Bobby Redrupp and customer, Chapel Market, 1990. © David Secombe.
Leakage in Chapel Market, N1
She’s hanging on. I go to lunch.
An old man with a dewdrop on his nose
shuffles towards the market, inching round
a rotting mango and the discarded cartons
propped against the shop that takes my eye
with its display of candyfloss-pink chairs.
A boy reads from a placard to his friend
that Superman has lost his fight for life.
It’s only the cold wind that fills my eyes
and cyclamen in a new shade of purple.
© Susan Grindley.
Oswald ‘Columbus’ Denniston, Brixton Market, SW9. Photo © David Secombe, 1990.
From Of the street-sellers of textile fabrics: London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1, Henry Mayhew, 1851:
These street-folk present perhaps as great a diversity of character as any of which I have been called upon to treat.Among them are the strong persevering men, who carry rolls of linen or cotton manufacture in packs on their backs, and trudge along holding a yard-wand by the middle, which – it is a not uncommon joke against them – is always worn down an inch or two, by being used as a walking-stick in their long pedestrian journeys. Some of these men love to tell of the many hundreds of miles they have walked in their time, and in the three kingdoms.
From The Daily Express, 23 June 1948:
Oswald M. Dennison – the first of 430 job-seeking Jamaicans to land at Tilbury yesterday morning from the trooper Empire Windrush – started a £4-a-week job last night. Wrapped in two warm blankets to keep warm, he settled in as a night watchman of the meals marquee in Clapham Common, SW where 240 of the Jamaicans are staying in deep wartime shelters. All of them sat down there to their first meal on English soil: roast beef, potatoes, vegetables, Yorkshire pudding suet pudding with currants and custard. A bed and three hot meals will cost them 6s.6d (32.5p) a day. Most of the Jamaicans have about £5 to last them until they find work. Oswald Dennison, 35-year-old sign painter, got his job after making a speech of thanks to government officials. He called for three cheers for the Ministry of Labour and raised his Anthony Eden hat. Others clapped. Panamas, blue, pink, and biscuit trilbys and one bowler were waved.
When this picture was taken, Oswald ‘Columbus’ Denniston was a sprightly 76, and had been selling fabrics in Brixton for nearly thirty years – the first Afro-Caribbean trader in Brixton market. The photo was commissioned for a Sunday Times Magazine article on London street traders (which never appeared as the ‘London’ section of the magazine folded before the feature was published). By this time in his life, Oswald Denniston had become a potent symbol for the black community in London, his manifest virtues of charm, capability and decency commanding widespread fondness and admiration. The quote from Mayhew seems appropriate here, for surely no-one has ever travelled so far to sell fabrics as Columbus Denniston.
Although only officially designated a market in the 1880s, East Street Market continues a tradition of street trading in Walworth that goes back to Tudor times. Perhaps more germane to the purposes of the current post is the identification of the market with the 1980s & 90s situation comedy Only Fools and Horses, which is set in Peckham and uses photographs of East Street Market in its opening titles.
The popularity of John Sullivan‘s TV series has given this stretch of south London its own place in modern popular culture. Sullivan himself was from Balham, and he knew the milieu very well. He was working as a scene shifter at the BBC when he approached producer Dennis Main Wilson with an idea for a comedy. Main Wilson was a genuine enthusiast for comedy, a quality not always found in producers of ‘light entertainment’, and had an impeccable gift for searching out the genuine article. The idea was commissioned and became Citizen Smith.
Sullivan’s south London is a fabled place: Del and Rodney live in the mythical Nelson Mandela House (although there is a Nelson Mandela Way not too far away), the local boozer is a haunt of cartoon geezers and Peckham the bucolic playground for an assortment of genial chancers, through whom Sullivan has contributed several phrases to colloquial English. Television writers such as Sullivan and Galton & Simpson (Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe and Son) have created Dickensian characters for modern times, refashioning London in the image of their creations. Peckham has become Del Boy’s manor, just as any mention of Cheam conjures up the ghost of Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock – and Surbiton still bears the scars of The Good Life.
Clockwise from top left: Englefield Road, Bethnal Green Road, Willesden High Road, Whitecross Street.
© Mike Seaborne 2005, 2006.
Fag End London by Charles Jennings:
Two geezers in overalls flicking litter into a truck (‘Could’ve bleeding stayed in bed, didn’t know it was only this one’).
Keeping their ends up against the taggers and bomb artists on the main road. ‘That shouldn’t be allowed ’cause they laid out a lot of money’.
You’ve got your haggard local shops, giving out, giving in, ‘Houses & Flats Cleared, Apply Within’, a stupidly optimistic fingerpost.
The coughing of the birds, the single, muted noise of a car driving along in first a block away.
‘Big Reductions on Room Size’, with a tiny old lady picking at some cream-vinyl dining chairs stuck out on the pavement as if they were posionous, a dysfunctional boy pulling at the hair of a girl in a newsagent’s doorway, the sullen rumble of a train. Who’s going to be passing through?
Dead cars, living cars, stuff you do to your car, garages.
Those jaded avenues of small houses, the litter, the small shops, nervy pre-dereliction, the effort to keep up.
The midget shops, the kebabs, the roaming crazies (woman in a tank top scouring the bins: ‘Fucking said to him, “Fucking listen”‘).
This tomb of obscurity.
The dead concrete around the tube station, ruined retail outlets.
Drowning in toxins, grimed-up, catching screams from the estate on the west side, the traffic barrelling to hell on the roundabout.
Sort myself out a nice K-reg Astra.
It’s shy of life, but only because it’s keeling over.
… for The London Column. © Charles Jennings 2012.
