Ken Russell’s Post-War London

Before he became a controversial and world-renowned film director, Ken Russell struggled to earn a living as a photographer in London during the mid-to-late 1950s.
(The images can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

A street entertainer in west London. You can see Ken’s director’s eye in this photo.

Little girls playing in the street with a pram and a tricycle. Once again, we see how they were completely unsupervised by adults or parents.

‘Teddy Girls’. These were the girlfriends of the Teddy Boys, followers of Rock and Roll music who dressed in an Edwardian style. Hence their popular name.

Children playing on a bomb site. They have constructed their own version of an adventure playground with whatever debris they could find.

This lady had tried to sell her novels for over 30 years. She eventually gave up, and pasted her numerous rejection letters onto a wall near her house.

Sandwich Board men. They would walk the streets wearing those signs advertising all kinds of different things. The pay was low, but cash in hand. Russell called this photo ‘Old Soldiers’, indicating that many men had left the army with no jobs to go to, and had to resort to such lowly employment.

Two children playing in the rain in west London. They only have some wire milk crates to amuse themselves with.

London in the 1950s and 1960s: Random Images

These various images of London life in the late 1950s and 1960s appealed to me.

A South London school class, 1950s. The children have dressed smartly for the photo, and the teacher seems quite old by modern standards.

Excited children crowd around a horse and cart on a South London housing estate, early 1960s.

Joyce and her husband serving up Pie and Mash in their South London pie shop, early 1960s.

A Covent Garden Market porter balancing produce baskets on his special hat. Early 1950s.

Two happy ladies outside a pub they have just left. Early 1960s.

A much younger Rod Stewart photographed with Long John Baldry in Central London, 1967.

Housewives chatting after hanging out their washing inside the housing estate, 1960s.

A fashionable lady wearing her real fur, early 1960s.

The popular jellied eel stall of the famous Tubby Isaacs, early 1960s. The stall was in the same spot in East London from 1919-2013, run by successive members of the same family.

More Of ‘My’ London

I found some more old photos of the area I lived in until I was 15 years old.

Aylwin Girls’ Grammar School Bermondsey, late 1950s. My cousin went there. It is now called The Harris Academy.

Boys window shopping at a toy shop. Elephant and Castle area, 1960.

Work clothes and overalls for sale. East Street Market, 1960s.

An early self-service supermarket. Elephant and Castle, 1960s.

Some residents of Reverdy Road Bermondsey with their milkman, 1970.

St James’s Church, Bermondsey. My parents married in this church in 1947.

The Norwegian Church, Rotherhithe. Originally for sailors from the nearby docks to use. Still a church, and also a centre for the culture of Norway.

More Of My London Memories In Photos

I managed to find an interesting selection of photos covering the period from 1957-1966. At the time, I was aged 5-14, but not much changed during those nine years.

Small boys collecting Train Numbers at a mainline station, late 1950s. Hard to believe now, but that was a ‘big thing’ up until the late 1960s. I did it a few times with friends in the school holidays.

People queuing to buy groceries from an open air shop, 1957.

‘Glamour girls’ being used to promote cycling as healthy, early 1960s.

The Supremes (with Diana Ross) taking a photo opportunity with some rag and bone men, mid 1960s.

A respectable young couple on an underground train, early 1960s.

A gang of ‘Teddy Boys’, late 1950s. These fans of Rock and Roll music were known for their violence and street fighting.

Mods on their Italian scooters, mid 1960s.

Soho, 1966. A ‘Sex Shop’and Striptease show combined.

Soho, 1966. A ‘Sex Cinema’.

Soho, 1966. A Strip Club.

The famous ‘2 i’s’ coffee bar, Soho. Many pop stars of the day were discovered there, including the young Cliff Richard. (Photographed in 1966)

London Nostalgia In Photos: Street Markets

Pets were often sold on the streets. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen now.

Club Row Market. East London, late 1950s.

Petticoat Lane Market. East London, early 1960s.

It was also possible to buy more exotic animals, like this little monkey, or large parrot.
Petticoat Lane Market, early 1960s.

Lambeth Walk General Market. South London, early 1960s.

Pearly Kings and Queens dancing ‘The Lambeth Walk’ in Lambeth Walk Market. Late 1950s.

Lewisham Market, South London. 1967.

East Street Market, South London. Late 1960s.

New Caledonian Antiques Market. South London, late 1960s.

Chapel Street Market, North London. Having corns removed in the street, 1959.

Brick Lane Market, East London. This photo is from 1983, and shows how little had changed.

Yet More Nostalgic Photos

I cannot seem to get enough of these memories!

