Goodbye Cowbells, Hello Nothing.


Look at old photos of Leicester Square and you’ll see a graceful tree-lined space with greenery-covered theatres around it. Go there now and you’ll walk ankle-deep in pizza boxes through mimes, tourists and pickpockets standing around waiting for something to happen. It’s like Night Of The Living Dead with more mobile phones.

The Swiss Centre was always the odd building out. I mean, what was it for? It was a peculiar structure that rang cowbells on the hour. The building was rather like the country it represented – pleasant enough, nobody knew what it was for. Cowbells, Toblerones and bank charges are Switzerland’s cultural gift to the world.

Now the building has been replaced by the W Hotel, probably very nice inside but a staggeringly invasive glass stump from the exterior that gives nothing to the surrounding area apart from the finger, because it’s set among victorian and Edwardian buildings. Perhaps it’ll be better when they have shops around the base.The W’s own CAD photographs of its new building picture it as a hazy neon palace of light, a hilarious exaggeration when you consider that it actually looks like a suburban Sainsburys managers’ office.

Every time I walked past the Swiss Centre I remembered something that summed up Switzerland for me.

My colleague and I were staying in Geneva on our way to the Cannes Film Festival, and had the entire company float in cash with us. Just as we were driving into Cannes, we realised to our horror that we had left the float in the room safe, and called the hotel.

The manager very kindly offered to send it down to us.

For twenty percent of the take.

7 comments on “Goodbye Cowbells, Hello Nothing.”

  1. Antony Clayton says:

    Don’t forget the Harry Lime (Orson Welles) quote about the cuckoo clock from The Third Man, or was that too obvious?

    I agree that Leicester Square looks terrible at the moment: huge boards blocking off the centre, no access to the grass in this hot weather and outside where I work – just off the Square – two months of roadworks. The new building that replaced the Swiss Centre is no improvement. It was lovely when there was a vacant space before rebuilding – you could clearly see the eighteenth century shops and houses now obscured once more. I also miss the sound of the carillon.

  2. Alan says:

    Oh no.

    Chris – please tell me that you were joking.

    The cowbells. Gone?

  3. Anne Fernie says:

    This is a gruesome shock to me too. The building wasn’t brilliant but the bells and clock were. Leicester Square was always grim but I thought they were meant to be improving it…..sigh……

  4. ‘It’s like Night Of The Living Dead with more mobile phones.’


  5. Helen Martin says:

    There were cowbells in London?! I never heard them and now they’re gone. Alas and alack.

  6. BangBang!! says:

    I always had a soft spot for the Swiss Centre It was just odd. I took a couple of photos of the Canton emblems while on a London day out yesterday; just in case.

  7. Lisa Perry says:

    I dunno. I saw the new W last month for the first time and thought it was kinda cool. Granted, this was at dusk, the most forgiving hour for modern architecture.

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