Bermondsey In Photos: 1930-2017

The part of London I grew up in has changed since 1930, but most of it is still recognisable.

Girls playing in a back garden in Marden Road, 1930

Shoppers at the busy street market. Blue Anchor Lane, around 1932.

A VE Day street party, 1945.

Market traders and a passing Tram. Bermondsey Street, 1945.

Tommy Steele was a local boy who became a famous pop singer in 1956. He went on to a career in pop musicals and hit records that lasted until today. (He is 85) This is a modern photo, superimposed over one of excited fans greeting him outside St James’s church Bermondsey, early 1960s. The same church where my parents were married.

Tommy again, in 1966. He is visiting a school in Bermondsey.

Paragon Secondary School, early 1970s. The Victorian school in Searles Road Bermondsey was later converted into apartments, in 2000.

A grandmother watching her granddaughter, 1976.

High-rise flats built in the late 1960s, photographed in 2017.

Slum London: My Mum’s Youth

The districts of South London where my parents grew up were once considered to be little better than slums. Dwellings not really suitable for the large families that lived in them, lacking most facilities we would take for granted by the 1960s.

They had outside toilets, hot water heated on a stove or cooker, and were back-to-back small terraced houses with poor ventilation and little light getting into them.

In 1924, the year my mum was born, a national newspaper published an article about the lack of living space in those houses.

Two nearby streets, Sultan Street and Sultan Terrace, are shown here in 1939, the year WW2 broke out. Nothing had changed in those fifteen years.

Ironically, despite the loss of life caused by the German bombing of London, it was the devastation left behind that created the space for the gradual rebuilding. This allowed for much better living conditions in working class areas after 1960.

More Photographic Memories Of My Youth In London

Although we lived in the Borough of Bermondsey in South London, we were within a short walk of other areas. Walworth, where I went to senior school, and Camberwell, where many of my friends lived. The main road from London to the Kent coast ran through the whole area, and is named The Old Kent Road in that section. That is actually one of the places on a British Monopoly game board.

The surplus stores on Walworth Road was where you could buy an ex-army jacket, a rucksack, or in my case, Doctor Martens ‘air-wear’ shoes. It was a regular hangout on Saturdays.
(This is a relatively modern photo. It is still there.)

Not far away was the A1 Stores. They seemed to sell everything at the time, but we went there to buy the latest records. Following the purchase, we usually sat in the nearby Wimpy Bar for ages, drinking ‘frothy coffee’.

But A1 wasn’t always my first choice for record buying. On the corner in this photo is May Smith, a dedicated record shop. I bought my first .45 single in there. It was ‘Sweets For My Sweet’, by The Searchers. That was in 1963, and I was eleven years old.

Many years before that, one of my places to hang out was St James’s Park. Not the famous one in Westminster, the one in St James’s Road, Bermondsey. It had a famous covered slide, the only one I have ever seen like it.

The two main cinemas locally were The Regal, and The Astoria. I went to one or other of them almost every week for years. They were both built in the Art Deso style,and beautifully decorated inside. This is The Astoria.

If you wanted to buy a bicycle, get a bike fixed, buy a saddlebag, a new chain, or tyre pump, Edwardes of Camberwell was the place to go. One of the premier cycle dealerships in the whole of London at the time.

Kennedys had shops all over the three boroughs. Their sausages were once considered to be the best you could buy.

George Carter was a menswear shop on the Old Kent Road. It was in there that I bought my first ever Ben Sherman button-down collar shirt.

Pie and Mash and Jellied Eels were staple diets of many Londoners then. I didn’t like the eels, but I loved pie and mash. Just a short walk from my school was my favourite Pie and Mash shop, Bert’s.
(Next door, you can just make out part of the name of The Popular Book Centre. This was a chain of large shops that sold secondhand books, comics, and magazines. They would also buy any you took in there, or give you credit against those they had for sale. My mum’s cousin Raymond was the manager of that branch, so I never had to pay!)

The World Turned Upside Down was a famous Victorian pub on the Old Kent Road. One of my school friends lived in the tenement flats next door, which were managed by the Guinness Trust as cheap housing for working-class people. If you look at the women pushing the prams you can see that they had filled them with coal, probably bought cheap from a nearby Coal Merchant, and too heavy to carry home.

Right at the other end of The Old Kent Road, almost in New Cross district, was this imposing pub, The Rising Sun. My mum’s older sister and her husband bought this pub the year we moved to the suburbs, 1967. They ran it for many years.

