Old and New Soho. Photo & text by Eric Hands, Adam Macqueen (5/5)

Christopher Booker, Richard Ingrams, Auberon Waugh and Barry Fantoni at the Private Eye office, Greek Street. Photo © Eric Hands

Eric Hands writes:

I arrived at Private Eye  as a token working-class boxwallah – Ingrams’ term of endearment for non-editorial staff – following a mystical experience on Clapham Common (the drugs were better in those days) and a subsequent introduction to Barry Fantoni by the local vicar. My first job was to write up the ledgers for the advertising sales and, such was the shortage of space in the Greek Street premises, I shared a small smoke-shrouded cubicle with Auberon Waugh and Paul Foot. Bron had a habit of throwing his cigarette ends out of the window and on more than one occasion laid waste to a few fancy hats. I spent my first decent wage packet on a camera and the rest of my life trying to use one.

Regarding the above photo, Adam Macqueen – who is working on a definitive history of Private Eye – supplies the following which sounds about right. I’d date it circa 1974 as the poster was being used as a prop – rather than the photo being taken to celebrate the poster (if that makes sense). It was from a series of shots I took for a feature in the New York Times. Lighting by Anglepoise.

Adam Macqueen writes:

As far as I can tell, the poster must refer to Wilson’s legal action against the Eye for a joke about the trademark Gannex macs he always wore: they were manufactured by a company owned by his friend Joe Kagan, and the Eye wrote that Kagan had “employed Wilson as a commercial traveller and male model for the last seven years at an annual salary of £5-£10,000.” His solicitor Lord Goodman – himself a regular target and sworn enemy of the Eye – brokered an apology that was printed in February 1973: “This reference was not intended to be take literally, and we apologise to Mr Wilson for any suggestion that he was employed by or received payments of any kind from a commercial concern whilst he was a Minister of the Crown.”

Kagan, who did provide funding for Wilson’s private office, later got a peerage in his resignation honours list – the ‘Lavender List’ – and was imprisoned for theft and false accounting in 1980. And Wilson continued his feud after his resignation as prime minister in 1976, when he started touting what he called a “Private Eye address book” around friendly journalists. It was presumed to have been compiled from information private detectives working for his friend James Goldsmith had acquired from the magazine’s dustbins during his epic legal battle that year.

… for The London Column. © Eric Hands, Adam Macqueen 2011

Old and New Soho. Photo & text by Mark Granier (4/5)

Soho, 2010. Photo © Mark Granier.

Mark Granier writes:

My cousin was working in London for a few months, so when I came over from Dublin we met up a couple of times. One evening we went to the ‘Exposed’ exhibition of photography at Tate Modern, concerned with ‘Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera.’ They had stretched the theme a little, so that it practically became a history of the art, taking in all kinds of street/reportage/war photography, from the 1930s (or possibly earlier) – Brassaï, Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, etc. – right up to contemporaries such as Nan Goldin. Afterwards, we found a little restaurant in her favourite part of the city, Soho. My cousin is a smoker, so we sat at a table on the sidewalk, talking and watching the variegated street-life. When the place closed we ambled through the surrounding streets.

I love the blurring of boundaries in Soho – music, art, food, sex – the city in microcosm. Just before hailing a taxi, we noticed this doorway, with its eloquent one-word sign, and it was like encountering an annex to the exhibition, an intimate little theatre/Tardis that opened a corridor between centuries. The photograph took itself before I clicked the shutter. The poem, such as it is, took a little longer:


said the handmade sign
(underscored by a red arrow)
inside a doorway one step
from a Soho street. We stopped
just a tick, then longer, as if
we had some business here

other than letting our eyes
travel the strip-lit grey
narrowing walls, torn lino,
lines draining like a sink
to a high arch, behind which
steel-edged stairs further the lesson

in perspectives: the whoosh of
compressed centuries, a lost
hunting cry, razzmatazz, brass
rubbings of jazz, appetite’s
arrows, harnesses, taxies
and here’s one now –

… for The London Column.  © Mark Granier 2011

Old and New Soho. Photo John Claridge, text Sebastian Horsley (3/5)

Sebastian Horsely, The French House, Soho, 2002. Photo © John Claridge.