A seafood seller outside a London pub, 1960s.

A man selling live eels from a market stall. London, 1960.

A mussel stall. London, 1956.

A grocer’s shop selling fresh fruit and vegetables. 1969.

A bus conductor on his platform, 1967. (Buses no longer have conductors.)

The view on the top deck of a double decker bus, 1960s.

Queuing for the ice-cream man, 1969.

A carefully-posed interior shot of a London Underground train, 1972.

Using a lamp-post as a swing, 1960.

A Ford Capri parked outside a Wimpy Bar. South London, 1970s. (I loved Wimpy Bars, and once owned a Ford Capri.)

More Childhood Memories In Photos

Free school milk.

To help combat vitamin deficiencies, school children were given free milk to drink at school. In 1968, the free milk for chidren over eleven was withdrawn, and in 1979, it was withdrawn from children over seven. To be the ‘milk monitor’ for the day was a prized job, as you could drink the extra milk declined by some of your classmates.

Sweet Shops.

Dedicated sweet shops could be found everywhere. You could buy sweets for as little as ‘4 for a Penny’, and the choice was huge. The sweets would be weighed, and put into little white paper bags. I still remember the wonderful smell inside those shops.

The Coalman.

When I was very young, our coal was delivered on a horse and cart. The arrival of the coalman was greeted with excitement by gardeners, as they would shovel up any horse manure for use in their back gardens. By the time I was around nine years old, the horses were being replaced by lorries that could hold a greater weight of coal.

The Milkman.

Home deliveries of milk were also done by horses, and that went on well into my youth. Once again, expectant gardeners would be waiting hopefully with their shovels and buckets.

Rag and Bone Man.

These men were also known as ‘Totters’. They used horses well into the 1980s, and some still do. They accepted any old clothes, rags, or pieces of cloth. Also animal bones. The rags would be sold to companies that recycled them into clothing, and the bones were sold to factories for use in fertilizers.

The Mangle.

Every household had a mangle, used to remove excess water from washed clothing and bedding before it was hung out to dry. I used to help my grandmother with hers, by turning the handle that operated the rollers. The one in this photo appears to have its own electric motor, as the lady is not turning a handle.

Two Balls Up The Wall.

In my childhood, this was the most popular game for a child that had nobody to play with, especially girls.

Tower Bridge ‘Beach’.

With London being so far from the coast, (around 55 miles) residents made the best of what was on offer, the banks of the River Thames at low tide. This old photo shows sand has been added to the riverbank, but most of the time it was just mud.

Cycling Safety.

Once you learned how to ride a bicycle, you could opt for Cycling Safety and Proficiency classes that were held in the school playground on certain days. The instructor was usually a local policeman.

Friendly Racism

We live in a world where racism is being addressed and challenged like never before. Black Lives Matter, debates on slavery and removal of statues, equal opportunities in education, job discrimination, positive discrimination by having quotas of non-whites in TV advertising and films, as well as in some industries.

And much more, even extending to the censorship and banning of some books.

Then we saw the now-famous Oscar ceremony ‘slap’. Two black men having a dispute in front of a mainly white audience, seen by a worldwide television audience of tens of millions, with some 17 million watching in America alone. That dispute, which started over a joke made in bad taste, ended in violence. Arguments have bandied back and forth since about it being a bad example to others. Maybe Will Smith should have his Oscar taken away, maybe not. I have no firm opinion either way, but I do know that if it had not been a popular millionaire actor delivering that slap, the chances are the offender would have been arrested, whatever his/her colour.

That got me thinking about my past, in working-class London in the 1950s and 1960s.

Until I went to secondary school in 1963 at the age of 11, I didn’t know any black people. I had never spoken to one, nor socialised with any. There were some around the dockside area where we lived: mostly sailors from the ships in port, national servicemen on leave, or workmen fixing up the bomb-damaged houses. But only a few.

My dad had served in India during WW2. He had a high opinion of Sikhs, who he spoke of with respect as ‘brave fighters’. He also loved to listen to black singers and musicians, like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Paul Robeson, and Count Basie.

Yet he called black people ‘Spades’ or ‘Schvartzers’ in everyday conversation. My mum, who was a very kind lady, referred to black babies as ‘cute piccanninies’. And she meant that as a compliment. People of mixed race -also a rarity where we lived- were referred to as a ‘half-chat’, or ‘Chalky’. When considering the need to sound polite, my parents upgraded this term to ‘Half-caste’, a saying my dad had picked up during his time in India.

