Arthur Bryant, Tour Guide


In ‘Bryant & May: The Lonely Hour’ I’ve punctuated the chapters with chunks of the speeches Arthur Bryant gives as a London tour guide, and it made me wonder if I should write a ‘Bryant & May Guide to London’ at some point.

It would have to include lots of pointless, peculiar and abstruse information of course, and could well turn out to be more exhausting to write than the average B&M novel, but it could also be a lot of fun. I just discovered, for instance, that the Queen is theoretically not allowed to go east of the Temple Bar gryphon without being issued a formal invitation by the Lord Mayor, one of those pointless, useless facts Arthur Bryant would pick up on. There should be a pub tour, of course, and an art tour, and an eerie after dark tour.

One of the best London books in recent memory was ‘Curiocity’ by Henry Elliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose, who added to the accepted canon of London esoterica by including plenty of fresh, astute observations. They’ve turned the unearthing of London oddities into a mini-empire of related ephemera – their specialised maps are rather good and temptingly collectable. (I await a version of his book on mazes that comes without the tiresome typography.)

In the period between the wars there were a great many books observing London’s social life, often written from extreme viewpoints (ie rather fascistic). What we lack is a really opinionated viewpoint in a modern guide, and this I feel is where Arthur Bryant comes in. Despite my own suggestions to the contrary I am not Arthur and his views are more extreme than my own, but he’d make a fun, curmudgeonly, argumentative guide.

32 comments on “Arthur Bryant, Tour Guide”

  1. André Fomferek says:

    I would buy that book at once, Your “Bryant and May” Novels allow me to at least partly “understand” or get a feeling for London in a way that no tourist guidebook could ever convey; the small peculiar bits of information about London and it´s history are one of the reasons I love your books so much. And one of the highlights of our trip to London last year was visiting the St. Pancras church described in Bryant & May On The Loose (and your Blog Entry: “REAL BRYANT & MAY LOCATIONS NOS 4 & 5”).

  2. Kathejo Bohlman says:

    I’ve never written anything here before, but I must today. All the time I was reading “Lonely Hour” (thoroughly enjoyed it as much as all the others) I was longing for an accompanying guild. I’d make trips to London just to use it. Yes, please, write it.

  3. SimonB says:

    If not a whole book, then a selection of walking tours that could be consulted on the streets would be brilliant.

    And you could then add a few puzzles to solve along the way perhaps.

  4. Trace Turner says:

    YES! Please write the guidebook. The trouble with most guidebooks are their dullness and that they are written to appeal to as broad an audience as possible and so appeal to no one. Can we have it by Christmas of 2020 please?

  5. Peter Tromans says:

    Absolutely yes, so long as it’s not too demanding in terms of effort.

  6. Brooke says:

    Get on with it…as I recall Bryant’s Tours of London and The Compleat Guidebook were reader suggestions when you asked for ideas to increase readership/sales. I think there was an accompanying marketing campaign with Bryant’s fragrance included.

  7. carol in gosport says:

    Definately you must write a london guide ! I am obsessed with the history of London as shown in these amazing addictive stories and cant wait to read Lonely Hour

  8. Richard Nordquist says:

    Yes, please–perhaps with occasional (footnoted?) references to incidents that involved B&M.

  9. Martin says:

    Richard said it perfectly. I would make a special trip to London just to use that guide

  10. Martin Tolley says:

    Yes please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please. There could be treasure hidden in various places en route. A series of London (B&M based?) puzzles, the correct solution leading to a prize… Even an app to follow…

  11. Helen Martin says:

    I don’t know about the prizes – that could lead to all sorts of problems – but the guide book – oh, yes, even if I can’t ever visit again I could at least “walk” it on Google Earth. (I won’t mention the fact that you should have been writing it all along in parallel with B&M. Not helpful at all.)

  12. Gary Hart says:

    I think the general consensus appears to be that you have dropped yourself in it from a great height. Yet another book to write old boy. With some tight deadlines by the sound of it. I, of course, would cheerfully maim to get a copy.

  13. Ian Mason says:

    This could even run to a series like Wainwright did for the Lake District – punctuated with little sketches like Wainwright.

  14. Jeanette says:

    Yes please.

  15. Jo W says:

    More work,Chris,you are a glutton for punishment. Mind you, an Arthur’s guide to the best places to find sherbet lemons and rhubarb and custard sweets would be appreciated. (Without fluff,of course.)

  16. snowy says:

    Scratches head……….. Ow – Splintery!

    […WARNING… I’ve probably gone so far off-piste that I risk falling into an icy trough with lycra-clad loons whizzing past on tea-trays.]

    It would work as a ‘Character’ book the casual reader would not need to know exactly who Arthur Bryant is.

    Starting at the other end*, and (over)thinking out loud**, there might be two conflicting demands tangled together, [but they both could be accomodated with a little planning.]

    Those outside reasonable travelling distance, [possibly the majority], heart’s desire would be something nearer to the coffee table book end, large paperback-ish, with photographs, illustrations, maps etc. Allowing them to undertake a journey from their parlour.

    This large-ish/weighty-ish volume conflicts with the desires of those that want to pound the streets, they want a slim volume to slide into a pocket, [as a counterweight to the necessary beetroot sandwiches, kendal mint cake, inflatable St. Bernard etc.]

    The latter could be possibly be satisfied when formatting the material as an e-book so that it can be used on a phone. Can’t draw the diagram here! Um… bulk downscale images, flows and links. Er…

    The e-book might have a few additional pages, which are simple route maps – with the waypoints and places of interest on them, clicking on them shoots you back through the book to the appropriate page. And then a link on the bottom of that page shoots you back to the map.