Clearly God loves ugly people. He makes so many of them. He shows his contempt for life by the kind of person he selects to receive it. Crawling from primeval waters you waddled, slaves, cripples, imbeciles, the simple and the mighty, fighting for the right to breathe oxygen. It was a mistake but you did it. Little did it matter to you that the earth was a vale of tears, of horrid sufferings, of torturous sickness and death. You wanted life little worm. You got it.

And what did you do with it when you got it? Celebrate? Have fun? No. You moaned. Equal rights! Equal pay! Equal Equal! Equal is a dead word. No man who says “I am as good as you” believes it. The shark never says it to the sardine, nor the intelligent to the stupid, nor the rich to the poor, nor the beautiful to the plain. The claim to equality is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior.

And inferior they are. With beautiful classical things like me the Lord finished the job. Ordinary ugly people know they’re deficient and they go on looking for the pieces, moaning and complaining. Don’t you realise my darlings that if you have any complaints, they would be theistic : – they should be about your maker , who lets face it, hasn’t done that great a job.

Physical beauty is the sign of an interior beauty, a spiritual and moral beauty. The handsome are not merely blessed with their looks, they are somehow better than the plain and ugly : they are wittier, more intelligent, even tempered and socially competent. Ms Sappho put it more bluntly : “What is beautiful is good”

What I hate most about ugliness is that it shows such bad judgement. Much as I loathe ugly people our sympathies should not, however, be for them after all. I mean their faces they are behind – they can’t see their revolting selves. We, the public, on the other hand, are in front of them and can see all too clearly. And its simply not good enough. No its not. How dare they look like that? Don’t they realise that their right to look revolting ends where it meets my eye?

[From Sebastian Horsley‘s blog, October 05, 2008. Horsely died of a drug overdose at his house in Meard Street, Soho, in June 2010.]

Old and New Soho. Photo & text John Londei. (2/5)

Gaston’s farewell party, French House, Soho. Photo © John Londei 1989.

John Londei writes:

The French House, Dean Street, W1

Gaston Berlemont, and his handlebar moustache, was as much a feature of Soho as the pub he ran. Born in a room above the pub in 1914, Gaston was still at school when he first started serving behind the bar in the evenings. Seventy-five years later the moment had arrived for his final ‘Time Gentlemen, please’.

Gaston’s father, Victor – the first foreigner to be granted a full English pub licence in 1914 – took the pub over from a German who, at the outbreak of World War One, feared internment as an enemy alien. It was actually called the ‘York Minister’ but with the arrival of the Berlemonts’, locals nicknamed it ‘The French’, and it wasn’t until 1977 that its name officially changed to ‘The French House’. In earlier days Soho was somewhat of a Gallic enclave with its own French butcher, patisserie, newsagent, cafes, restaurants and two churches. During World War Two the Free French made ‘The French’ their drinking HQ, and it’s thought General De Gaulle wrote his 1940 clarion call speech À tous les Français in an upstairs room at the pub declaring that one day France would be liberated from Nazi occupation.

Victor Berlemont died in 1951 and Gaston took over the pub. Under his tenure the pub remained unchanged; the décor remained a sombre brown, and wines, apéritifs, and spirits were the tipples of choice. It must be the only British pub where beer was served in half-pint glasses. And as for buying a packet of crisps, peanuts or pork scratchings, forget it, Gaston refused to stock them. But the unique character of the pub and its eccentric landlord had many luminaries as regulars such as Augustus John, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Dylan Thomas, Brendan Behan, Max Beerbohm, Jeffrey Bernard and Peter O’Toole. Even Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier visited the pub.

