The London Grill: Martin Pullen

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.

Martin Pullen

[A]ccording to the embarrassing publicity blurb for his book The Completely Useless Guide to London, Martin Pullen is a BAFTA-nominated animator and director of many children’s TV favourites, including Paddington Bear, The Wombles and Postman Pat. His greatest recollection of attending the BAFTA awards ceremony is standing at a urinal next to Bob Hoskins.

What’s your secret London tip?
Not exactly a secret, but London Open House weekend – 800 buildings and places not normally open to the public, all free, the ultimate in being a nosy neighbour. Otherwise, a guided London walk or lace up the boots and go exploring.

What’s your secret London place?
Supposedly, all maps include streets that don’t exist so as to catch anyone who copies the map without permission. I heard on a radio interview that the London A-Z includes the non-existent street of Gravelly Ho, though I am yet to find it. If any cabbies out there know of any such street then please do tell.

Useless GuideWhat’s your biggest gripe about London?
Pedestrian’s writing a text as they amble along, oblivious to the fact that other users of the pavement may be attempting to get somewhere. Step aside, write your text then continue on your journey at normal walking pace; you’ll arrive at your destination at the same time without frustrating other pavement users.

What’s your favourite building?
It’s no oil painting from the outside, but the Beam Engine House, part of the former sewage pumping station that’s currently being lovingly restored at Crossness in Thamesmead. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described it as ‘A masterpiece of engineering; a Victorian cathedral of ironwork’. It was from here that half of London’s Victorian untreated sewage was pumped into the Thames at high tide to float on the receding tide out to the open sea. It’s probably still out there, slowly making its way to Norway.

What’s your most hated building?
Why have one building if you can have two: On the eastern side of Charterhouse Square in Smithfield is Florin Court, a curvy Art Deco building seen on TV as Whitehaven Mansions, the home of Belgian private detective Hercule Poirot. In filming the building for the TV series, the cameras had to be carefully positioned to avoid capturing either Lauderdale or Shakespeare Tower, both part of the Barbican Estate. The view of the two brutally unpleasant 42-storey concrete tower blocks overshadowing the historic square is enough to have the countless victims of the Black Death, buried in Charterhouse Square in 1348, turning in their mass grave.

What’s the best view in London?
Having contacted my local MP, waited several months and then passed a security check that I’m sure included divulging my inside leg measurement, I gained a place on a tour of what was Westminster Clock Tower, now the Elizabeth Tower. The panoramic views from the belfry are as good as any high-rise view of London, but then turn around and there you stand, earplugs firmly in place, as right in front of you Big Ben bongs out the hour, as it has done over eight million times. It’s no wonder it has a crack in it.

What’s your personal London landmark?
I lived in Streatham for 25 years and would go out of my way to pass the water pumping station in Conyer’s Road. I know no more than it was built in 1888 and has copper-clad domes on the roof. You pass right by it on the train from Streatham Common to Balham.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
The London A-Z aside, I saw this book – the name of which escapes me – where the pages pulled out to reveal both banks of the River Thames as it flows through London, with the names of the buildings. Of all the films, I might go for something fun, like A Fish Called Wanda.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
I do enjoy a pint and Thursday night quiz in the Prince of Wales in Clapham Old Town.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Up early, full English and mug of coffee in a greasy spoon cafe then walk all day, with maybe the odd journey on public transport to rest the old plates, perhaps up The Monument, ending up in a window seat in a historic pub by the side of the Thames – maybe The Mayflower in Rotherhithe.

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