Title

London-Centricity

Christopher Fowler
I've been aware of the problem for a very long time, but it wasn't something I could easily solve. All but one of my Bryant & May books are set in London. One the few that isn't is one of my favourites - 'White Corridor'. This bias of location occurs in my books from 'Roofworld' onwards, and it's easy to see why. Whether I was in my office or my home, a few paces took me outside to the capital's rambunctious streets. I had grown to adulthood here, never travelling anywhere else, never seeing a horse or a bird that wasn't a pigeon. We had no relatives living abroad. Worse than that, none of them lived outside London. You come to believe there's nowhere else and develop a kind of reverse provinciality. If I did travel to other parts of Great Britain I had to stay in an hotel to do so. Occasionally work took me to new places, including Glasgow, York, Bath and Manchester, all of which I loved. I was less taken with Birmingham and I didn't care much for the South Coast, mainly because I still remembered Brighton, Herne Bay and Eastbourne from when they still contained the remains of elegant resorts. My short stories reflected my travels though, offering a wider range of storytelling via different cultures. When I wrote about the tropics it was because they were more familiar to me than Yorkshire. There's a lot of lazy, impoverished writing in the British press about anywhere outside of London. Clichés are no substitute for investigation. This has been crystallised by Joshi Herrmann's excellent piece in UnHerd in which he discusses the press reaction to the English National Opera's upcoming move out of the capital. Since the advent of subtitles, the ENO's defining purpose, to display shows in English, has become redundant. Many of its productions have felt cheap and sensational, while powerhouse modern companies like Opera North have had to come and remind Londoners how it's done. Londoners think the rest of the country is 1. hard to reach unless you drive (true) and b. a cultural desert (offensive and plain wrong). Many of the nation's  grandest theatres were built outside London, so after years of covertly removing grants from the North we'll now see if the promise of 'levelling up' come true even at the remotest level. For years opera companies have sought to get younger age groups into audience seats, but of course it hasn't happened and never will. No matter how much you tell me that modern opera is cutting edge, it's still an unimaginative esoteric hobby for old, white wealthy people. Forcing the ENO out of London's comfort zone will teach them something the north learned long ago; chasing the tourist buck leads to cultural impoverishment. Innovation and originality can enthral. 'To Kill A Mockingbird' or 'Matilda' could be performed with a bench and some swings. Of course wonderful literary festivals like Tartan Noir have elevated Scottish crime writing, and dozens of small litfests have dragged London critics to Whitstable, Nottingham, St Ives, Margate and Cardiff. They try harder and they're better for it. So let the ENO go, re-use the beautiful building and open cheap, casual music and theatre venues. Coming next is The Bridge 2 in King's Cross, a multipurpose theatre space that will hopefully be as accessible and exciting as its parent.  

Comments

Peter T (not verified) Wed, 30/11/2022 - 12:47

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"Give screws to a man with a hammer... ." We all work with what we have and what we know.

Roger (not verified) Wed, 30/11/2022 - 14:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"I had grown to adulthood... never seeing a horse or a bird that wasn’t a pigeon."

You're polishing it up a bit there, Admin. You must have seen police horses now and then and one of the things that astonishes me about Londoners is their indifference or unawareness of the disappearnce of sparrows,

Ace (not verified) Wed, 30/11/2022 - 15:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A small step -- half step really in the scheme of things --- to have the Arts Council divert funding away from London --- as in 'incenting' the ENO to relocate, presumably to Manchester, in order to receive future grants. The same can be said for the BBC plan to move some 400 jobs and departments to Leeds, Cardiff, Glasgow, Birmingham and Salford. Whilst you can take the ENO and the Beeb out of London, it remains to be seen if you can take London out of them --- and the senior staff in particular. There is also the more concerning and seemingly intractable 'levelling-up' issue of economic inequality, with the South East still maintaining its wealth and income advantage by a large margin.

Christopher Fowler Wed, 30/11/2022 - 19:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Roger -

Police horses, vaguely. Not quite back to nature though, is it? It was shocking when the sparrows died out, and the starlings no longer massed in Leicester Square at dusk.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Wed, 30/11/2022 - 21:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

No starlings? We have ample and you can have them but no sparrows? Too many falcons nesting on those giant towers?

snowy (not verified) Wed, 30/11/2022 - 21:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"I had grown to adulthood… never seeing a horse..."

Head buried in books more like.

You were never dragged off to see Betty at 'The Trolling of the J-Cloth'?

[Any chance going to sit on something 'big and hairy' that one!]

snowy (not verified) Wed, 30/11/2022 - 23:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hold up, London used to be the Horse sh.. fertilizer capital of the world, that's why they built Parliament there, nobody would notice the extra stink.

