Tag Archives: London films

Where are we?

They would say that if The Knowledge wasn’t taking over your life, you weren’t doing it right. The problem, once qualified, is that it doesn’t leave you.

Soon after receiving my Green Badge, I watched one of my favourite London films, Brannigan, starring John Wayne as a Chicago detective. It is as if Visit London had commissioned Paul Greengrass to direct a travel documentary aimed at American tourists.

Fast-paced it has The Duke pursuing villains around London with each shot featuring a tourist destination and his ability to cross the capital at speed is impressive.

One minute he’s in Battersea’s Prince of Wales Drive (my first question on The Knowledge), then next Buckingham Palace appears behind his shoulder as he tears around London. Within minutes he is driving his 1973 Ford Capri over an opening Tower Bridge in pursuit of justice.

Watching dramas at home I’m still forever trying to spot the location, no matter how tight the shot.

I’ve spotted Bridget Jones’ flat above the Globe pub on Bedale Street, just around the corner from Borough Market. Another market easily identified was Leadenhall Market in one of the Harry Potter sequels.

You can tell when a film is getting tedious when instead of listening to the dialogue I try to locate the exact street. Having worked in Clerkenwell my concentration was focused in and around the diamond district in The Hatton Garden Job, by my reckoning the ‘job’ was on the corner of Greville Street and Hatton Garden.

Years earlier a group of us rode our motorcycles to Pride and Clarke in Stockwell Road, London’s biggest motorcycle dealer known as ‘Snide and Shark’. Our long trek was partly due to its appearance in Blow-Up with David Hemmings driving a Rolls Royce past the blood-red building, but more I suspect his co-star – Veruschka a 6’4″ model. Then decades later I spotted the shop now painted white when on The Knowledge.

In Killing Eve I identified the Barbican Estate, but couldn’t place the ‘nearby’ churchyard, not surprising it was St. George in the East in Shadwell.

But the one that has evaded me is 221b Baker Street in the latest BBC adaption of Sherlock Holmes. The famous sleuth’s flat is above Speedy’s Sandwich Bar and isn’t to be found in Baker Street. Sadly I had to resort to the world wide web to find it’s just around the corner in Euston Road.

All our yesterdays

I should have named this post ‘All our great-great-grandparents yesterdays’. Yestervid have collected a series of old films from the early days of film (1890-1920) and produced a truly fascinating video.

In March 2015, old footage was researched and collected from various credible sources. The original shots were then recreated by visiting sites across London. The footage was carefully matched up, arranged by location.

[T]hey show London with its fogs, horses and general chaos side-by-side with the identical modern scenes from the same vantage point. And for those less familiar with London a handy map pin-pointing their locations.

With a perfectly matched soundtrack forty-six shots from Tower Bridge (still heavy with traffic, albeit horses) to Trafalgar Square (almost traffic free) to St. Paul’s once standing proud unoverlooked at the summit of Ludgate Hill which now peers out between skyscrapers more akin to a sci-fi city.

One of the most memorable shots is of The Tower of London grey in black-and-white film alongside a bright red sea of poppies from 2014’s Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.

The final shot is of a grainy Trafalgar Square in 1890 claimed to be the oldest moving picture of London.


Television’s Dickens

Jack Rosenthal

It was last year when walking down a high street in Dorset when I saw in the window of a charity shop Jack Rosenthal’s autobiography for the bargain price of £3.

Having always liked his plays I could not wait to get home to start reading, but when I opened its first pages what surprised me was to find the text had been written in the format of a play.

The early disappointment quickly dissipated for when I started reading the book Jack just seemed to leap from each page with life’s anecdotes narrated with pathos and humility, with beautiful observations of the inherent caricature in human behaviour.

[H]is death in 2004 led The Guardian to dub him ‘television’s Charles Dickens’, now next week on 7th February marks the bi-centenary of Dickens’s birth and you are going to hear an awful lot about Dickensian London, but nearly eight years after his death not much of our own master Twentieth Century wordsmith who also based many of his stories around London.

So in the interest of balance I have selected a play that defined one of the iconic characters of the Capital from the dozens of scripts that he wrote. For we London’s cabbies he is best known for his 1979 play The Knowledge. It was the last one-off drama ever to be made by Euston Films, filmed around central London (watch out for a prime piece of ‘George Davis is innocent OK’ graffiti), which features outside shots of the old Carriage Office in Penton Street along with some pretty run down parts of London.

