A Message From Mr Bryant On Peculiar London

Christopher Fowler
Hullo there. I put my glasses down a minute ago and now I can't find them. I've been asked by Transworld, who are publishing 'Bryant & May's Peculiar London' in July, to say something about the capital's places and its people that we can be proud of (not the lad above, thankfully). What they mean is they're trying to save a few bob by getting me to do their publicity on the cheap. They know this is a labour of love for me so they thought they'd get away with it, but I sent through a bill for my expenses, including a Greggs sausage roll, a bottle of milk stout and two ounces of Senior Service Old Sailors’ Below Decks Maritime Shag. 'Can't we appeal to your better nature?' they asked. 'I haven't got a better nature,' I replied. 'See how long it takes for you to lose your boyish charm after being daily confronted by youths sticking fireworks up their bottoms.' Unfortunately in this fair city it was ever thus. So, what is 'Peculiar London'? It's a look at the main character in my memoirs, the city itself. It's not one of those hectoring tomes about where Oliver Cromwell's teeth ended up and how many steps you're likely to fall down into the crypt of St Cuthbert. I can’t compete with the kind of passionate historians who claim to know how many double-decker buses you can fit inside the Albert Hall, but I’ll be making some connections that may take you by surprise. They certainly took me by surprise, not always in a good way. John May and I have spent decades clambering in and out of London buildings and interviewing low-lifes, and this book contains what we've learned. So there's nothing about the Little Venice Dragon Boat Pageant, the Bethnal Green Morris Dancers, the Bastille Day Waiters’ Race or the Dagenham Girl Pipers, who for some unearthly reason became the punchline to a great many London jokes. And I'm not sticking in loads of addresses for you, either. If you want those you can use the Googly-thing on your phone. 'Peculiar London' is more like one of our usual cases, only with several murderers instead of one.

For me there's always a gap between what you read about a city and what you feel when you walk around it. I attempt to bridge that gap. I’ve assembled an entire bookful of observations with the help of my partner, who took out some of the stuff that didn’t exist and removed the more libellous remarks so that I wouldn’t get attacked in public again.

I can't guarantee that it's all true, obviously. I’m interested in the connections that reveal London’s personality. Imagine you’re on one of my walking tours. I had to give them up after an unfortunate incident. All I can say is, if you suddenly need to break wind don’t slip into the royal box of the Drury Lane Theatre without first checking there’s no one else in it. 'Bryant & May's Peculiar London' features a host of beloved characters, it says here, and me, and it doesn't matter if you've never read any of the books, you'll love it. Don't buy it for the publishers, buy it for a poor old man living on his wits and a pathetic pension that will kick in if I ever manage to leave this sodding job.    


Mary Ann Atwood (not verified) Tue, 31/05/2022 - 12:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I believe I was a member of one of your "memorable" walking tours, unfortunately it was only a dream...or was it? Anxiously awaiting publication of "Peculiar London" in order to compare memories.
Thank you for sharing your storytelling genius with the world. What fascinating dream you must have....

Jo W (not verified) Tue, 31/05/2022 - 13:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Mr. Bryant, sir,
I will of course purchase a copy of what I fully expect to be, a tome full of information about my home town, some of which I’ll know and a lot which I’d probably not wish to know. Now, where did I hide the piggy bank?

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Tue, 31/05/2022 - 16:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My dear Mr. Bryant: May I call you Art ? I didn't think so... I suggest that since 'Peculier London' is to be published on 14 July, you encourage a variation of the  Bastille Day Waiters’ Race with critics pushing library carts containing copies of the book through Piccadilly Circus. Considering their average physical condition, this almost certainly would have the effect of reducing their number. Should one survive upright, the winning prize would be a lunch at a restaurant of your choice --- assuming you remember what that is, come the day --- assuming you remember that as well.

