The London Grill: Alan Gilbey

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.


[A]lan Gilbey is a genuine cockney, born within the sound of a sat-nav being stolen.  In his fifty or so years of failing to live somewhere other than the East End, he’s been a sickly school kid, a punk poet, a stand-up comic and a screenwriter, specialising in silly cartoons. A decade ago, with actor Steven Wells, he began Backpassage Walks to offer alternative ways of exploring East End history and so he could get out of the house more. His tours contain 100% less Jack the Rippers. Alan’s first book, East End Backpassages; an explorers guide’, was recently published by Quartet and you can find out more at Backpassage Tours.

What’s your secret London tip?
Well, my flat is a tip but I don’t think that’s a secret, so instead (tip 1) anything in the Trocadero and County Hall is rubbish and (tip two) rubbish can be a lot of fun.

What’s your secret London place?
Wapping Oldstairs, beside the Town Of Ramsgate in Wapping; a strange intimate place where you can talk to the Thames as it laps at your feet. It’s timeless, but loading with darker undertows. Slaves were once unloaded here – and newly executed pirates bodies were tied to a post and left until three tides had covered them as a warning to others. The crisps in the pub can be a bit stale too.

Back-passagesWhat’s your biggest gripe about London?

Borisbikes. Borisbusses. Borisstupidbloodycablecarthatgoesnowhereanyoneactually wantstogo. And Borisbloodyboris. “But he’s funny.” Shut up! “He has funny floppy hair.” Shut up! “He has baggy pants and a funny face.” So did Mussolini.

What’s your favourite building?
Tower Bridge because it looks so much like Tower Bridge. No other bridge anywhere or anywhen looks so overwhelmingly like itself than this daft and lovely thing. Opened in 1894 and much laughed at the time, it’s the symbolic gateway to the capital and for many years (until they enclosed the overhead walkways) a uniquely London place to top yourself.

What’s your most hated building?
The Tower Hotel, a nasty beige nineteen seventies building that spoils the view of Tower Bridge like an ugly kid leaning into your holiday snaps.

What’s the best view in London?
Either the classic – Island gardens, across the Thames, to Greenwich and up the hill or the reverse classic, on the hill, looking through Greenwich and across the Thames to the Isle Of Dogs, with Canary Wharf Bladerunning in the background.

What’s your personal London landmark?
Hanbury Street E1. Many of the funniest things that have ever happened on our guided tours have happened here for some reason. Once a rasta in a huge 1950’s open-top car passed by playing ‘Coward Of The County’ by Kenny Rogers at full blast while we were talking. Another time I had to run off to recover a forgotten prop and when I came back Steve was performing a new double act with a transvestite.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Mary Poppins – of course . . . if only for “We luvs ya – Moiry Pyopins.”

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
GOURMET SAN – 666 Pretendy Street. E2. You look in the window. You think ‘That Chinese restaurant is packed with Chinese people. Doesn’t that mean it must be good? You go in. It is. Really good and every dish is the size of Jodrell Bank. There’s pipes and tubes and feet on the menu, but you order a garlic duck stew instead, still cooking in a candlelit pot, and it’s the best thing you eat all year. You seriously consider not putting this place in your answers because very few people have picked up on it yet it’s already hard to get a seat. But you end up doing so anyway, although you lie about the address.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
That duck stew was really big.

What do you have to say for yourself?

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