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.