Bermondsey summers

Another nostalgic post, from 2013. Not many of you have seen this before.


What is it about memory, that makes us remember summers as being better in our youth? Ask most people about the weather, and they will almost always agree that the summer was better when they were young.

Six weeks of unbroken sun, school holidays spent outside, with perhaps the occasional thundery shower, that helped to clear the air. Given that this might span a time period from 1958, to 1998, it cannot really have any basis in fact. Although I do not have the real statistics to hand, (and cannot be bothered to look them up) I am sure that we didn’t always have fabulous summers, with weeks of Mediterranean heat, and unbroken blue skies. So why is it that this is how I remember them?

Before we moved to Kent, when I was fifteen years old, I spent my summers on the streets of Bermondsey, a South London district…

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Bermondsey: The London Of My Youth

I was born and brought up in a borough of London called Bermondsey. Although it has since been amalgamated into the much larger London borough of Southwark, it still retains its own identity with the people who live there. It is adjacent to the south bank of the River Thames, and close to the iconic Tower Bridge.

In recent years, the area has undergone some ‘regeneration’, and become a relatively fashionable place to live. But during my youth in the 1950s, it was an industrial area of central London, and everyone who lived there came from working class families on low incomes.

Some of the typical local houses I used to walk past as a child.
The empty space is where the house was hit by a bomb, during WW2. You can see the wooden supports holding up another bomb-damaged house on the right.

The busy street market where all my family used to get their shopping.

My Mum worked in the Peek Frean’s biscuit factory, which can be seen in this later photo from the 1960s.

Other local employers included the Pearce Duff Custard and blancmange factory.

The Alaska Fur Factory was later closed, due to the unpopularity of real fur.
It is now converted into smart apartments.

The library I used to go to all the time to borrow books has also closed. It has become a Bhuddist Centre.

The imposing Town Hall, where I once went to participate in a regional quiz. Also closed, and converted into apartments.

There were many popular pubs in the area. This one still stands. The Gregorian Arms was well-known as a venue to watch Drag artists when I was a boy, and my Dad would occasionally sing at the piano there too.

Thinking Aloud on a Sunday


Yesterday, I published a post about identity. I had spent some time thinking about my background and life in London, on the southern banks of the River Thames. When I got up today, I searched through some images, happy to wallow in a little nostalgia. Then it occurred to me to share some with you, a glimpse of a time and place, and a part of London many of you may never have heard of. Rotherhithe.

This house is not my grandparents’ house, but in all other respects, including the corner location, it is identical. Their house survived the nearby bombing in WW2, though many in that street did not. Such houses had outside toilets, tiny back gardens, and life was mainly lived in the ‘back room’, next to a small kitchen known as ‘the scullery’. It was usual for someone else to live in the upstairs rooms, and my aunt and uncle lived up there, with my cousin. My grandparents’ house still stands, and is now considered to be a ‘trendy and desirable’ property.

Close to the river, rows of low-rise flats had been built. This shot is from the early 1960s, which I can easily tell from the cars parked on the street.

Tower blocks soon became popular in the area. This is Addy House, built in 1963, and thought to be very smart and modern at the time. At sixteen stories, it would have been one of the tallest buildings in the borough then.

When I was young, the River Thames was still a busy and vibrant workplace. The docks and wharves on both sides were full of ships, and many local men worked as dockers, or on barges. You can see how close the area is to Tower Bridge, which was a short walk from where I grew up.

That area is also famous for a road and pedestrian tunnel under the river, the Rotherhithe Tunnel. Used as an alternative to Tower Bridge, (which opened several times a day to allow ships to pass) this was opened in 1908, and is still just as busy today.

One of the features of living so close to the river was the amount of riverside pubs in the area. This is one of the most famous, The Mayflower. It was originally called The Shippe, and dates from 1550, making it one of the oldest buildings still standing in the area. The current pub was erected on the site in 1620, named after the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers tied up their ship of that name there, before leaving to explore America. It is very popular with both tourists and locals, and has a very good restaurant upstairs, as well as riverside seating at the back. I had my second wedding reception there, in 1989.

If traffic was bad, and we wanted to get into the centre of the city, we would sometimes use the small tube (subway) line. This only took us to Aldgate, in East London, and from there we could change lines to get to the shopping areas of Oxford Street and Regent Street. This is the station today, unchanged since it was built, in 1869.