    [Apps as distinct from e-books are a bit problematic, expensive to have custom built, multiple incompatible formats, completely new sales channels, not necessarily backwards compatible with old versions of OS and liable to break if the OS or the software they exist within gets updated without warning.]

    [ * Some might find this habit of mine perplexing, it comes from practical ends. When the desired endpoint is the only thing that is clearly defined, it is easier to work backwards. If you want to find the technique defined in a book it is called ‘Retrograde analysis’.]

    [ ** I’m siezed that talking about things in the abstract is very easy and very cheap, actually getting them done takes time, skill and hard work.]

    [Shutting up and getting back in my box.]

  17. Sean says:

    What a grand idea. And combined with some of the ideas in these comments, I’m sure it would be a hit. A few years ago I toured Prague accompanied by a book titled ’77 Myths of Prague’ and had great fun tracking them all down. And then I did a similar thing in Rome – visiting all the places off the beaten track (which, to be fair, is about two blocks in any direction from any major tourist trap). I would love to do the same with London. The last time I was there, I wondered aimlessly from museum to theatre to circus – it would be great to follow a few esoteric routes next time. In short: please put down the lavender biscuits and get going!

  18. Wayne says:

    Never been outside of Australia, but I would buy it as soon as it was released.

  19. Peter Tromans says:

    Not so enthusiastic for an e-book. I like paper and worry about the effects of Arthur’s e-curse. But, Snow’s idea of having lots of links would more than compensate. The link lifts electronic documents to an exciting level. I use them in power point presentations. They transform a talk into a tour that adapts to the audience.

  20. Jan says:

    I ‘ll help

  21. Barbara Allan says:

    I would buy it. Great idea.

  22. gkbowood says:

    Do it quick -lest the places refereed are gone by the time it gets published!

  23. gkbowood says:

    jeez- heavy on the e please!

  24. Craig Buchanan says:

    I’ve just finished ‘The Lonely Hour,’ and something you wrote about York Way sent me on a wander back into the past. Back in the early nineties, I used to wander up York Way most Sunday mornings, with hardly a soul in sight, heading to ‘The Church,’ the Aussie / Kiwi club that took over temporary residence of one of the warehouses on the industrial estate at the back of King’s Cross. I recall once, as I made my way along the street, clad in my Church sweater, an Indian gentleman stopped me, as asked “You go to church, yes?” I said that I was heading that way, and he asked, with a slight frown, “Church. Is religious establishment, yes?” “Well,” said I in reply, “that rather depends on whether you worship Baccus or not.” The poor fellow didn’t seem any the wiser, and I left him to it.

    The lad who owned and operated The Church on a Sunday ran a week-day bar just across the road. At that time, it was called Backpackers, though I seem to recall it has been The Green Man in a previous existence. It sat next to the little post office, set back a little from the road. We had many a good night in there, mixing with the Aussies, the Kiwis, the South Africans, and an occasional Rhodesian who tried to fly under the radar.

    ‘The Lonely Hour’ brought that back to mind, so I popped onto Google Maps, and followed my old route. The Flying Scotsman has gone, I see – if my memory serves me rightly, and it was where I thought it was, it’s now either a coffee shop or a kebab place. Kebabs would probably be more appropriate, given the meat trade that used to go on in there. A large chunk of the industrial estate seems to have been built over with glass high-rises, flats from the look of them. The Backpacker still seems to be selling pints, but as The Star of Kings. The upstairs used to be used to run a shady little taxi company that we often used to get home after a long night out – better to use the in-house services, than risk walking back along to the station after dark.

    Good memories, if a tad fragmented after all these years. Thanks for nudging them back into focus. 🙂

  25. Raven says:

    As an American, I would love a tour guide! My only trip to London was had at the age of 13, when Charles and Di were all the rage and everyone wondered “Who shot JR?”. I plan to go back now that the children are grown.
    I spend an inordinate amount of time on google whilst reading your books, looking at maps, and pictures of the places you describe. Do you think it would be possible, possibly as end papers, to include maps of the places mentioned in your books? I got a chuckle out of looking up the address of The Warehouse on Caledonian Road to discover that it is actually an athletic club.
    I have read all your books to date, and discovered to my horror that The Lonely Hour won’t be published here until December. I promptly ordered it from Amazon UK, the $8 shipping fee be damned. I can’t wait to read it!

  26. Jan says:

    Kings Cross York Way where do we start? I spent far too many hours of my life stood on street corners up around there. (All to earn a very decent living you understand) Can’t quite remember the road we used but I can recall you could turn to look from it and see the old cattle market clock tower of you looked to the North. The clock tower was at that point nestled rather incongruously on an open space in a council estate with blocks of flats scattered around it. S of the road was a set of all weather five a side pitches. Might have been Copenhagen Street.

    Sometimes it would be Wharfdale Road just for a change of scene.

    I met a wide variety of gentlemen who made various requests some very average, some comical, some quite chilling. Yes happy days all part of a life gone by….

  27. Diane Englot says:

    I am one of the thousands of readers who are screeching with excitement at the thought of this book.

  28. Diane Englot says:

    Just a note for Jo W.:
    If you live here in the US, you can get all sorts of Arthur Bryant’s favorite sweets at Parkers GB. They have everything a Ex Pat or an Anglophile needs

  29. Bee says:

    I want this book! Please have many, many footnotes

  30. John Griffin says:

    Always thought the Queen had no jurisdiction over the City for historical reasons, turns out to be either not so or disputed. Still has separate police.

  31. John Griffin says:

    PS guide book ….oh yes!

  32. Helen Martin says:

    Just examined the Parker website (“Take me to the pies!”) and had a good time. It’s fun just looking at the photos. And I have an American post box, too.

Comments are closed.