Category Archives: Puppydog tails

The Yellow Peril

Call me a naïve cabbie – something I am often accused – but I thought that the yellow police appeal signs were a sensible way of helping to solve crime and not merely a vulgar way to decorate and bring colour to London’s streets.

But it would appear the bright yellow police signs appealing for witnesses to serious offences will no longer decorate London’s streets.

[I]n an attempt to reduce ‘fear of crime’, the Metropolitan Police has effectively banned the use of the distinctive signs in all but exceptional circumstances. Presumably rape, murder, serious assault and armed robbery don’t constitute ‘exceptional circumstances’, because they were the only ones to gaily bring colour to the pavements of Brixton and Peckham.

Now officers can request their use in exceptional circumstances, but any such requests must be authorised by a ‘specialist crime directorate commander’. So I want you all to go down to your local nick and request to talk to your ‘specialist crime directorate commander’. He’s not to be confused with the odd job crime directorate commander who’s in charge minor crimes like dropping litter and allowing your dog to foul the pavement.

Someone in the higher echelons of the Met has become aware that in crime hotspots several yellow signs were being put up at once and presumably thought it showed the police in a bad light, as if crime was out of control.

As a London cabbie I know that the Met are doing their best at preventing ‘specialist crime’, I see dozens of police in yellow high visibility jackets on the streets every night stopping motorists. But doesn’t that make it look that motoring offences are out of control?

Only in England

At the time of writing this post there have been 528 people standing on The Plinth in Antony Gormley’s One & Other. We have had among others Lord Lucan, Elvis Presley, a gorilla and a pigeon. Then there was a guy who just improved his golf swing.

So far they have braved thunderstorms, torrential rain, unseasonably cold weather and heckling from patrons of nearby hostelries.

[I]n total 2,400 Plinthers (they now have a name) will stand 23ft above Trafalgar Square protected by safety netting or is the netting to stop the public climbing up to stop them? Four security guards and a cherry picker crane helping them to the summit, carrying what props they need for their ’15 minutes of fame’.

When Sir Charles Barry designed Trafalgar Square in the 1840s he included four plinths. One carries a statue of George IV while two others have statues of the generals Sir Charles James Napier and Sir Henry Havelock.

The fourth plinth, in the north-west corner, was intended to hold a statue of King William IV on horseback but the money ran out. To this day no agreement has been reached on who should be celebrated there.

True to British propensity to compromise, in the mid-Nineties the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group was set up to fill the gap with a series of temporary art commissions, the most controversial being Marc Quinn’s sculpture, Alison Lapper Pregnant. One & Other is the site’s most ambitious project to date, and will run until October 14.

Antony Gormley who’s art always seems to depict the human body has struck a blow for the ingenuity and the eccentricity of the British, with One & Other it is a glorious celebration of all things we love. More tea vicar?

David v Goliath

[T]he English will always cheer an underdog – no matter if they are English, Scottish or even French – in the interests of fair play, another ideal the English hold in equally high esteem. The English have always loved the underdog: ‘Eddie the Eagle’ Britain’s first (and only) Olympic Ski jumper was ranked 55th in the world at Calgary’s winter Olympics in 1988 and Eddie had all of England cheering for him.

We are a small nation who have taken on giants giving us a David versus Goliath mentality. As a fellow “David” let me relate to you a story while trying hard to conceal a smirk.

wickhamsold The old Wickhams department store on Mile End Road, completed 1927, is a masterpiece of thwarted desire. Although called the “Harrods of the East”, its architectural model was Selfridges, its facade; a confident parade of giant iconic columns in imitation of the Oxford Street version. It even goes one better by having a tower in the centre: Gordon Selfridge planned one for his store but never achieved it.

All would have been perfect had it not been for the Spiegelhalters, a family of jewellers who owned a two-storey building near the middle of the site. They were descendants of the first Mr Spiegelhalter who had set up shop in Whitechapel in 1828 after coming to Britain from Germany.

wickhamsnow The business had moved to 81 Mile End Road in 1880. The Spiegelhalters refused every inducement to sell up, causing an exceptional case of colonnadus interruptus, their little structure causing the march of columns to stop and start again. It also meant the tower was built slightly off-centre. The original idea for Selfridges — a completed colonnade plus a tower — was fated to be achieved in neither Oxford Street nor Mile End Road.

Spiegelhalter What we have instead is more interesting, a graphic demonstration how competing ambitions and sheer obstinacy shape a city. As it turned out the Spiegelhalters lasted longer. Wickhams closed in the Sixties.
Is there a lesson to be learnt here?

Max Miller says goodbye

[I]t is hard to believe now but once, and I’m afraid you will have to take my word for this, once Leicester Square was a rather splendid public space. But in 1936 town planners decided to steal a march on Hitler and start destroying London first.

The old Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square was a prime site for ‘redevelopment’. Max Miller who at the time was probably the most famous entertainer in England, heard it was being demolished and went along for a last look at the theatre he’d performed at on many occasions.

When he arrived at lunchtime on hearing that the famous stage was about to be taken down he climbed on the boards and gave the workmen a hilarious one hour performance. Ten minutes after he’d finished, the stage was gone for ever.

Near the end of his life he confessed that his proudest professional moment was; as he put it “closing the old Alhambra”.

With the prospect of strikes by public service workers imminent I will leave you with a picture of Leicester Square the last time there was industrial action by dustmen.

Leicester Square

Goodbye Hippodrome

London Hippodrome After over 100 years of providing theatrical entertainment, which has seen some top acts of the day, one of the capital’s most historic theatres closes its doors tomorrow.

The London Hippodrome, to the east of Leicester Square and built in 1900 by Frank Matcham as a hippodrome for circus and variety performances, it gave its first circus show on 15 January 1900.

With a spectacle unheard of in London at the time, you would enter the theatre via a replica of a ship’s saloon with a performance space featuring both a proscenium stage and an arena that sank into a 230ft, 100,000 gallon water tank for aquatic spectacles.

[T]he auditorium could also be flooded, and used for the entry of boats. Shows included equestrian acts, elephants and polar bears, and acrobats who would dive from a minstrel gallery above a sliding roof, in the centre of the proscenium arch. The auditorium featured cantilevered galleries, removing the columns that often obstructed views in London theatres; the whole was covered by a painted glass retractable roof that could be illuminated at night.

In 1909, it was reconstructed by Matcham as a music-hall and variety theatre with 1,340 seats in stalls, mezzanine, gallery, and upper gallery levels. It was here that Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake received its English première by the Russian Ballet in 1910 and Harry Houdini among others appeared.

In 1958 in an act of vandalism the original interior was demolished and the London Hippodrome was converted into the cabaret restaurant, “Talk of the Town”, featuring many of the popular artists of the time, including appearances by Judy Garland, Eartha Kitt, Shirley Bassey, the Temptations and the Seekers’ final concert was recorded for the album “The Seekers: Live at The Talk of the Town” in 1968.

The Hippodrome is to undergo an extensive restoration programme taking it back to Matcham’s original 1909 design but unfortunately it will not reopen as a theatre but as a casino. It will also have yet another Gordon Ramsay restaurant, his 15th in London.

Just why do we need yet another casino in London, we are not Monte Carlo? London is the world’s hub for live theatre with over 100 major venues and numerous fringe theatres, so many in fact that you could go to a different production every night of the year.

If you want more information on the history of theatre go to The Music Hall and Theatre Site dedicated to Arthur Lloyd 1839-1904.

Picture Credit: Jacqueline Banerjee at Victorian Web.