In the likely event one or more should prove recalcitrant, may I suggest you casually mention that your encyclopedic knowledge includes their carefully guarded preferences in livestock. And as for other butts, the Dagenham Girl Pipers were definitely cheap targets of jokes --- and rude jokes, in particular, during their heyday. Now --- as to that "pathetic pension" I suggest you stand a better chance of keeping yourself supplied with boiled sweets, sausage rolls and that recycled waste product you smoke by having that Fowler fella --- you know the Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Richard Osman nom de plume for your series --- come up with at least one more installment and maybe some short stories. Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant.

Jan (not verified) Tue, 31/05/2022 - 18:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Do you know Mr F I have just started watching Tuesday's episode of that Michael Portillo's Railway Travelling show on BBC4 and at the very same moment as I read your blog specifically the words "Dagenham Girl Pipers" your car share buddy uttered those very same words ...now that's weird and a portent of how successful this tome will undoubtedly be. All will be grand!

Now what seals the deal is that a mate of mine from the job (now retired with hubby on the I of W) was a Dagenham Girl Piper, member of the Girls Brigade etc etc ....now Mr. Fowler what could possibly go wrong? It's a winner to be sure.

Jo+e (not verified) Tue, 31/05/2022 - 22:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

We have had this before relatively recently and the answer is 96. Routemasters in the Albert Hall that is. Old ones. Ninety six. No idea why you would want to do it but the there it is.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Tue, 31/05/2022 - 23:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I just had a Cumberland sausage in your honor, Arthur. Now, I just have to be patient until July. Tomorrow's June 1st, so not much longer to wait!!!

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Wed, 01/06/2022 - 11:59

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think you should have asked for some sherbet lemons as well, Mr.Bryant.
I’ll eat some in your honour while reading the book.

Brenda Winter (not verified) Wed, 01/06/2022 - 14:54

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Dear Mr. Bryant, I will certainly be purchasing Peculiar London as I have been to London many times but surely have missed all your site suggestions! And on my next time there, I would like to go around with a tour guide. How about the " firecracker guy?" We here in Canada normally just blow up tin cans off a sidewalk but he would be great fun!

snowy (not verified) Wed, 01/06/2022 - 23:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

July is still some weeks away, and rather a lot of people* are getting rather 'excited' about Bettie's Bonanza Birthday Bash! Libraries - [remember them?] - have been getting in on the act by positioning collections of titles with Royal connections, however tenuous. A rummage through the mounds of fluff unearthed:

'The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett'

"The morning after a ‘dine and sleep’ at Windsor Castle, eighty-nine-year-old Queen Elizabeth is shocked to discover that one of her guests, [a talented Russian pianist], has been found murdered in his room, with a dressing-gown cord around his neck."

Philip was full of the news when he arrived to share a coffee with her after lunch.

‘Lilibet, did you hear the man was nude?’

‘Yes, actually, I did.’

‘Strung up like a Tory MP. There’s a word for it. What is it? Auto-sex-something?

‘Autoerotic asphyxiation,’ the Queen said grimly. She had googled it on her iPad.

‘That’s the bugger. D’you remember Buffy?’

One did indeed recall the seventh Earl of Wandle, an old friend who had been rather partial to the practice in the fifties, by all accounts. Back then it had seemed practically de rigueur among a certain set.

‘What the butler saw, eh?’ Philip said. ‘Had to rescue the blighter on many an occasion, apparently. Buffy was hardly an oil painting, even with his clothes on.’

‘What was he thinking?’ she wondered.

‘My dear, I try not to imagine Buffy’s sex life.’

‘No. I mean the young Russian. Brodsky.’

‘Well, that’s obvious,’ Philip said, gesturing around him. ‘You know what people are like in this place. They come here, decide it’s the pinnacle of their bloody existence and need to let off steam. The high jinks that go on when they think we’re not looking... Poor bastard.’

He dropped his voice sympathetically. ‘Didn’t think it through. Last thing you want is to be discovered in a royal palace with your goolies out.’