Known for his attention to detail and creating credible characters, good research played a large part in writing The Knowledge he spent many hours amongst the cabbie fraternity, and in so doing Jack was granted an honoury taxi driver’s license in the process.

The story charts the trials and tribulations of four men attempting to learn the knowledge to become a London cabbie. Chris played by Mick Ford is the youngest of the four, he is on the dole and given up all hope of finding a job. Dippy and dopey he is encouraged to start the knowledge by his exasperated girlfriend Janet (“Look, I can’t help the word ‘job’ coming up in the conversation, it’s a word!”), eventually he becomes so engrossed in learning the knowledge his girlfriend decides it’s either the knowledge or her in their relationship – she loses. Gordon played by the late Michael Elphick is a cowboy builder and serial womaniser (“Ignorance is bliss. My wife is completely blissful about the whole thing.”), who leaves behind his irate wife (played by Jack Rosenthal wife Maureen Lipman) to spend half of his time learning London’s road routes and use it as an excuse to carry on an extra-marital affair. Jonathan Lynn plays Ted Margolis who comes from a Jewish cabbie dynasty and is the most confident of the quartet and is quickly pages ahead of his fellow Knowledge boys in memorizing the routes but makes the mistake of trying to ingratiate himself with Mr. Burgess, nicknamed The Vampire played with delicious sadistic pleasure by Nigel Hawthorne (“I won’t take offence if anyone here decides to call me ‘Sir’”) and lastly the elderly Walters (David Ryall), is so much one of life’s losers he is nicknamed ‘Titanic’ who views The Knowledge an escape from his uncommunicative wife. He attempts to learn all the runs on a bicycle and farcically wobbles all around London in an effort to do so – frequently falling from his bike.

At intervals they are called in to see Mr. Burgess for an appearance, which involves the student attempting to describe verbally the runs whilst Burgess endeavours to put them off with a series of diversions often involving throwing water or putting Vick nasal inhalers up his nose. Gordon is kicked off the Knowledge for losing his temper while being tested by the Vampire. Ted Margolis of course passes with flying colours only to lose his licence the day he gets it after going to a pub with the rest of the boys to celebrate passing. Chris passes and then is admonish by a passenger when he gets the first route he learnt – Manor House to Gibson Square – for being cheeky and Titanic scrapes through and leaves his wife. He tells the boys she begged him to come back, when truly it can be heard her shouting,”Piss off and don’t come back”.

Jack Rosenthal’s prime interest lay in the way people interacted with each other, much like Charles Dickens, and in the relationship between individuals and institutions. In much of his work he wrote about particular groups of working men, The Knowledge was about trainee taxi drivers, London’s Burning was about firemen, and Dustbinmen was about dustmen. In each he deftly observed the conflict between the aspirations of the protagonists and what others demanded of them.

My fifteen minutes


[R]ecently I was contacted by the BBC London Arts Unit with a view to my contributing to a documentary they were making to be transmitted in the run up to the 2012 Olympics. Entitled ”A Picture of London’ the assistant producer/researcher explained to me over the phone that they wanted to feature a number of people who work and live in the capital, who would relate their favourite places in London.

Meeting with the documentary’s producer in of all places the Museum of Childhood – would that be a reflection of childhood memories – he explained over a cup of coffee that they were filming about nine individuals and some would eventually end up on the proverbial cutting room floor.

Filming was scheduled for a Sunday evening a week or so later to rendezvous in a car park near Tower Bridge. My cab had a camera mounted on its bonnet by the grips man Garth (I had always wondered what grips were) and after about half an hour we were driving to Battersea via Tower Bridge.

One of my favourite spots in London is the beautiful Georgian church of St. Mary’s perched above the Thames in Battersea. It is said that Turner painted some of his rivers cape studies of light from the vestry window of the church and was rowed over every day by his servant in order that he might paint.

While taking numerous zoom shots of the cab approaching the water’s edge we were scrutinised by the River Police inquisitive of our intentions. It was explained to me that this was an occupational hazard of film units and they had already been stopped more than once that day.

Next was a drive across the capital with a camera pointing into my left ear with me trying to negotiate London’s traffic while commentating of what life was like for a London cabbie, not as easy as it looks with everybody cutting you up.

