Today we expect the West End’s shopping streets to put up a show at Christmas, but during the 1960s this wasn’t the case, with only Oxford Street entering into the festive spirit.
The Regent Street Association realising their less prestigious cousin was taking all the compliments were not to be It’s that time of year when we expect Oxford and Regent Street to display for their customers a version of Christmas, and this year, for Oxford Street’s 60th anniversary, we’re promised an ‘environmentally-focussed’ event, reassuring their customers that no polar bears have been harmed in its production.
In the past we have been treated to some seasonal favourites: Marmite that much loved Christmas dinner treat and Regent Street was once given over to the soft drink Tango, which showered the area with bright orange bulbs and banners bearing the message “Tis the season to be Tango’d”.
Today advertisers hold sway, but during the 1960s this wasn’t the case. Only Oxford Street entering into the festive spirit, the Regent Street Association realising their less prestigious cousin was taking all the compliments were not to be outdone. They hired a well-known Italian designer charged with producing a ‘tasteful’ display to rival their competitor.
His solution was to produce giant white flying angels made out of papier-mâché posed with their faces looking down serenely at the crowds below.
London in those days was renowned for rain, in fact, you could spot an American a mile-off for they came here prepared for their visit wearing the ubiquitous white raincoat, Columbo style.
This particular November had seen an exceptional amount of rain, even by London standards.
The Italian designer just hadn’t taken in the fact that Northern Europe is considerably damper than the Mediterranean. Soon the press was running the story about Pregnant Angels, no doubt to the amusement of Oxford Street retailers.
Journalist and author Alf Townsend takes up the story:
I noticed a guy done up in heavy waterproof gear and wearing a yellow sou’wester. He was sitting on a cart that Westminster Council road sweepers used in those days and I thought to myself, “this bloke is out late”. He came over to ask for a light and we got talking. He said his job started after the traffic had died down and, picking up this long pole with a wicked-looking blade at the end, he told me that the pole could reach some 40 feet when it was extended. His job was to pierce the angel’s tummies and let the water out – hence his heavy waterproofs! We had a good laugh over it – especially when he said the guys back at the depot called him, “the Holy Terminator”.
The Regent Street ‘Angels’ can be found on the Guardian’s vintage photographs of Christmas in London.
Featured image: Regent Street – Angel Christmas Lights (2016-2018). The theme is angels, inspired by the first Regent Street Christmas lights in 1954, by Oast House Archive (CC BY-SA 2.0).