What would have been left in the 60s? Coalman - probably went with the Clean Air Act, Milkman - possibly, Rag and Bone - probably, Beer deliveries - Dray horses Oh! and that strange East End thing where they dress horses up as Tiller Girls, with big feathers on their heads.

Ace (not verified) Thu, 01/12/2022 - 00:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I gather from prior posts, you had your chance to partially make up for your fauna deprived adolescence and adulthood with two Egyptian geese. They were apparently attempting to communicate via Morse code on your flat window, to no avail. And btw, I don't think Leicester Square habitués miss the evening starling aerial bombardment that was common in years past.

Richard (not verified) Thu, 01/12/2022 - 03:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"One of the few that isn’t [set in London] is one of my favourites – ‘White Corridor’."
Chris, would you be willing to identify some of your other favourites among the first 20 B&M books, perhaps with a few words of explanation? (Ranking not required.)

Roger (not verified) Thu, 01/12/2022 - 06:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I saw a murmuration of starlings over the Thames in Brentford lately, Admin. I kept well away from it for hygiene reasons, though!
The expansion of herons upstream and egrets on the river are all very well, but I still miss the sparrows. Someone thinks their disappearance is connected with the disappearance of horses - they ate undigested grain in the horse shit. One sparrow inspired a fine book - "Sold for a Farthing".
I haven't read "White Corridor" - A came across you and your writing through the blog and I'm still catching up - but I'll look out for it.

Christopher Fowler Thu, 01/12/2022 - 09:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Richard -
Good idea. I think I'll do this in an upcoming post.

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Thu, 01/12/2022 - 11:03

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Our bread was delivered by a man with a horse and cart, in the 1960s in London.
The horse was called Sam. No idea what the man was called.
My dad was the first of many generations of his family not to work with horses - brewery, carters, cab drivers etc etc.
Perhaps they disappeared earlier in Greenwich because of all those hills.

Peter T (not verified) Thu, 01/12/2022 - 12:54

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Snowy, You forgot the Tizer deliveries. And, since my grandad had a bit of garden and kept some chickens, at our house there was also the Kendrick's lorry carrying corn and fertiliser. Up to WWII, my grandad had a horse and trap as his main means of transport. He'd tried an Austin 7, but thought it was too small for him. By my childhood, the only horse operator was the rag and bone man. Of course, a few rich folks had a horse for jumpin' and foxin' and generally draining their cash. I've never understood the urge of rich women to have big, hairy, brainless things gripped between their legs.

snowy (not verified) Thu, 01/12/2022 - 13:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"I’ve never understood the urge of rich women to have big, hairy, brainless things gripped between their legs."

They can't sit on the Spin-Drier, it bothers the Staff.

Brooke (not verified) Thu, 01/12/2022 - 13:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

As someone who enjoys opera, the virtuoso vocal performances and the librettists’ craft, I was unaware that I am being unimaginatively old and white. I must tell my friends.

That Matilda, etc. can be performed with minimal stage settings is like saying all a writer needs is a laptop to be a successful author like you. As you have described on this blog, you need a publishing eco-system, including digital platforms, to create an audience. The EOC has built its system/network; and that system probably has a decent economic multiplier that benefits London and will not be available in the north.

How does this scheme, pitting one region against another and shuffling money from one place to another, add revenue and wealth to the economy? There’s an undercurrent of “that’ll show these woke liberals” in this situation. Real “leveling up” would involve investment in 22nd century industries and employment that align with northern England’s resources –like the Swiss model. But the English now prefer slogans to thoughtful action.

Btw, Mr. Fowler, you have discussed your fav Arthur stories and why on this blog. With readers chiming in. Time for a re-think?

Joan (not verified) Thu, 01/12/2022 - 14:03

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Chris, you can have some of our Canada Geese if you like! Big messy birds, that are everywhere.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Thu, 01/12/2022 - 18:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Joan, not only are they everywhere but they have colonised Hawaii and disguised themselves so well that they are now endangered and are protected. Apparently, the nene geese which are the state bird in Hawaii are descended from Canada geese that evolved into the nenes. We didn't have fall migrating geese this year; they must have decided to stay at the bird sanctuary.

I'm reading the letters sent by members of the Franklin Expedition (ghoulish, I know, but fascinating.) Apparently people didn't worry much about any punctuation at all in their personal writing, although Dr. Goodsir's father suggested the son should look to his spelling if he wanted to be well received.

Will Highfield (not verified) Fri, 02/12/2022 - 10:28

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I live in a small Colorado USA town which is slowly becoming dull as more and more laws are passed governing what is allowed and what isn't. We are surrounded by fields where hot air balloons used to be launched on summer mornings. The downslope breezes from the mountains on our west side would push them out towards the plains. I would sit on the back porch and watch them slowly drift overhead, sometimes quite low. Until the laws prohibited the practice because it used to upset some peoples' dogs.