One arrival at the London Zoo (where both my father and grandfather worked) it was pitch dark but that didn’t stop them taking another round of rolling shots of the cab, which again drew the attention of this time the Zoo’s security staff, hardly surprising as the main entrance by now was illuminated by their floodlights. A short piece of commentary by me as an audio recording rounded off the day.

Would I be contacted again by the BBC? Could this mark a career in broadcasting? These thoughts ran through my, by now, exhausted head.

Two weeks later I picked up a copy of our trade’s newspaper, there inside was a full page article written by the doyen of cabbie journalism – Al Fresco – writer, raconteur, sometime editor and a cabbie of some 40 years, describing how on a Sunday morning recently he was filming for the BBC.

How could I compete? Here was an erudite part time journalist, old fashioned Jewish cabbie who had more tales of London’s East End after the war, a place where most of the cabbies hailed from at the time, featuring in a documentary entitled A Picture of London.

Oh well! My Andy Warhol moment will have to wait.

On location in London

[L]ondon has always been a producers dream when looking for locations for their latest project. If it wasn’t for the weather, which of course is why Hollywood was originally chosen, many more cinematographic delights would be shot here in London.

So today I give you CabbieBlog’s top 10 films shot on location in London.

Brannigan Brannigan (1975)
John Wayne as Jim Brannigan who is sent to London to bring back an American mobster being held for extradition, but when he arrives, the prisoner has been kidnapped.

I think the producers of this film were the London Tourist Board, for every time Brannigan steps out of his flat in Prince of Wales Drive, Battersea we are treated to views of London. The speed of the cars is remarkable, one minute we are crossing Chelsea Bridge and seconds later Tower Bridge has miraculously appeared ahead of us. I wish driving in London was that easy, but there again I’m not “The Duke”.

Notting Hill Notting Hill (1999)
A tousled haired tosser living the life of a simple bookshop owner has his life changed when he meets the most famous film star in the world, he’s in love but will she fall for him?

Richard Curtis wrote this script around his own neighbourhood and in the process substantially increased the value of his own house and focussed attention on what is one of the most overrated districts of London. In the film Hugh Grant lived at 280 Westbourne Park Road, sadly, the blue door has now been replaced.

The_Lavender_Hill_Mob The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
Filmed at a time when Clapham was not regarded as South Chelsea, it was then just a working class area with chirpy London crooks. Looking at it now you realise just how grim London looked after the war.

Alec Guinness plays a bank transfer agent who has overseen the taking delivery of gold bullion for the past 20 years. One day he befriends Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway), a maker of souvenirs and together they plan to forge the stolen gold into harmless-looking toy Eiffel Towers and smuggle it out England into France.

Ealing Studios while planning the bank-robbery film, asked the Bank of England to devise a way in which a million pounds could be stolen from the bank. A special committee was created to come up with an idea, and their plan is the one used in the film.

10 Rillington Place 10 Rillington Place (1971)
Based on the true story of British mass-murderer John Reginald Christie, (played brilliantly by Richard Attenborough), who drugged, raped, and strangled eight women (one of whom was his wife) between 1940 and 1953, hiding their bodies in the garden as well as in a large cupboard, which he then covered up with wallpaper inside his home.

A place of such great infamy that following the John Christie murders (and Sir Ludovic Kennedy’s book) the road was renamed Rushton Close before being pulled down completely. Today part of Bartle Road occupies the site.

Alfie Alfie (1966)
With the Sixties in full swing and London the centre of the Universe, Michael Caine shot to stardom as a callous Cockney womaniser.

Filmed around King’s Cross with the famous Victorian gasometers much in evidence in the background the gasometers  are now being reinstated behind the station. Alfie’s seedy bedsite at 29 St Stephen’s Gardens hasn’t really changed at all, apart from the inevitable gentrification Notting Hill.

My-beautiful-laundrette My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Writer Hanif Kureishi deliberately spelt launderette incorrectly but we can forgive him with this feel good film set within the Asian community in South London during the Thatcher years. Displaying those values expounded at the time of money, hard work and “anybody can make it”. The young Asian entrepreneur employs his school friend Daniel Day Lewis (before he became a Mohican) to help run his business.

