London inspirations

John Logie Baird plaque

(picture courtesy of Malcolm Edwards

Last week I was asked to commit a dozen of the places that most inspire me in my native city, London, to video for a ‘Design Inspiration’ event at the old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane next week. Of course I laboured over my list and tried out various permutations. Alfie Dennen kindly bought me a copy of Ed Glinert’s London Compendium to help, which by coincidence I first spied in a bookshop window in Brick Lane a couple of years ago but didn’t nab. In the end I pretty much went with my gut-instinct first list. I was driven around in a Nissan Cube (which basically looks like Postman Pat’s van done all in white – think I may go on holiday in one to Greendale some time)  and rabbited away on camera – good fun (for me at least). Here’s where the Cube was headed…

1. My house

I love the view from home because it is just 5 miles from Charing X-marks-the-spot at the centre of London and yet it looks like this – capturing the surprises brought to you by the quirkiness of urban development in the city, and the diversity of the place as my allotment-side neighbours are Portuguese, Greek, Eastern European, Hollowayish and from all manner of origins.

2. St Pancras & Islington Cemetery

It’s where I go jogging (a memento mori, jog or you’ll end up in here with us) so I’m a bit of an expert on London’s biggest cemetery, established in 1854. It’s got a few famous people in it like the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown (and Alfie’s gran) but it’s not one of those kind of graveyards, it’s punctuated with quirky stuff and I picked out the beribonned dog grave for some dumb Edwardian schmuck who died saving a canine companion from drowning in Highgate Ponds.

3. The Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley

We filmed in the auditorium which captures my love of both cinema and art deco. It’s the oldest purpose-built cinema in the UK, opened in 1910, called The Rex when my mum lived round the corner as a young girl. I do a little pro bono work there (currently trying to set up a fund-raiser screening of Film4’s Nowhere Boy to help raise the last £92,000 to enable the restoration project to mark its centenary next year). You can give a few shekels here if the urge takes you – really a good cause, especially if you love Cinema.

4. Whitestone Pond / Hampstead Heath

A great view over all of London, painted by the likes of Constable and the aforementioned Ford Maddox Brown. You look out over the Heath and the sheltered island of Victorian dwellings known as the Vale of Health. DH Lawrence among other blue plaquers lived down there – we share a birthday (with Herbert Lom and John Martyn too) and by Whitestone Pond is where I was born. The maternity hospital has since closed and become an old age home so I’m doing my best to get back there and complete the full circle.

5. The Electric Ballroom, Camden Town

Representing my love of Music – it’s where I first saw The Clash, one of the most exciting musical experiences of my life. Down the other end of Camden High Street I saw Siouxsie and the Banshees play at the Music Machine (now Koko or whatever its called these duller days), so this was the locus of my middle-class punk days.

6. St Pancras Church, Euston

A different kind of example of London’s quirkiness. The four caryatids holding up the roof – look at them carefully [below]… a bit on the squat side no? That’s because they were delivered the wrong size and they had to cut a bit out of their Grecian bellies.

7. The newsagent’s in Dean Street, Soho

As a small child I got out the car under the distinctive scrolled sign on my way to De Lane Lea sound studios to watch Eastern European animations being dubbed into English. Years later I noticed it again walking through Soho to my first job in the film/TV industry in Marshall Street. So it symbolises a lifetime’s passion for moving pictures.

8. Bar Italia

I love the blue plaque above the cafe which says something along the lines of TV was invented in this room. Typical British understatement…

9. Cutlers’ Hall

This year I became a Liveryman at the Cutlers’ Company. It’s a long story but it started by getting an educational scholarship from them when I was at school to study in France the year before I went to uni. I’m now involved in helping spread the love and cash to schools, fencers, surgeons and other worthwhile beneficiaries. I was standing at an event in the Mansion House in 2005 when I was first embarking on Lost Generation and the stuff on the walls reminded me how much I loved London and prompted me to become part of the fabric of the City of London.

10. A view of St Paul’s Cathedral and the  OXO Tower

I proposed in the Whispering Gallery at the base of the dome from 35 yards away. My other half gave me my wedding ring in the top O of the OXO Tower when it was a building site during renovation. Between the two runs the sweet River, lifeblood of the city.

11. The Festival Hall

I love the design and interior. My mum’s brilliant art teacher, Abram Games, designed the Festival of Britain logo. We picked up the BAFTA there this year for Embarrassing Bodies. Loads of lovely associations.

12. Tate Britain

Represents my passion for Art, though most of the Modernism I particularly adore has moved downstream to Bankside. I love the streets behind and the bomb damage to the side wall (a lucky escape, the place must be blessed).

Feel free to leave your own London inspirations below…

St Pancras Church, Euston

It all went belly up

1 comment so far

  1. […] Foley Artist Barnaby Smyth illustrated his cinematic art (sound effects) with a scene from Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy movie which he worked on. He then did a live demo (for which we all closed our eyes, no peeking), memorably using tearing celery to create the sound of a corpse being ripped apart by dogs. TTSS was made at DeLane Lea which reminded me of my introduction to moving picture media as a child at DeLane Lea in Dean Street, watching Hungarian TV puppet shows for kids being dubbed into English by Louis Elman, as recalled here. […]

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