I have been a member of the National Trust for the best part of 40 years, and over that time I’ve lost count of the number of scones and cups of coffee that I have consumed in their restaurants.
[I] TAKE AN INTEREST in all their properties but for Mrs CabbieBlog if the building is not Palladian in style with grounds landscaped by Capability Brown she’s not very interested.
So it was that I found myself unaccompanied in Bohemian Hampstead visiting 2 Willow Road.
2 Willow Road
In the 1930s, Hampstead became a magnet for progressive artists and writers. A colony developed in lower parts of Hampstead Village, in part due to the relatively cheap property prices. Despite most being left-wing rival fractions emerged between the Surrealists and the Abstractionists.
As life became increasingly uncomfortable in Europe this creative milieu was joined by many Jews, left-wingers, progressive artists and intellectuals all of whom the Nazi’s disapproved.
James Bond’s nemesis
Architect Ernõ Goldfinger arrived with his wife and son from Paris in 1934 and acquired a piece of land in Willow Road, occupied by four small cottages, where he intended to build a home for his family. Eventually, he persuaded the council to give permission to demolish the cottages and construct a modernist home flanked by smaller properties that were to be sold to finance the construction. The project was completed a short time before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Ernõ Goldfinger was later to become synonymous with designing Brutalist London tower blocks. The three below have all been given Grade II listing.
Alexander Fleming House at the Elephant and Castle renamed Metro Central.
Balfron Tower near the northern entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel.
Trellick Tower in north Kensington with flats selling for £375,000.
Although many residents of his soulless post-war developments might have cause to dislike the man; or a disgruntled employee, some of which could not tolerate his flamboyant bullying nature – he had been known for sacking his assistant if they were inappropriately jocular; or even the odd miffed client who was frog-marched out of his office after disagreeing with his proposals; of all people it was Ian Fleming the author of James Bond who clashed with him after writing his latest block-buster novel.
You can bet Fleming never lived in a high-rise flat designed Goldfinger nor was he an employee. The encounter was to be more prosaic.
In the 1950s, Ian Fleming’s regular golfing partner was a businessman called John Blackwell. One day, at the St George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, Blackwell mentioned that his cousin’s husband was the architect Ernö Goldfinger. Fleming liked the name ‘Goldfinger’ and thought he might be able to use it: he was always on the look-out for new or unusual names and had given several of his previous characters the names of real people and in fact in the final text of Goldfinger he used John Blackwell’s name (he was related to the Cross & Blackwell family) for a minor character.
A clash of egos
Ian Fleming had also been an objector to Ernõ Goldfinger’s proposal to build 2 Willow Road and probably delighted in creating Auric Goldfinger a 5ft imperious megalomaniac. When Ernõ Goldfinger’s business associate Jacob Blacker was asked for his opinion on the similarity between the fictional Goldfinger and his partner, he could only find one substantial difference “You’ve called Ernõ and he’s called Auric”.
Goldfinger threatened to sue, Fleming in a clash of egos was livid. He asked Cape, the publishers to insert an erratum slip in the first edition changing the character’s name to ‘Goldprick’. Lucky for Shirley Bassey – who sang the title song in the film – Cape demurred.
Common sense prevailed and Cape agreed to call the villain Auric Goldfinger throughout the book and insert the standard disclaimer at the front stating that all characters were fictional. They also paid all Ernõ Goldfinger’s legal costs.
However, Ian Fleming was to have the last laugh. When the film was released starring Sean Connery wags would ring 2 Willow Road singing the title song or worst would intone in a Scottish accent: “Goldfinger? Thish ish Dobble Oh Sheven”.
Main picture: Ernõ Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower, London W10. “I built skyscrapers for people to live in there and now they messed them up — disgusting.” Photo by See Wah, used under Creative Commons licence).
A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 26th November 2013