I hope that you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane with me. If you ever visit London, don’t forget that many of the most interesting parts of the city are south of The Thames, away from the more familiar tourist traps.

A very quiet Easter

When I was young, Easter was eagerly anticipated. Not that we were a religious family, you understand. Easter was a time of school holidays, visiting relatives, and eating chocolate eggs, and hot cross buns. The long weekend, with two public holidays, meant that everyone tried to get away from London. Whether for a day trip, or longer break, the prospect of bad weather (seemingly compulsory at this time) didn’t put anybody off. After a long winter in the city, this was the first chance to get out, and breathe some fresh air, hopefully close to the sea.

Unfortunately, the road network was not well developed in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. This meant that all the thousands of cars and caravans had to crawl through tiny villages and larger market towns, to get to their destinations. It seems forgotten today, but traffic was terrible back then. Cars were unreliable too, prone to overheating, and getting punctures. The Easter trip was something to endure and tolerate, as long as the couple of days at your getaway of choice could reward you with some relaxation. Traffic jams were so long and convoluted that families could often be seen outside their cars, pulled up on a verge, making tea with a camping stove. The small rest areas, called lay-bys here, were full of overheated cars, steam billowing from tired radiators; the occupants seeking to relieve themselves unseen in clumps of handy bushes, or sat glumly next to their expired vehicles.

For much of my youth, our Easter trip would be to my Grandparents’ caravan. This was situated on a static site in Essex, on the northern side of the Thames Estuary, adjacent to the River Blackwater. This site had the enticing name of ‘Happy Days’, and the caravans could be used from Easter to October. The facilities were primitive by today’s standards. There was a communal washing and toilet block, a small park with swings and play equipment, and a site shop and club house. This contained the highly-regarded bar, which saved the adults having to leave the site in the evenings. Water for the caravan had to be drawn from a tap, and carried over in large containers. There was a coal fire inside for cooler evenings, and some basic furniture. Despite the fact that the caravan was built to sleep only four, we would often have double that, as well as beds on the floor, for the smaller children. Nobody minded the proximity, we were all family after all. There was a tiny patch of grass alongside, which was ours to use when it was warm enough to sit outside. A short drive away, the large town of Maldon provided sufficient shops, as well as a large public park with a funfair and boating lake.

Despite the fact that it usually rained for at least some of the stay, those trips to the caravan were a delight, to both youngsters and adults alike. It was the closest we would ever get to outdoor living, a real change from our lives in South London, and it was only 52 miles away. We would eat our Easter eggs and delicious buns, and our parents and older relatives would have too much to drink in the club house. We also met some new friends; local kids who did things like going out in boats, swimming in the river, and helping out on farms. It was a simple life, with no TV, electronic games, or fashionable trainers. But we had a great time. Times do change though. These days, many people still go for an Easter break. They go to places like Center Parcs, where they can try archery, ride mountain bikes, or buzz around on Segways. If they are lucky, they might go to EuroDisney near Paris, or enjoy a trip to a theme park in the UK, riding on terrifying roller-coasters and similar machines. Some travel further afield, to gites or villas, enjoying croissants or pains au chocolat instead of hot cross buns. I don’t envy them though.

When you get older, such short holidays lose much of their appeal. Working shifts for most of my life, the chances were that I would be working anyway; perhaps both of the days, or at least one of them. At least there was financial compensation for missing out, in the form of double pay or time off in lieu, sometimes both. Easter eggs started to appear in the shops not long after Christmas, and hot cross buns became available all year round. The unstoppable march of retail reduced national holidays to little more than seasonal marketing opportunities, until they just became a day like any other. Saying that, Easter Sunday must still have some significance, because other than Christmas Day, it is the only day that Tesco is closed.

This last Easter, for us in Beetley at least, was very peaceful. On Friday, we took Ollie (and ourselves) to a place called Mousehold Heath, in the centre of Norwich. We had never been there before, so it was an opportunity to get out together for a change, and to see somewhere new. Norwich is not a large city. Despite being the largest city in Norfolk, a population of around 133,000 places it around 30th in the UK. It does benefit from some nice public areas though, and Mousehold Heath, almost in the city centre, provides a welcome escape from the busy roads that surround it. Once parked, and inside the woodland, only some distant views of the buildings and the sounds of traffic remind you how close you still are. There are many paths to choose, and also attractive open areas and a pitch and putt golf course. The new surroundings were much to Ollie’s approval. Numerous other dog-walkers and some dog-admiring families, meant that our dog got his fair share of attention. We stopped halfway at the American-style burger bar, that has outside tables. Thankfully, this is tastefully presented, using a lovingly restored Edwardian pavilion. Other than a sign near the car park you would be pushed to realise that it was even there. After enjoying coffee, and sharing a delicious burger, we crossed the road towards the bandstand, and explored the rest of the heath. The journey home was less than thirty minutes, so it made for a stress-free afternoon out.

