Around & Under Piccadilly Circus
The lovely Londonist website is currently running a nice feature on the secrets of Piccadilly Circus here, including the most famous fact – that Eros isn’t called Eros and spent a great deal of its time facing the wrong way – the delicate aluminium statue is usually called the Angel of Christian Charity and was built in 1893 to commemorate the philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury, but it’s also been referred to as the Angel of Inspiration, and is supposed to be twanging its shafts up Shaftesbury Avenue.
It was once a circus – ie. it was perfectly circular, I think even in my childhood, but it lost a chunk to new traffic lanes. The first action of whomever is appointed in charge of Westminster traffic is usually to dick around with the Circus, cutting bits off and adding bits on.
No mention in the Londonist article of the Piccadilly Commandos – the ladies of the night who haunted the arches along with some of London’s least adorable and most feral rent-boys, who leased rooms by the hour from the once fabulously skanky Regent Palace Hotel to the north of the circus by the Piccadilly Theatre that eventually changed its name. The boy-and-lady hookers were all present and correct right up until the early 1980s.
There are a couple of further secrets to add to the history of the Dilly. There were several underground bars there. One was a huge place called Mr Fogg’s, which featured a train, a hot air balloon and a ship – all parts of the journey Phileas Fogg made in ‘Around The World In Eighty Days’. I used to go there a lot in my teens. It was tremendously tacky, as was the whole of the 1970s. Somewhere beneath here was also a Guinness bar, but I’m damned if I can remember its name. Anyone?
And behind the Coca-Cola sign sat my doctor, Dr Sacks, the brother of the superb writer Oliver Sacks, who wrote ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’. I turned him into the character of Dr Gillespie in my Bryant & May mystery novels, mainly using his location rather than his nature.