Some of the local estates had horses and they would trot them down our street to get to the park. Quite cool. Our neighbors had tall leafy trees with finches, flickers, woodpeckers, sparrows, starlings, magpies, and blue jays. Birds of all colors. Skunks used to use the side yard to go past the house. One walked up to my rocker and stared at me until I bolted for the back door.

Easy stuff to miss if I'm not paying attention. Do you guys in London have hawks and falcons living in your high rise parts of town?

Ace (not verified) Fri, 02/12/2022 - 13:59

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

If you're going to ignore the unwritten rule and name your favourite children, you might also include how the buying public viewed each of your favored offspring in terms of sales rank (relative to all books in the series) and perhaps, a comparative critical reception as well --- if you're up to it.? How about your favourite B & M villains next? They're a particular favourite of mine. Always did like a nice piece of well fleshed villany. Certainly no standard 'hit-and-run' evil-doers to be found in the series.

snowy (not verified) Sat, 03/12/2022 - 01:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It need not be a 'Top Ten', it could perhaps be Categories?

Eg.

Best Villain

Best Villainess

Best Supporting Villain

Best Dressed/Most Stylish

Most Devious Character

Most Cunning Plan

Most likely to own an underwater lair

Most Insane

Most Kinky

Best speech explaining the entire foolproof scheme to a bound and helpless opponent, before being killed by falling into own secret weapon, [this would be awarded posthumously obv.]

Roger (not verified) Sat, 03/12/2022 - 12:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Best speech explaining the entire foolproof scheme to a bound and helpless opponent, before being killed by falling into own secret weapon, [this would be awarded posthumously obv.]

Not necessarily, Snowy. Someone that incompetent probably couldn't build a secret weapon that works.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Sat, 03/12/2022 - 13:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Best use of a Gilbert and Sullivan reference

snowy (not verified) Sat, 03/12/2022 - 19:04

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

So what you are suggesting, by analogy, Roger is:

Nobody smart enough to get themself elected as Prime minister, would ever enact a series of uncosted fiscal measures that would crash the economy?

[smiley winky thing]

snowy (not verified) Sat, 03/12/2022 - 19:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Barbara, good choice, though I think there might be an awful lot of those.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Sat, 03/12/2022 - 19:30

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

True, snowy, but award ceremonies often have a musical award part so I thought I'd just add it to the list.

Peter T (not verified) Sat, 03/12/2022 - 22:01

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Have I got that right? Nobody stupid enough to be elected prime minister would ever enact a series of costed fiscal measures and who cares about the economy.

Best musical accompaniment - readers only.

Roger (not verified) Sat, 03/12/2022 - 22:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Given the electorate that produced Truss as PM, yes, Snowy. They believed their favourite bits of the economy would benefit and didn't care if the rest of the economy crashed.
When academic economists are let loose on reality you can see real mad scientists at work.

Jan (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 18:54

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I can remember very clearly watching the vast number of birds flying around Leicester Square at dusk.
There were so many of them in these twilight gatherings it's difficult to imagine how these flights stopped. They had virtually died out before i left London - and that's about sixteen years ago.
We still get the massive murmurations of starlings over the Somerset Levels and occasionally I see them over the fields near where I live. Seems to me they are not as static as they were over the various squares and sites in the city the sunset and these twilight gatherings frequently move along here I don't know quite why though.

Sparrows are a bit thin on the ground (and in the air ) here but we've got stacks of blue tits and goldfinches.

We've even for those green parakeets which abounded in Kew Gardens and West London but now seem to have migrated to the West Country.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 22:01

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

How many generations of birds have to pass before they are considered endemic - not native because we still know where they came from. Still, how many generations have passed with them living in Britain in cages? Would that count? We have those huge bird clouds in Burnaby but they're crows. There's something fascinating watching them laughing and gossiping with each other while they head to the grove of trees where they roost.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Wed, 07/12/2022 - 14:18

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oddly enough there seem to be no reasons for the drop in house sparrows, in the past changes in construction (lack of chimneys amongst other things) have been blamed as well as pesticides, in the bit of Manchester I reside in Starlings have moved to carparks especially the large ones in and around large(ish) shopping parks. There has been a drop in insects especially flying, the usual suspects are given but temperature change does effect small critters a lot more (bigger surface ratio and the way they breathe, spiracles etc.) and these drops in especially flying bugs maybe a cause of sparrow decline, the temperature in the last 20 years has been noticeable.

Factory International (new big theatre/artist space named of Tony Wilson's legacy, Madchester and beyond.) is going to have to be a big sell, it's on the old Granada studio site, so I guess ENO will be using it.

Wayne.