor and rich, natives and immigrants, often looking beyond the stereotypes to show surprising views of the city. Rapidly produced, the films offer a tourist’s guide to both the familiar sites such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the Tower of London but also reveals unknown nooks and crannies of the London of 1924.
‘London: The Modern Babylon’ covers everyone from musicians, writers and artists to dangerous thinkers, political radicals and above all ordinary people, in the story of London’s immigrants and bohemians and how together they changed London into the most diverse city on earth.
The British Film Institute has been brilliant at unearthing a wealth of films about transport, society and history from its archives, and they’re gradually putting them out in box sets. You can get them online, or from the BFI shop on the South Bank.