Julie had to work until 2pm on Saturday, so we went out that evening. We don’t have a pub anymore in Beetley. But we do have the building that used to be the pub, and it has kept the same name, The New Inn. It is now a welcoming Thai restaurant. Lovely people run it, and the food is delicious too. The bar at the front still serves as a sort-of pub for those not wishing to dine, and it remains popular with many local people. On Sunday, we stayed home, and cooked a turkey for our evening meal, a nod to another Easter tradition from the past. Ollie enjoyed eating some of the bird, and there was plenty left over, which we used for a tasty turkey curry the next day. With the skies grey, and a threat of rain, we also stayed home on Monday. I went and did the regular shopping trip to Tesco, which was closing earlier than usual, though still open until 6pm. The shop was extremely busy, more so than normal for a Monday. As the TV news had promised no rain, and possible sunshine, many shoppers were stocking up on items for a barbecue that evening, and the aisles were packed.

This morning, Julie had to return to work, and I stayed home, nursing my still-aching back. It didn’t stop me taking Ollie for his walk of course, he has to go out. Easter was over for another year, though I am sure that I will be able to buy hot cross buns next week, if I want to.


Not Waving but Drowning

I would like to thank Jaypot, for suggesting that I explore my childhood for inspiration. Here is the first result of that exploration.

Stevie Smith wrote this famous poem, in 1957. If you have never heard of it, here is a link;
I did not become aware of this poem until the 1970’s, and considered it to be a fine piece of work. More than that, it had a connection for me, that even now, is painful to recall. I must start by saying, by way of a disclaimer, that many of the events recounted in this post were told to me later, by my parents. (Though despite my youth at the time, I do actually remember the main occurrence, as if it happened yesterday). This also applies to the exact geography of the location, a place I have never visited since, and which may well have changed, over time.

In the year that this poem was published, I was five years old. Though hard to imagine now, I had a mop of blonde curly hair, and an angelic face, set off by blue-green eyes. Looks-wise, I was at my peak; this is the best it was ever going to get. We were living in South London, within sight of the local docks, and as a family, we were happy. At least I thought so, but I was only five. My Dad worked as a carpenter then, making tea-chests and packing cases, in a workshop in nearby Deptford. Mum worked in the biscuit factory a few doors from our house, as a book-keeper in the office. I had not yet started school, and was due to go to the local primary, after their summer break was over. We lived in the upper rooms of a terraced house, and our landlady, a kindly widow, occupied the ground floor. It could be very hot in Central London, during the summer, and it was nice that my Mum and Dad often thought of places to go, to escape that heat.

As well as family holidays in Jaywick, a chalet town on the Essex coast, we also had a regular holiday to Cornwall, staying with a bachelor uncle in Penryn. He had been in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War, and had some fascinating stories to tell. He wasn’t really an uncle, more like a second cousin, on my Dad’s side, but I really liked him. However, those longer holidays were expensive, and involved tedious, frustrating drives, as there were no motorways until 1963; and not for many years after that, to the South-West. To escape the humidity of the city for the day, usually on a Sunday, we would drive out to somewhere nearer London, like Box Hill, in Surrey, Epping Forest, in Essex, or Yalding, in Kent. These were more manageable as day trips, although traffic jams were as common then, and just as bad, as they are now. My Dad had a car, something of a rarity in our area in those days. It was a 1938 Wolseley, which had once been a Police car. Despite its age, the car was kept running by almost daily maintenance, and lots of love and devotion. It had back doors that opened the ‘wrong’ way, so an awning could be erected across the gap, which we could sit under. Inside, it had an internal string roof lining, which was used to store items to keep to hand, for the journey.