I was too young to know any different. And even if I had been old enough to challenge all this as racist, I am sure they would have been shocked. They both considered themselves to be completely tolerant to all races.

Other races were not spared. Anyone from SE Asia, Japan, or China, was called a ‘chink’, or ‘chinky’.
(Even Prince Philip, as recently as 2017, referred to Chinese people as ‘slitty-eyed’. )

When many Indian-owned restaurants and corner shops began to appear on the streets of Britain, my mum referred to them as ‘Pakkies’, even if the owner was from India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, or Uganda and had no connection with Pakistan whatsoever.

But my mum would have been mortified to ever have been called racist. She was a member of The Labour Party all her life, and described herself as a Socialist. Yet when she was older, she would think nothing of saying something like “That bus driver was very nice, considering he was an African”. She had smiled at the man, and made what she regarded to be a compliment in his hearing. She was friendly to him, and thanked him as she got off the bus. In her way of thinking, she couldn’t have been anything like a racist.

When more African families moved into Peckham, the part of London where she lived, she became annoyed at the way the shops were changing. They began to sell things like Yams and Plantain, Salt Fish, and ‘exotic fruit’. The world she knew was changing fast, and she could no longer find what she needed in the shops she had once known well. She telephoned me, asking me to drive over and take her a couple of miles to a large supermarket.

“I can’t get what I need in Peckham anymore. All they sell now is foreign muck, and I can’t bear to even smell it or look at it. And all those fat-arsed black women are so big, I can hardly walk down the pavement with me shopping trolly”.

Meanwhile, my own experience couldn’t have been more different. I had met black pupils at secondary school, and become close friends with one West Indian girl in my class. When I left school and started work, I made a new group of friends, including one mixed race guy with an afro the size of a small country. Then I joined the Ambulance Service and had a crewmate who was originally from Barbados. I worked with him for almost eight years, met his family and friends, and enjoyed learning about West Indian food and culture. My next door neighbours in Wimbledon were a young couple from India who were delightful as neighbours and as friends.

Then my mum became old and infirm. She needed the services of home carers, all of whom in that area were foreign, and predominantly black. One of those was Vilma, a West Indian lady who went on from being a carer to becoming a real family friend. When mum needed that care increased, she became increasingly frustrated with not being able to understand the accents of the carers, and begrudged having to be undressed and washed by them too. She finally asked me to speak to Vilma, and ask her to become the only carer, paid for by us.

I remember saying to my mum, “But Vilma is black too, mum. And she has an accent”. My mum just shook her head and replied. “But she’s a good one, I like her”.

‘Friendly racism’ is what I call that.

Christmas Past

I didn’t always dislike Christmas.

As a child, I would ask to go to bed early on the 24th, so I could wake up and get all my presents when it was still dark. I am an only child, and though not spoiled, I was never short of a pile of presents from my mum and dad, as well as my extended family of uncles and aunts.

By the time my parents were awake, I had already read my Christmas Annuals books, and all of my toys and other gifts would have been opened and examined. Like most kids then, I dreaded receiving ‘sensible presents’, like clothing. But I will never complain about my childhood Christmases, as I can still remember the thrill of them. And I appreciated every gift, however small.

Then it was off to my maternal grandmother’s house, for a massive family Christmas lunch at 2 pm. Everyone would be there, and trestles would have been set up for a huge table top to rest on. Then every chair in the house, mismatched or not, would be crowded around so that everyone had a seat at the table. Before that happened, all the men would set off for the lunchtime drinking session in the nearby pub, while the women and older girls took on the mammoth task of preparing all the vegetables, and laying the table.

And all of this cooked in a single small gas oven, with a three-ring hob above.

The men would return just in time to sit and eat, still merry from too much beer and whisky. Then in the afternoon, they slept off the booze, while the exhausted women washed up and cleared away, ready to serve up the ‘Christmas Tea’. Assorted shellfish, bread and butter, lots of cakes, and anything sweet.

The evening would see a huge Christmas party. Crates of beer lined up in my grandmother’s parlour, the ‘good rug’ rolled up and stored away, and my aunt Edie exercising her skill on the piano as my dad and my uncle sang popular songs of the day, as well as wartime melodies. Everyone over the age of sixteen smoked, so the blue haze in the room would sting my young eyes as I sat enjoying the seasonal show.

When it got too late for me, I would sneak into my grandmother’s bedroom, and creep under the pile of coats laid on her bed. They included ancient furs that smelled of mothballs, and huge wool overcoats that had the aroma of tobacco.

I never really remembered my dad lifting me up to take me out to the car.

But I always woke up in my own bed on Boxing Day.