London Facades is a series of photographs about the disappearing face of pre-corporate London. The project is London-wide and embraces a range of different facades, including shops, industrial and commercial buildings and housing.
The pictures are mostly taken in areas of the inner city undergoing regeneration – and in many cases gentrification – and the most suitable subjects are often found on the periphery of such redevelopment schemes where the blight seems more evident than the intentions to renovate or rebuild.
Parson’s Green, SW6. Photo © David Secombe 2002.
From The Caretaker by Harold Pinter:
DAVIES: I got plenty of references. All I got to do is to go down to Sidcup tomorrow. I got all the references I want down there.
MICK: Where’s that?
DAVIES: Sidcup. He ain’t only got my references down there, he got all my papers down there. I know that place like the back of my hand. I’m going down there anyway, see what I mean, I got to get down there or I’m done.
MICK: So we can always get hold of these references if we want them.
DAVIES: I’ll be down there any day, I tell you. I was going to go down today, but I’m … I’m waiting for the weather to break.
This poignant little exchange from Pinter’s play has become so familiar that Sidcup has forever after been associated with surreal suburban promise; a place of deliverance for the pitiful tramp Davies. Pinter’s choice of Sidcup as the place of Davies’s dreams was not random: it was the HQ of the Royal Artillery during the post-war period, so Pinter is implicitly giving Davies a military history. Not that it matters: the choice of the bleak Kent suburb of Sidcup as a land of milk and honey is as cruelly inappropriate as Eric Idle’s appropriation of Purley as a hotbed of vice in Monty Python’s ‘Nudge’ sketch.
“Austin brought a tramp he’d met in a cafe back to the house and the tramp stayed for two or three weeks. Pinter knew the tramp very slightly and then one day he looked through an open door and saw Austin with his back to the tramp gazing out into the garden and the tramp busy putting stuff back into some kind of grubby hold-all, obviously being given his marching orders. All this matters because it then becomes the bones of the plot of The Caretaker.” (Pinter at the BBC)
Royal Avenue, Chelsea; looking south from King’s Road. Photo © David Secombe 2010.
BARRETT: She’s living with a bookie in Wandsworth. Wandsworth!
– from Harold Pinter’s screenplay for Joseph Losey’s The Servant, 1963.
No. 30 Royal Avenue in Chelsea – on the right hand side in the above photo – was used for the location filming of Pinter and Losey’s class psychodrama The Servant (from a novel by Robin Maugham, who seems to have been written out of the picture completely). The plot has BARRETT (Dirk Bogarde) being engaged as a manservant by TONY (James Fox), an ineffectual toff who has just taken ownership of a house in Royal Avenue. BARRETT takes charge of the refurbishment of the house and, bit by bit, the destruction of TONY, whose increasing reliance upon BARRETT reflects the weakness of his personality and the inherent decadence of his class. (Discuss.) The action culminates in a sort of fully-clothed orgy at which Bogarde, Fox, Sarah Miles and Wendy Craig engage in a Mexican stand-off whilst listening to Cleo Laine. This was regarded as ground-breaking cinema when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1963.
The script features some of Pinter’s best lines on film, and showcases Losey’s bravura directorial technique as well as his ambivalent approach to British society (Losey himself lived in Royal Avenue). It also features the glorious black and white cinematography of Douglas Slocombe, including location shooting around Chelsea, which, in and of itself, is a precious document of a lost age: the ‘black and white 60s’, the pre-Beatles 60s.
A few years later, The Chelsea Drugstore opened on the corner of King’s Road and Royal Avenue: an artefact of Swinging London proper, this establishment was used as a location for the filming of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and was hymned by The Rolling Stones in You can’t always get what you want. By that time, James Fox had been bamboozled in a rather more emphatic fashion – the class element reversed – by Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg in Roeg and Cammell’s Performance. This latter, filmed up the road in Notting Hill, was made a mere five years later, yet it makes the Chelsea of The Servant – folk singers (Davey Graham) in wine bars, Sanderson wallpapers, ski-pants, pork pie hats, sheepskin coats over cable-knit jumpers, class warfare over Dubonnet and soda – seem as distant as the Chelsea of Rossetti or Oscar Wilde.
The Servant at IMDB.
Long bar, Olivier foyer, Royal National Theatre, SE1. Photo © David Secombe 2010.
A Fragment of Bar Life by Charles Jennings:
The main bar in the Olivier foyer. Late 1970’s. The start of the evening shift. Things are quiet. Three part-time bar staff fumble with peanut packets and bottles of mixers. GARY, the head barman, comes in carrying a crate of soft drinks, which he bangs down on the floor. He is 27 years old; wears tattoos.
PART-TIMER ONE (looking at GARY’s face, which sports a glowering black eye): What happened to your eye, Gary?
GARY says nothing, goes to fetch another crate. The PART-TIMERS shrug. GARY returns and crashes the fresh crate down.
PART-TIMER TWO: Harold Pinter?
GARY: Fucking stuck one on me.
PART-TIMER ONE: He stuck one on you?
GARY: I hate that fucking bloke.
PART-TIMER TWO: Why?
PART-TIMER TWO: You hate him?
GARY: He can stick one on me, I can’t hit him back. Cause he’s Pinter.
PART-TIMER THREE: Why’d he stick one on you?
GARY: I was making too much noise with the crates. He was in the theatre, listening. He said he could hear the crates out here during all those fucking pauses. Fucking Betrayal.
He came out and smacked me.
I could have fucking killed him. I’d have fucking laid him out. He’s a cunt, Pinter.
The PART-TIMERS affect a keen interest in their work. GARY stands in the centre of the bar, looking out into the empty foyer.