On Friday 14 July 1989, Gaston retired. And of course, being Gaston, he didn’t choose just any old day to go en retraite – he choose Bastille Day, and moreover it was the day marking the storming of the Bastille’s bicentennial. And of course, Soho being Soho wasn’t about to mark the retirement of its longest established patron without throwing a lavish party that resulted in Dean Street being closed to traffic, and the pub having to close twice in order to replenish the stock of booze.

It was a magical day, albeit a day tinged with sadness at having to bide adieu to one of Soho’s favourite sons. Gaston had planned to give a speech from the first-floor window, but the inebriated roars of appreciation from the crowd were such that he couldn’t be heard, so he waved instead. Afterwards he told a reporter that he had intended to say. “Vive La France, Vive L’Angleterre, Vive La Paix.”

An obituary appearing in the Independent newspaper in 1999 reported: Gaston Roger Berlemont, publican: born London 26 April 1914; three times married (one son, two daughters); died London 31 October 1999.

… for The London Column. © John Londei 2011.

Old and New Soho. Photo & text Angus Forbes (1/5)

Francis Bacon (centre) and Ian Board (right) in the Colony Room, 1983. Photo © Angus Forbes.

Angus Forbes writes:

September 1983: the book publisher Malcolm McGregor is organising A Day in the Life of London, and the commissioning photographer Red Saunders wants me in. I tell Red I’ll cover legal London in the morning and the West End drinking clubs, of which at that time I was a frequentee, in the afternoon. On the day (Friday, September 14) I roll up at the Colony Room in Dean Street shortly after opening, at half three. The sun is reflecting off the buildings opposite and streaming through the first-floor window. I’m a member there, so I tell the irascible owner Ian Board what I’m doing and would it be OK if I took some casual, non-flash pictures? Ian’s in a mellowish state today and says yes. It’s early for the Colony and people are only just starting to drift in. I take some pictures, nothing special, and am thinking of moving on when Ian says don’t go, Francis will be here in a minute. Francis Bacon. By the time Bacon and team arrive, the drinkers have become accustomed to my Nikon-wielding antics and I ask Francis if I can take some of him too. He does not demur. My scoop in the bag, I head off to The Little House, a similar establishment in Shepherd Market, and sitting at the bar is Patrick Caulfield.

A few days later and I’m viewing the contact sheets in my darkroom in Chancery Lane. It occurs to me that by simple photocomposition I could combine the images of Francis and Patrick and drop Bacon into The Little House (which I know he uses, as that’s where I first met him). A double-scoop. But to carry it through to print, fresh permissions must be sought. I arrive at the Colony at about seven. Ian’s paralytic and his barman, Michael Wojas, is pretty well-advanced himself. I have with me three photographic enlargements: one is the shot of Ian and Francis in the Colony, another shows Patrick at The Little House and the third is a mock-up of the proposed photocomp. I show Ian the first shot and he likes it; Francis’ champagne glass is at the right angle, and Ian, arm in a sling from some rough, looks suitably mad. Next shot: indifference. But when Ian Board sees the mock-up of his Francis in a rival hostelry, all hell breaks loose.

So incensed is Ian by the image I’ve just shown him, he pitches forward and topples onto the foetid, cigarette-scorched carpet of the notorious green boite with an almighty, clattering thump. When Michael and I manage to heave him back onto his throne, Ian’s right index finger is dripping blood. He grabs the mock-up and starts jabbing at it, daubing it with dollops of his own blood. ‘It’s a disgrace! It’s an insult!’ shrieks Ian, lunging for the telephone. He gets Bacon on the line. ‘Know what that cunt photographer wanker’s done?’ Ian bellows, ‘He’s only put you in that fat Jamaican whore’s place with someone called ‘Cauliflower’ or something!’ He thrusts the phone to me. ‘Francis wants to speak to you!’ ‘The negatives must be destroyed!’ Bacon booms. He’s drunk as well and now I’m downing vodkas like there’s no Sunday – this photocomp’s not such a good idea after all. ‘Francis, I wouldn’t dream of publishing without your say-so. I just thought that as you and Patrick use the same places…’ ‘Who?’ he interrupts. ‘Patrick Caulfield’ I say. ‘Never heard of him!’ Bacon thunders.

