Roger Mayne: London Photographs 1956

Southam Street in West London was made world-famous in the photographs of Roger Mayne. He photographed the street and its inhabitants extensively during 1956.

Most of the street was declared ‘unfit for human habitation’ in 1969 and demolished in the same year. Only the short section west of Golborne Road remains. It is close to Westbourne Park Tube Station, Golborne Road Market, and Portobello Road Market. Although a long way from where I was growing up at the time, I later worked nearby for over 20 years, in the Ambulance Station close to Ladbroke Grove.

Children playing in the street on a hot day.

A man pretending to be an orchestra conductor. No idea why.

Boys on their bicycles.

Bomb-damaged buildings from WW2.

Playing marbles in the street.

A Football game.

The area was one of the first parts of London to see significant immigration by West Indians. This photo shows it was an early multi-cultural part of London.

Southam Street in 2021. All that is left of it.

Retro Review: The Killing (1956)

This is a late entry in the American film noir genre, notable for being directed by Stanley Kubrick. In a running time of less than ninety minutes, this crime thriller packs in the lead up to an audacious robbery, the event itself, and the aftermath. It is from a time when most cinemas showed two films in a programme, and there was little time for self-indulgence, or unnecessary navel-gazing on the part of film-makers. Audiences expected to be entertained, and not challenged by psychoanalysis or surreal imagery. You can almost sense the director just ‘getting on with it’.

Like many similar films, it employs the use of an unseen narrator to take us right into the action. Johnny (Sterling Hayden) is fresh from prison, and determined to carry out one last big job that will bring in enough cash to allow him to run off into the sunset with his loyal girlfriend, Fay. (Coleen Gray) He plans to steal the takings from the nearby racetrack, on the biggest day of the horse-racing season. But he needs the help of a mixed bag of associates, including a bartender, a track betting window teller, a corrupt cop, and an old friend who is putting up the start money.

We get to see each of the characters back-stories, in the build-up to the fateful day. The Teller has an attractive but unfaithful wife, Sherry. (Marie Windsor) She wants to move in with her young lover, Val (a pre-Ben Casey Vince Edwards) so tells him about the job. The bartender has a sick wife, and the corrupt cop is in debt to the mob. Then Johnny has to pay a sharpshooter to kill the champion horse, so as to create a diversion on the day, and a wrestler to get arrested after causing a fight with the bartender. If all goes well, everyone will be looking at the track, and all the racetrack cops will be tied up having to deal with the bar fight.

But this is film noir, so not everything goes as planned.

Nonetheless, after escaping with the huge amount of loot, Johnny thinks things might just work out for him after all. Back at the Teller’s apartment, Val arrives, intent on stealing the loot, but not reckoning on the anger of the mild-mannered cuckold. To say things go badly wrong would be a classic understatement.

This is a really good film, with a cast of recognisable faces all doing an excellent job. Hayden is perfect as the tough guy with a heart, and other names you might know include Jay C. Flippen, Elisha Cook Jnr, and Joe Turkel. (He was Tyrell, in Blade Runner.) Kubrick’s direction is neat and effective, and the script leaves out many of the cliches of the genre. Kubrick also wrote the screenplay, and packs all we need to see and know into those 85 minutes. Nicely shot in black and white, with excellent lighting and camera angles too.

Significant Songs (200)

Why Do Fools Fall In Love.

I have reached the 200th song in this series, so I am going all the way back to when I was just four years old. Of course, I was too young to even know about the song then, let alone appreciate it. But my older cousins, aunts, uncles, and family friends all loved it, and carried on playing it for years.

Once I was old enough to enjoy family gatherings and weekend parties, I soon became accustomed to hearing this old favourite played many times; watching my relatives dancing around, singing along, and doo-wopping to the music. To say that this is an infectious song would be an understatement, as it is well-nigh impossible to resist the youthful exuberance bursting from the vocals and backing. And I still love it as much today, sixty-two years after it was released. Not long after my fourth birthday.

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers formed in New York City. When they had a huge hit with this song, lead vocalist Frankie was just fourteen years old. The following year, Frankie split from the group and became a solo artist. Like many before and since, his decision to embark on that solo career proved to be a big mistake, and further success eluded him. He turned to drugs, and started to use heroin. He died of a drug overdose in 1968, aged just twenty-five.

But his song lives on. It is still popular on film soundtracks, and even gets played on the radio.

One film, two versions: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Back in the 1960s, I watched what was described as a ‘horror’ film on TV. It was the 1956 original version of the American film starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, and Carolyn Jones. Not really a horror film, it plays more like science fiction, with an overtone of film noir. In a small town in California, people are beginning to claim that something is wrong with their relatives and friends. They are acting strangely, despite appearing to look as normal and go about their everyday business. A psychiatrist is called to examine a man who has been brought in making outrageous claims, and finds he is also a doctor, called Bennett. (McCarthy) The story then unfolds in flashback, as the psychiatrist listens to the strange tale.

Giant seed pods have appeared in the small town. Once placed in the vicinity of a person, the pods replicate everything about them as soon as they go to sleep. Very soon, most of the townsfolk have been duplicated, and just a few are left, terrified of what is happening. They congregate at the house of Dr Bennett, who is also unaffected. Then they see numerous trucks loaded with seed pods being sent out to various larger towns and cities in California, and Bennett makes good his escape to alert the authorities, ending up in the hospital where he tells his story.

This is a convincing thriller that overcomes its ‘B’ film appearance and lack of a star cast. It has a good atmosphere, and is often quite chilling, as we imagine that something like that happening where we live. It was well-received, and has a place in Cinema’s Hall of Fame.

In 1978, I saw the film was getting a modern remake, and went off to see it at the cinema. The cast was very appealing, with Donald Sutherland in the lead, Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams, and Leonard Nimoy supporting. In colour by then of course, and with the benefit of twenty-two years of advances in cinema technology. Now set in San Francisco, the story is much the same, and there is even a part for the star of the original, Kevin McCarthy. But this film gives us more. More background, more science, more plot development, and more special effects. The pods are creepier, and more convincing too.

All in all, this is one of those rare cases where the remake exceeds the original in almost every respect. Stripped of its lurid B-film appeal, the 1956 film feels clumsy and melodramatic by comparison. That said, I would still recommend you watch it as well, if only for the historical perspective of an early science fiction outing. But the remake is a lot better, it has to be said.