[Might be a bit too cosy for some tastes, a lot of the political references might not cross over the pond, so have a glance at the free chapters to make sure it is to your taste - before handing over the ackers!

Not to be confused with the similar 'Her Majesty Investigates' series by the Canadian author C.C. Benison.]


[* Not anarchists or arch-capitalists though, a pair of most unlikely allies.]

Roger (not verified) Thu, 02/06/2022 - 10:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Mr. Bryant:
Considering how long you have been employed after your official retirement age and have been receiving your Old Age Pension (totally inadequate in itself, I agree, but a nice little bonus) as well as your salary while your noncontributory police pension fund has been building up, you could probably afford to eat gourmet sausage rolls (if such things exist. There's a G&amp;S operetta - justly unknown - where a group of conspirators show they are members of the conspiracy by ostentatiously eating sausage rolls), drink Imperial Russian Stout and smoke Havana cigars if you chose. In fact, you'd probably get a bigger pension than you're paid by now if you did retire.
That said, as an admirer of yours and a London psychogeographer, I'll buy the book and set out on foot to check out its inaccuracy.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Thu, 02/06/2022 - 13:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks, snowy. I could only find the second book on Abe, but will "hand over the ackers" for that one, and add it to my reading pile. If I don't understand some political reference, Google will probably help me out in that direction.
I always find it interesting when tracing my relatives through Ellis Island, that people were asked if they were anarchists.
What would have happened it someone said, "Of course". Then there were those - not connected to me but on the ship's manifest - who gave their occupation as Capitalist.

Liz+Thompson (not verified) Thu, 02/06/2022 - 14:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Snowy, you are absolutely right about anarchists not getting excited about the royal jumblebee. I don't associate with arch capitalists ((they're out of my income league), so can't speak for them. I'm pretty sure Freedom Press haven't published a commemorative issue though, and I'm spending the 4 day jumblebee quietly reading, eating, and contemplating the day we are a republic.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Thu, 02/06/2022 - 14:14

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

First book as well, snowy. Sometimes my fingers and my brain are on two different wavelengths.

Roger (not verified) Thu, 02/06/2022 - 20:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Barbara Boucke: It's said that a British journalist was given a US immigration form which included the question: "Do you intend to advocate the overthrow of the US constitution?"
"Sole purpose of visit." he wrote and was let in.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Fri, 03/06/2022 - 00:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you, Roger! I always appreciate ending the day here on a humorous note.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Fri, 03/06/2022 - 03:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My Dear Mr. Bryant: I understand congratulations are in order. Word is that you are to be the first human being to receive a Grade II Listing from Historic England. Unfortunately, this will mean your clothing, eating and smoking habits may be regulated. Not sure if you can decline the honor. Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Fri, 03/06/2022 - 05:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ooh! The Windsor Knot! I actually read that one and enjoyed it. There were likely references that went over my head but since I didn't notice nothing's lost.
Having a titular figure as a head of state is not such a bad thing, especially if they can't put hands on the levers of power. Have you looked at the elected heads of government lately? Having the head of government act as the head of state just makes things worse -v. President Trump. Perhaps drawing lots for the head of state position would work better. I'm becoming quite cynical about the whole thing.

Roger (not verified) Fri, 03/06/2022 - 11:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm inclined to think North Korea has had one good idea - a dead head of state, Helen+Martin. Saves a lot of bother. The trouble is, the people acting on their behalf...

SteveB (not verified) Fri, 03/06/2022 - 20:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Love admin’s Arthur Bryant voice :-)

Sue Bridgland (not verified) Thu, 09/06/2022 - 08:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Dear Mr Bryant,
I have never had the pleasure of one of your tours but, last year, I was touristing and decided to walk above-ground from Blackfriars Station to the Tower of London while listening to London Bridge Is Falling Down. As I walked by several of the landmarks as they entered the narrative, (totally unplanned, it being my first listen/read) it felt very much like one of your tours.
I look forward to recapturing that feeling with your new book.
Yours, Sue.