Later I relate the story to Gerry Clancy. He tells me that not long ago Bacon had turned up at an opening at Fischer Fine Art where Caulfield was showing miniatures. Francis had proceeded to walk round the gallery, dashing the works from the wall, muttering ‘Postage stamps! Postage stamps!’ After the affair has subsided I see Patrick in the Zanzibar with John Hoyland. I repeat the Colony tale, including Bacon’s last remark to me. Patrick Caulfield bursts into tears.

Red Saunders uses my shot of Bacon and Board as a double-page spread in A Day in the Life of London. A decade later and all has long been supposedly forgiven. Francis has been dead for three years and a framed print of my shot of him and Ian has been hanging in the Colony since the time it was taken. Ian Board is on his usual perch and I’m at the next barstool knocking back the tonic water. We’re having a desultory conversation about nothing in particular, no animosity, when Ian suddenly reaches behind him, seizes the framed print from the wall and smashes it over my head. A rivulet of blood runs down my nose and splashes onto the palm of my hand. I turn to Ian in astonishment.

‘Cunt!’ says Ian Board.

© Angus Forbes 2011

Pepys Estate, Deptford. Photo Tony Ray-Jones, text Robert Elwall. (3/3)

Canteen for the elderly, Pepys Estate, Deptford, 1970. Photo Tony Ray-Jones © RIBA Photographs Library.

Robert Elwall writes:

In 1969 Hubert de Cronin Hastings, owner of the Architectural Press and editor of its leading journal, the Architectural Review, decided to experiment with a new look for the magazine. He accordingly launched the ‘Manplan’ series published in eight themed issues between September 1969 and September 1970. Rather than being illustrated by the Review’s usual staff photographers, Hastings commissioned photographs from some of the leading photojournalists of the day asking them to cast their lenses in judgement on the contemporary state of architecture and town planning. Thus Ian Berry illustrated two issues on communications and health and welfare while his Magnum colleague, Peter Baistow, also supplied the images for two, those on religion and local government. Other contributors were Tom Smith on education; Tim Street-Porter on industry and Tony Ray-Jones on housing. The series kicked off with a typically hard-hitting issue on ‘Frustration’ with photographs by Patrick Ward.

These images were totally unlike anything that had been seen in the Review before. Ironically the Review had done much to formulate the norms of mainstream architectural photography with dramatically hagiographic renditions of pristinely new buildings set beneath sunlit skies and photographed with large format cameras. Instead it now offered its readers harsh, grainy, 35mm images of a grimly dystopian world the photographers argued that architects and planners had created.  The unrelenting grimness and claustrophobic intensity of the photographs was magnified by the use of wide-angle lenses which had the effect of thrusting the viewer into the frame; by the reproduction of the photographs in a specially devised matt-black ink; and by the provision of hard-hitting captions that sometimes were printed over the images. Not surprisingly the series proved too much for many of the Review’s architect subscribers and in the face of falling circulation figures Hastings was forced to admit defeat and abandon his experiment.

Despite being short-lived, ‘Manplan’ can be regarded as the high watermark of photojournalism applied to architectural photography. During the 1960’s this had been pioneered by magazines such as Architectural Design, which in September 1961 had published a special issue on Sheffield illustrated by the great photojournalist Roger Mayne and by photographers such as John Donat (1933-2004) who, much influenced by Mayne’s example, took advantage of the smaller format cameras and faster films then appearing on the market to show how buildings interacted with, and were experienced by, their users and the public. For so long banished from the architectural photographer’s frame, real people going about real tasks, rather than merely included to give a sense of scale, now became the norm. By the 1970s, however, this application of the tenets of photojournalism and street photography to architecture was drawing to a close. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly, owing to the slow speed of large format colour films and the elaborate lighting set-ups they often required, the explosion in colour photography placed a renewed emphasis on architecture’s more formal qualities at the expense of human activity. In addition the increased commissioning of photography by architects themselves rather the more independently-minded magazines inevitably premiated eye-catching imagery that would show architects’ works in the best light. However, it is pleasing to reflect that today ‘Manplan’ has found favour once again as photographers once more seek to deviate from the norms.

