Back To The South Bank


Having rejoined the National Film Theatre after abandoning it about twenty years ago, I went back for the first time last night for part of the Ken Russell season.

The South Bank Centre is still a labyrinthine confusion of tunnels, staircases and awkward corridors that kettle audiences through tiny doors, but at least it now looks attractive, and the severity of the building has been softened with clever lighting.

The scratchy, screechy celluloid prints make you appreciate digital remastering. Trying to dismiss a blob of flickering celluloid burn on one side of a screen for two hours plus of ‘The Boy Friend’ would have been hard work, if not for the charming exuberance of the film.

The audiences are older now. The ticket seller (receptionist? Why is there no appropriate word?) told me it’s mainly mature audiences who like repertory cinema, partly because ‘the young don’t like black and white’.

There are now many places to eat around the former wasteland of Waterloo Bridge. We opted for one of my favourites and one of London’s best-kept secrets, The Swan, a Modern English restaurant with such sensational views of St Paul’s, the Globe Theatre and the Thames that you’d think it would be Tourist Hell – except it’s not at all. The exterior is so unassuming that people walk past it without realising that it houses a quirky independent brasserie and restaurant. The food and service are terrific, and there are frequent performances and garden events. It’s closed New Year’s Eve for a private party. ‘Whose?’ we ask. ‘We’re unable to say’, says the waiter, intriguingly.

This year, the Globe will be performed the 37 Shakespeare plays in multiple languages in productions from around the world, and lots of special events are planned for this special part of London – IMHO the best place to walk late at night.

8 comments on “Back To The South Bank”

  1. ford says:

    Are there any decent ale-houses near Waterloo?

  2. Nikki-ann says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who find the South Bank Centre a bit of a labrynth!

    P.S. – Finally got around to reading The Memory of Blood ( and absolutely loved it. Looking forward to the next one!

  3. admin says:

    Good question – probably not, but the Swan has beers on draught, including an excellent Globe Ale.

  4. I.A.M. says:

    Isn’t the Swan where B&M went for a curry during a stakeout in one of the books?

    I can also recommend lunch in the cafe at the BFI. Un-crowded when I was there.

  5. Jon says:

    A pedant points out that whilst the BFI building is physically joined to the rest of the south bank complex the “Southbank Centre” is really just the Hayward Gallery, festival hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall. And the Queen’s Walk. And Jubilee Gardens.

  6. admin says:

    You’re right, that’s pedantry.

  7. Jon says:

    I’m not proud of it but I used to work there and it’s an inbuilt reflex.

  8. Terenzio says:

    After reading this entry people might go to the website for Southbank Centre looking for either information or to book tickets for a film at the BFI. Since the BFI is not part of what is considered Southbank Centre they would be wasting their time. So Jon’s comment has nothing to do with formal rules and whatnot nor he is being nitpicky by pointing out the BFI is not part of the Southbank Centre. His comment is actually helpful in pointing those who are interested in seeing a film at BFI in the right direction. To finish this off, those interested should go to the BFI Southbank website and not the Southbank Centre website.

    The one in the purple dressing gown…..

Comments are closed.