I was a bad traveller then, and could easily be car sick after less than twenty minutes driving. However, that didn’t put me off, and I always looked forward to our excursions. One hot day, Mum told me that we were going to go to Yalding, where we could relax by the river, and have a picnic on the grass. We always took a picnic, as there were few cafes around, and they were a little too expensive for us to use anyway. As well as food, we also had a paraffin stove and small kettle, for tea making, and milk would be taken in a thermos flask, to keep it cool. On arrival, we parked alongside many other cars, on the grassy area, right next to the river. (By coincidence, this area has featured heavily on the news since Christmas, as it has been badly flooded). Next to the parking area, the river was shallow, and led up to a weir. After the weir, the water is much deeper, and there is a waterfall effect, caused by the water rushing over the obstruction.

I had been allowed to take my toy boat. This was a wooden boat, made by my Dad, and it had a fairly large sail. This boat floated well, and I had previously sailed it on the pond, in the local park. After a family paddle, Mum prepared the picnic, and we all sat and ate. It was getting hotter, probably almost thirty degrees, and my parents were relaxing on the grass, tired after a long week at work. I was too young to sit still for too long, and returned to play with my boat, in the shallow water. Mum told me to stay where she could see me, and lay back on her blanket. I was enjoying the cold water on my bare legs, and the progress of my sailing boat, in the fast-flowing river. I started to follow it, as it built up speed, until I had walked a considerable distance from where I had started, near the family car. The exact period of elapsed time I am unsure of, but it was long enough for my Mum to have looked up, and to realise that I was not there.

She woke my dad, and told him that I was nowhere to be seen. They began to run around the area, which was filled with day-trippers, enjoying the sunshine. They asked everyone if they had seen a small boy, with a distinctive mop of almost white curls. Panic began to set in, when nobody could recall seeing me, or anyone like me. They went somewhere where announcements could be made, over a loud speaker system; possibly a First-Aid tent, or a Police point, I have no way of knowing now. Meanwhile, I was following my boat. I was too young to understand what a weir was, or to even notice the warning signs. I just wanted to catch my sailing boat, before it got too far from my reach, and became lost. I increased my speed in the water, and reached forward, in an attempt to grab it.

Although I was only five, I have two distinct memories of that year. One was starting school that September, being left by my Mum, and not wanting to go off with the teacher. This is the other one, and I can see it in flashback anytime, at will. My legs went from under me, and I had the sensation of sliding. Not falling, but sliding, just like on a slide at the local park. I went straight down into the deeper water, and it covered me immediately. There was no time to be alarmed, to panic, or to cry out. I was looking up, the sun bright but hazy through the water above me. There was no spluttering, no fighting for breath. I was swallowing though, as water seemed to be filling my mouth and stomach, I just kept swallowing. Every time I did, there was more water, and so it continued, for what seemed an eternity. Then there was a feeling of great peace. At that moment, I wasn’t scared, and could see clearly around me. The surface seemed to be a long way off, and there was total silence. Then it went dark. If that was death, it wasn’t as scary as you might imagine.

My next memory was of being on my back, coughing. Someone was covering me in something that felt rough and scratchy, and it was suddenly very noisy again. A man stood nearby, shivering, and soaking wet all over. Men were asking me questions, constantly repeating things that I couldn’t understand. I was lifted onto a stretcher, and my Mum appeared, wild-eyed and mad looking, most unlike her usual self. Some time passed, before I was aware of anything else. I was in a bed, but it wasn’t my bed. I was covered with scratchy covers again, and couldn’t move, they were so tight. Everything else was a blur, and I was told it all later, when I was able to understand. I remembered being under the water though, and I never found my boat.

I had wandered some way off from my starting point. It had been a while before my Mum noticed that I had gone, and the frantic searching had taken some time. On the bridge, or possibly beside it, a man had been fishing. As was the style of the day, he was fully dressed, in jacket, tie, and trousers. He had suddenly noticed a little boy, because of the white curly hair. The boy seemed to be running onto the top of the weir, and then disappeared under the water. This selfless man discarded his rod and line, and without thinking, jumped straight in, to rescue me. Helped by others on the bank, he got me out onto the side. Like most men at that time, he had seen some service in the war, and immediately knew that I was dead. I had drowned, and I didn’t even know. I had no heartbeat, and I wasn’t breathing. My lips were blue, and my body was floppy and lifeless. With the help of a first-aid trained person, the angler attempted to bring me back from the abyss. The resuscitation protocols during the 1950’s were very different from those practiced today. The generally accepted technique was to move the arms back and forth above the head, in a rowing action. This stimulated the ribs to move, assisting breathing, and also helped the lungs and stomach to expel any water. (Many years later, when training in the Ambulance Service, I was still taught these techniques. They were known by the inventors’ names, Silvester-Brosch, and Holger Neilsen.)