… for The London Column. © Robert Elwall 2011

[Robert Elwall is Assistant Director, Photographs, Imaging & Digital Development of the British Architectural Library at the Royal Institute of British Architects.]

Pepys Estate, Deptford. Photo Tony Ray-Jones, text Owen Hatherley (2/3)

Elderly resident, Pepys Estate, Deptford, 1970. Photo Tony Ray-Jones © RIBA Library Photographs Collection.

Owen Hatherley writes:

Like a lot of council estates that have been subjected to the ministrations of ‘regeneration’, there are certain myths about the Pepys Estate. Each has a grain of truth, each covers up what ought to be a larger, more overwhelming truth.

My own experience of the place is fairly limited. I recall walking there from a flat in the centre of Deptford to hand in my form for the council waiting list; on a few other occasions I would wander over to use the bridge that connected the estate to Deptford Park, just for the fun of it, for the fact of its mere existence. The place seemed quiet during the day; I only saw it at night as the N1 bus looped around it. So I can’t offer much insight into what it was ever like to live there, but I have watched the material transformations of the place over the last decade or so, and watched the media discourse around it spin its web.

The Pepys is often presented as a monolithic, monstrous estate that was a failure from day one. Which is interesting, as the place marked one of the earliest council schemes to preserve as well as demolish – the little enclaves of Georgian nauticalia that mark the estate’s edges were part of the scheme, renovated and let by the council as an integral element, by now surely long since lost to Right to Buy. The rest of it is, or rather was, a series of jagged, mid-rise blocks connected by walkways, enclosing three towers and a large open space, with the bridges eventually leading to a park on the other side of Evelyn Street. In the middle is a community building with a bizarre, expressionist roofline seemingly partly based on oast houses (but then, so is Bluewater).

What is undoubtedly true is that parts of it were badly made – the lifts were apparently prone to breakdown from extremely early on. The draughty blocks were clad in plasticky white material at some point in the 1980s. Yet what happened when the place got ‘regenerated’ is by far the most dramatic aspect. The open space went, with low-rise flats to be sold to ‘key workers’ and on the open market taking an already highly dense area and making it more so. This accordingly makes it more ‘mixed’, ‘vibrant’ and ‘urban’, as professionals now live alongside – well, not quite alongside, but at least near to, council tenants.

The bridge over Evelyn Street went also, with remarkably clumsy ‘eco-flats’ (you can tell this, because the extra layer of curved glass on the façades a few feet from the actual windows could surely have no other possible functional justification) built where it met the park. This ‘recreated a street pattern’ in the area according to planning ideologists; or it defaced an area of public space. As you wish.

The new blocks are regeneration hence good, the old are council housing hence bad. Yet the council flats are much larger, and look much more robustly built, of concrete and stock brick – the newer flats are clad in the ubiquitous thin layer of brick or attached slatted wood, materials which have shown an unfortunate tendency to fall off. The major story is with one of the three towers – the one nearest to the river, naturally – which was completely cleansed of undesirables and sold instead as Z Apartments, luxury riverside living. It became a brief cause celebre via class war reality TV show The Tower.

All this, in theory, funds the regeneration, meaning in this case the cleaning and patching up, of the older buildings, or alternatively to their phased, currently seemingly stalled, demolition. None of the new buildings in the Pepys Estate – or anywhere else in London – have been council housing, though its regeneration has entailed several once council flats going private. The waiting list, nationally, is reckoned to be five million.

… for The London Column. © Owen Hatherley 2011.