Set around Wandsworth it depicts this area of south London area perfectly in the 1980s and of Londoners attitude towards the growing Asian population.

Shaun-of-the-Dead Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Hold on, a British comedy that’s smart, not by Richard Curtis and funny? Based on the simplest of premises: In a city packed with blank-eyed wage slaves and whacked-out club heads, how long would it take us to notice the arrival of George A. Romero’s lumbering, flesh-chomping undead? Filmed around north London with extras looking like some of my passengers on a Saturday night.

Mona Lisa Mona Lisa (1986)
With Bob Hoskins and Michael Caine in a film of London gangsters how could I leave it out of my top ten? A sad and sensitive portrayal of a small-time crook trying to fit into a world that simultaneously rejects and baffles him following his belated release from prison. He takes the only job he can get to ferry high-class hooker Simone (Cathy Tyson) between assignations in a melancholically sleazy London. Avert your eyes in the torture scenes.

Shakespeare in love Shakespeare in Love (1998)
This is multi-Oscar winner one of my favourite films of all time. Young aspiring playwright William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) struggles to write Romeo and Ethel, The Pirate’s Daughter and aristocrat Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) defies the convention by wanting to act. Although the drama takes place in London the “Rose Theatre” is a set built for the movie. The real Rose, where Shakespeare’s earlier plays were first performed, was actually uncovered during building work in Southwark in the late Eighties, and a massive campaign was launched to preserve it. The property developers eventually agreed to preserve the theatre in the basement of the new building. The Rose Theatre site is now operated by the Exhibitions Department of Shakespeare’s Globe who offer tours of the site with their guides.

Elephant Man Elephant Man (1980)
Based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, played by John Hurt (once a passenger of mine), a 19th-century Englishman afflicted with a disfiguring congenital disease. The film captures our idea of Victorian East London; monochrome, foggy and extreme poverty. Filmed at the old Eastern Hospital on Homerton Row, Lower Clapton which has now been replaced by the spanking new hospital. The Eastern stood in for the “London Hospital” on Whitechapel Road where Merrick ended his days.

Other films with London places in their title:

Balham Gateway to the South (1971)
Les Bicyclettes de Belsize (1968)
A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (1979)
The Bermondsey Kid (1933)
Imelda Marcos of Bethnal Green (2004)
The Britannia Billingsgate (1933)
The Blackheath Poisonings (1992)
Tilly of Bloomsbury (1921)
Bond Street (1948)
84 Charing Cross Road (1987)
Chelsea Girls with Andy Warhol (1976)
Joe Brown at Clapham (1965)
The Courtneys of Curzon Street (1947)
Deptford Graffiti (1991)
The Girl from Downing Street (1918)
Duchess of Duke Street (1976)
East End Hustle (1976)
Greek Street (1930)
Greenwich Mean Time (1999)
The Lonely Lady from Grosvenor Square (1922)
Half Moon Street (1986)
The Foxes of Harrow (1945)
The Monster of Highgate Ponds (1961)
Hyde Park Corner (1935)
No. 5 John Street (1922)
The Kensington Mystery (1924)
The Lambeth Walk (1939)
It Happened in Leicester Square (1949)
A Murder in Limehouse (1919)
East of Ludgate Hill (1937)
Murder in Mayfair (1942)
A Park Lane Scandal (1915)
Die Ballade von Peckham Rye (1966)
Piccadilly Playtime (1936)
Passport to Pimlico (1949)
Fly a Flag for Poplar (1974)
Horace of Putney (1923)
The Duchess of Seven Dials (1920)
Siege of Sidney Street (1960)
Emmanuelle in Soho (1981)
Soap Opera in Stockwell (1973)
The Stratford Adventure (1954)
Victoria (1995)
Waterloo Road (1945)
Mr Palfrey of Westminster (1984)
The Black Sheep of Whitehall (1941)
The Wimbledon Poisoner (1994)
Barretts of Wimpole Street (1956)

Though these images may subject to copyright, the author of CabbieBlog believes they may be used on this post because: they’re a low resolution copy of a film poster; it doesn’t limit the copyright owner’s rights to sell the film in any way, in fact, it may encourage sales; because of the low resolution, copies could not be used to make illegal copies of the image; the image itself could be a subject of discussion in the article; and the image is significant because it was used to promoted a notable film. For further clarification click this link.