When this failed to revive me, they simply turned me over, and moved my ribs manually, which eventually resulted in most of the water coming out, and I started to breathe soon after. The period must have been mercifully short, as there was no long-lasting damage. By now, my parents were still no closer to finding me. They had gone the opposite way, and had no idea that I was so close to the weir. A police car toured the picnic grounds, asking if anyone had lost a child, and we were eventually reunited. My Dad told me, a long time later, that the soaking wet fisherman had retrieved a sodden packet of cigarettes from his jacket, and attempted to light one. Flushed with gratitude, my dad gave him his own cigarettes, almost a full packet. He never got the life-saver’s name, something both my parents always regretted.

I was taken to hospital in Maidstone, the county town about five miles from where I had drowned. I was kept under observation there, but I don’t know for how long, as I am sure that I was home later that night, in the dark. Perhaps not, memory plays tricks sometimes. I made the local London newspaper, the Evening Star. A small corner, telling how a London boy drowned on a day trip to Kent, and was saved by an angler. When my Mum died, I found this cutting in her possessions, saved lovingly, for fifty-five years. I was never once told off about this incident. Never scolded, or warned not to wander off. I believe that my parents always felt that they were to blame, and their guilt stopped them from admonishing me.

I never really felt comfortable in deep water after that day. And I have never learned how to swim.

Significant Songs (1)

When I say significant songs, of course I mean that they have a significance for me. For many of you, they might be just annoying, or not to your taste. That is fine, as music is nothing if not subjective, and this occasional series of posts is not intended to convert anyone to a particular song, or style of music. Consider it nostalgia; as you may already know, I like the occasional wallow in that.

All The Young Dudes (1972) Mott The Hoople

When I heard this song played over a car radio, I thought at first, that it was by David Bowie. This turned out to be a reasonable assumption, as I later found out that he had written it. In 1972, I was far from being a Dude, in the sense of ‘a cool dude’. I wasn’t even an apprentice Dude, and did not so much as possess a single element of ‘Dudeness’. I was 20 years old, and a very straight South London boy; with a normal job, and a normal girlfriend. I did have varied music tastes though, and immediately liked this song, buying it on a vinyl single, the next day. It seemed to have something for everyone, and I liked a lot of the lyrics. As a city dweller, the line, ‘Is that concrete all around, or is it in my head?’ especially resonated. It even had some Cockney rhyming slang in there-‘Boat Race’.

I had no idea what the strange name of the band signified, if anything, and still haven’t bothered to find out, to this day. Although they were being marketed as a ‘Glam Rock’ band, I didn’t buy that at all. Ian Hunter, anonymous behind his signature shades, and mass of curly hair, was far too cool to be a Glam Rocker. This was a genre associated with The Sweet, Slade, Gary Glitter, and many others; they were not in Hunter’s league. His conversational singing style, almost like he was chatting to the listener, appealed to me immensely, and there was a real power behind that voice, that you just knew had the potential to roar. I liked the asides, left in after the recording, and the reference to spotty faces, Marks and Spencer, and the obvious English accent, made this single stand out from so much of the imported American music of the period.

At the time, I was going through a transition in my life. My old friends were still going to the South London pubs, listening to all our favourite stuff, suited and booted, drinking beer, and driving decent motors. My new friends were a little older. They had long hair, some had beards, they played in a band, and understood music. They weren’t bothered about cars and pubs, and their musical tastes were different. I felt myself beginning to be drawn to their spliff-smoking lifestyle, and relaxed attitudes to everything. Not that I was about to grow my hair, or to stop wearing suits and ties; I couldn’t quite go that far.

This song, along with many others, seemed to sum up how I felt at that age, at that time in the world. I took lyrics and ideas from it, and moulded those into representations of my own thoughts and issues. In retrospect, it seems I was completely wrong. Bowie later told how he wrote the song as a warning of the impending apocalypse, that he believed would be just around the corner. The news that the Young Dudes were carrying was that of Armageddon, apparently, and not the lifestyle and social upheaval that I was reading into it at all. I don’t mind getting that one wrong. The world didn’t end, despite Mr Bowie’s prophecy, and I still enjoy the song as much today, as I did almost 42 years ago.

