‘London. It Begins With Me And Ends With Me.’


That’s a quote I used from an anonymous teenager who was quite rightly pointing out that we each only get to see our own slice of a place in a particular time. The buildings remain in one form or another and become fascinating to us because we know they have seen other eras.


As I approach another birthday, I wonder what drives me to catalogue so much of what I see. My year of birth is now equal to this shot of Berwick Street, Soho, twenty years back (above), as it is to the next shot of Oxford Street, twenty years forward (below).


The overlap of timelines fascinates me. While researching an upcoming post about Gilbert & Sullivan I discovered that Gilbert’s grandfather knew Samuel Johnson and Sullivan’s mother descended from one of Michelangelo’s principal assistants. Sullivan went to the cinema, Oscar Wilde went to work on the tube, and the telephone came before the fountain pen. I was friends with the actor Bud Cort, who was raised by Groucho Marx…

This is why so many TV series set in the past feel so static – history is not an island but a teeming river or connections and overlaps. The 1960s (which I’m also researching) may have been a jet-zoom into the future but it was also incredibly nostalgic about the loss of empire and the Great War. This explains the sixties fascination with military tunics and headgear. John Lennon’s film ‘How I Won The War’ actually melds the two timelines, as did the TV series about a Victorian awaking in the 1960’s, ‘Adam Adamant’.

All we get to see is a madcap blur viewed briefly through a seaside telescope until the penny clicks…



20 comments on “‘London. It Begins With Me And Ends With Me.’”

  1. Vivienne says:

    Spot on about historical programmes: all the characters of whatever age seem to wear the ‘time-appropriate’ clothing, which always looks new and clean. A next door neighbour when I was a child in the 50s had lost her fiancé in the first world war. She was absolutely an Edwardian: clothes, furnishings and a young lady companion. For me, a living history lesson.

  2. SteveB says:

    I agree – people assign fixed attributes to a given era and forget how much overlap there is.
    I mentioned to a German friend of mine that the London Underground was already ‘not new’ in Sherlock Holmes’ time, of course he was surprised. (Obviously hadnt read the b-p plans).
    I’m pretty sure I mentioned before on your blog the british museum’s voices of history which goes back to Gladstone and Florence Nightingale. HG Wells made radio broadcasts and there are existing video recordings (30-line!!!) from the 1920s. Watching the Forsyte Saga on tv in the 1960s much had not changed and my grandparents still had memories of the 19th century.
    Ha ha Adam Adamant I do remember him! His sidekick Juliet Harmer still looks amazing today btw.

  3. SteveB says:

    PS on Adam Adamant
    Ridley Scott directed a couple of epis, before he was famous
    Allegedly the inspiration for Austin Powers

  4. David says:

    I think a boom in the release of government surplus in the sixties was a driver to the fashions, it wasn’t just available on Kings Road and Portabello Road, places like Laurence’s Corner did a roaring trade. I had an RAF greatcoat for a good few years, cost me 36 shillings in Shepherds Bush, a fine piece of tailoring.

    I think it was last year that the Tate had an installation about musical instruments and history, they had a recently made recording of a piece of music played on the actual bugle that sounded The Charge of the Light Brigade in The Crimean War, apparently it had been found on the field in damaged condition after the battle and had somehow eventually found its was to Kneller Hall, the Army Music School.

  5. Jan says:

    I don’t think I ever thought a lot about overlapping timelines. Very interesting.

    Bit of uselss trivia re David’s mention of government surplus + uniforms. The site of the largest forces stores in London. Cleared the 1920s into the 30s DOLPHIN SQUARE. Interesting place Dolphin Square once went to a wedding reception there

  6. Chris Webb says:

    When I was a kid in the 70s there was a programme which I cannot remember the name of where someone would just travel round the country and talk to interesting people, different locations each week. They did one from a part of Scotland, and interviewed a very old lady who as a girl had known another old lady who as a girl (we’re getting there, honest!) had known an old lady who could remember the Battle of Culloden, which was in 1745.

  7. Ian Mason says:

    Chris, are you thinking of Fyfe Robertson, Tonight’s ‘roving reporter’? Looked a bit like a pipe-smoking Airedale Terrier wearing tweeds.

  8. Chris Webb says:

    Ian, it might have been, and I do remember Fyfe Robertson, but it’s a very hazy memory from 40-odd years ago so I really couldn’t say. The only reason I remember it is that around that time we went to Culloden while on holiday in Scotland.

  9. admin says:

    I remember Fyfe Robertson going on about the spaghetti trees! (At least I feel like it was him…)

  10. Lee says:

    Only posting as an odd coincidence hit me whilst reading. I was at my uncles funeral yesterday and the quad poster for “How I Won The War” was mentioned alongside many other film posters he had made. Which, pertinent to your comments, featured the crossover of (then) modern caricatures painted on an actual helmet.

    R.I.P Vic Fair

  11. Chris Webb says:

    I thought the spaghetti tree thing was Richard Dimbleby (David and Jonathan’s Dad).

  12. Chris Webb says:

    Although Fyfe Robertson did make a programme about MacAroni trees . . .

    . . . I’ll get me coat . . .

  13. SteveB says:

    It was indeed richard dimbleby – was an april fool i think from the 1950s and that clip was endlessly (felt that way) rolled out in my childhood as proof of auntie’s great sense of humour. I still have quite a strong visual memory of it.
    Chris W – amazing story on the culloden memory! The 1965? Docco was recently released on bd by the bfi btw.

  14. Adam says:

    On a (slightly) tangential subject, I find the photo of Robert Cornelius fascinating. Although it was taken 178 (!) years ago, he wouldn’t look out of place walking down the street today. Google it and see what you think.

  15. Vivienne says:

    I think the radio programme was ‘Down Your Way’. Racking my brain for the presenter but he was more urbane than Fyfe Robinson. Would be interesting to know how they chose the interviewees but there was usually a Women’s Institute organiser who knew everything.

  16. Helen Martin says:

    My Father-in-law was born in St. John’s Nfld in 1910. He walked up to the field where Alcock and Brown had their plane prior to their flight across the Atlantic. He lived to see men on the moon.
    My grandfather was born in Illinois in 1885 and came north to homestead in Saskatchewan. On his way he paused in a saloon in Montana and saw a man shot to death. It seemed strange to be sitting to dinner with him and know that he had seen the real Wild West. (It was too bad that he wasn’t someone to talk to and he never really told his family stories about that time – including what he was doing in the saloon in the first place. He didn’t drink.)

  17. chazza says:

    Vivienne – “Down your way” – wasn’t it Franklin Engleman or some such cove? Not certain I have the spelling correct..

  18. Brian Evans says:

    Down Your Way started with Franklin Engleman, then Bryan Johnson(Johnston?) the cricket commentator took over. They both did exactly the same amount of episodes. Johnson was offered one extra episode so he would have the longer record. He declined-he wanted both to be equal. The mark of a gentleman!

  19. Vivienne says:

    Chalaza, very late reply, but yes, it was Franklin Engleman I was trying to remember.

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