Here is a clip of a good version of the song, billed as Glam Rock, unfortunately.

And here is Bowie performing the song himself. Less frantic perhaps, but still good.

If any of you have never heard it, then I hope that you enjoy it. If you don’t, well that’s life.

Some songs about London

If you ask me where I live, I will answer ‘Norfolk’. However, ask me where I am from, and the answer will always be ‘London’. Lots of places have songs or music written about them, and I have mentioned some on other posts on this blog. But it is the songs about my home town that have the biggest impact on me. Often corny, sometimes coarse, these songs have followed me through my life so far, and will continue to do so. Here are just some of them.

London Pride.  Written by Noel Coward in 1941, this song was designed to inspire Londoners during the Blitz, and remains as one of the most evocative songs ever written about London, and the Londoners who lived there at the time, and since. This version is actually sung by Coward, in his distinctive upper-class lisp. A piece of history on the page, courtesy of You Tube.

Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner.  Again written during the war years, this time in 1943, by Hubert Gregg. This is the song us Londoners all sing when we have had too much to drink, or we are in the company of non-Londoners. It is the anthem of the ‘old’ Londoners, and in its day, was the equivalent of ‘New York, New York’. This hackneyed, sentimental old tune runs through my head whenever I think of my city. To me, it is priceless. This version is performed by Flanagan and Allen, a music hall act who made many wartime songs famous.

A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.  Just before the outbreak of the second world war, this song was written by Eric Mashwitz, and released in 1940. It has been recorded by many famous artists, but perhaps the best-known version, at least here in England, was by Dame Vera Lynn. Here she is, singing the song live on TV, in 1969, thirty years after it was published.

The Lambeth Walk.  I was born in Lambeth Hospital, so I have something of an emotional attachment to this song. Lambeth was a small area of South London, bordering the Thames, on the opposite bank of the river to the Houses of Parliament. It is now an enormous London Borough, and as such, has lost much of its original identity. Lambeth Walk, once a street market, still exists. This song, from the 1937 musical, ‘Me and My Girl’, also has an accompanying dance, that I have attempted more times than I care to remember. This clip, from the 1939 film of the show, not only demonstrates the old song, but also the dance that went with it. It resembles the earliest form of Line-Dancing. Just fabulous!

Wotcher!Knocked Em In The Old Kent Road.  Composed in 1891, by the Chevalier Brothers, famous music hall performers, this old song also has a personal involvement for me. The Old Kent Road is a famously long road in South London, once the way of pilgrimage to Canterbury, and as the name suggests, the main route from London, to the county of Kent. I lived near it, went to school just off of it, and shopped along it, until as recently as 2011. The shop fronts have changed, but the essence of the place remains the same to this day. ‘Wotcher’, for the benefit of non-Londoners, is a greeting, possibly an abbreviation of ‘Watch You’. It was very common in my youth, and is still heard, though less used by younger people. In 1939, in the Hollywood film, ‘The Little Princess’, Shirley Temple sang a version of this song, alongside English character actor, Arthur Treacher. This is a short clip of that performance.

A Foggy Day In London Town.   Written by George and Ira Gershwin, this song, from 1937, was intended for Fred Astaire, in the film ‘A Damsel In Distress’. It has been recorded countless times since, by most of the greatest singers ever known. It continues the long connection of London with Fog, made famous in so many films. The best version is probably that recorded by Frank Sinatra, but I cannot resist the original version, so here is the grainy old film clip.

Waterloo Sunset.  London group, The Kinks, released this tribute to London’s sights and sounds in 1967. It has a timeless quality about it, and is rightly regarded as a tribute to the great city, despite its melancholy love-song feel, and the story that Ray Davies originally titled the song ‘Liverpool Sunset’. The view from Waterloo Bridge is one of the best anywhere in London, taking in all the iconic riverside buildings, as well as many of the other bridges. Here they are, performing the song live, in black and white.

London Calling.  In 1979, punk band The Clash released an album of this name, including this track, issued as a single. It is a political record, about many things, as well as London. However, it has since been widely associated with the city, and is often used to represent it, in film clips, and advertisements. It has undeniable power.

There are many more songs relating to London, either directly, or by association. This is a varied sample, and I hope that you enjoy them. You can be an honorary Londoner, for the short time it takes to listen to them.