Kenny Wilson at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution 12th July 2017

This is a video of my talk at BRLSI in July. It’s not great quality but you get the whole thing! I originally put it on YouTube but it got blocked because of my use of two Bob Dylan songs. This was a bit disappointing but I have decided to upload it here instead. I hope Bob won’t mind too much, he always seemed to understand the true value of copyright theft and plagiarism!

Me? I’m having trouble with the Tombstone Blues!

 

Tonite Let’s All Make Love in Leicester: Peter Whitehead and the Long 1960s (March 2017 De Montfort University)

Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th of March 2017 I attended a conference at DMU, Leicester about film maker Peter Whitehead, and celebrating the donation of his archive to the University.

I found out about it late but am really glad I went. There were some excellent talks that brought new light to the meaning and relevance of the 1960s Counterculture, and other aspects of the Swinging 60s, and also a sublime showing of Whitehead’s Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London on the big screen at Phoenix Square Cinema, Leicester. It was almost like watching a different film to the one I have only previously seen on YouTube.

This is a fascinating view of what was happening at the height of what is now seen as the first great flowering of the Counterculture. It is not uncritical though and the seeds of it’s decline can be seen in the interviews of contemporary stars like Julie Christie, Michael Caine and David Hockney. There is almost a sense of impending loss, and also a critique of it’s superficiality and materialism.

The film is really a response to Time Magazine’s famous article about Swinging London that shifted American’s ‘must visit’ tourist location from Paris to London. After a brilliant start with footage from the UFO Club accompanied by a great version of Interstellar Overdrive by Pink Floyd, Michael Caine bizarrely announces that “…it all started with the loss of the British Empire….”

There is no narrative as such but a series of Chapters that are linked by the time and place, and a general sense of bewilderment by the participants. Following some amazing footage of the Rolling Stones live in Ireland Mick Jagger comes across as a slightly lost , petulant school boy trying to make sense of it all “… they don’t like violence but they themselves are violent which doesn’t seem to make sense…”. Yes okay Mick, thanks for that, you sound just like my mother. Julie Christie, who looks absolutely stunning, bemoans the fact that she is totally superficial and has nothing to say “… everything’s happening to me and I’m not happening to anything…am I allowed to talk?…”. David Hockney is not impressed by ‘Swinging London’ at all and prefers New York and California. The bars stay open til 2 a.m. and the drinks are cheaper and he can meet ordinary people in the clubs, unlike London which is overpriced and exclusive. To be fair though, David Hockney has been moaning about something for most of his life, quite often about not being allowed to smoke cigarettes wherever he wants! He is very amusing though. When Julie Christie smokes a cigarette in the film she doesn’t look like she quite knows what to do with it. Vanessa Redgrave, on the other hand, exudes confidence and political commitment and sings a capella and lectures the audience, a bit like an over-confident trainee teacher.

Andrew Loog Oldham is the stereotype of a cynical, Svengali-like pop manager who talks about how he ‘invented’ the Rolling Stones image as the ‘bad boys’ of pop, which, in fact, they quite obviously are not. He revels in his lack of knowledge but obviously believes he can do anything he wants “… I might get into politics someday..or films” he says. In some ways, this is quite a refreshing and confident attitude. Nevertheless, he never did get into either politics or films which is probably just as well as I am sure he would have joined the ranks of the Thatcherites and done something really terrible like close down the NHS or sell the whole of England to Disneyworld. The film ends where it began with some amazing footage of dancers at the UFO Club and the music of Pink Floyd. A truly remarkable film! There is a real sense of dynamism and change. The way the music accompanies the live performances of the Stones is inspired especially with the song Lady Jane. Whitehead doesn’t bother about synchronicity and blends unrelated recordings with live footage. Have You Seen Your Mother Baby (Standing in the Shadows), a surprisingly dark and seemingly uncommercial recording (even though it was a top ten hit), it’s not unlike the Velvet Underground, plays while the band and audience go wild and Lady Jane introduces a strange and eerie sense of calm.

The rest of the conference passed quickly. It took place over two days but the papers delivered were so fascinating that I never lost interest the whole time I was there. This has got to be a first for me, my attention can easily wander! I usually have alternative activities at hand in case I get bored! Didn’t need them this time! There were a wide range of themes that dealt with the 60s with some, but not all, relating to the work of Peter Whitehead

Adrian Smith discussed the interesting sub genre The Love Business: European Prostitution Drama as British Popular Entertainment. This dealt with the film distributors who were showing European films, many of which had a serious sub-text, as soft porn films to a British audience. There are some echoes of this theme in a recent Channel 4 series Magnifica 70 that deals with film and censorship in Brazil in 1970. Worryingly, this is about a right wing dictatorship in Brazil but could just as easily be about censorship and social control in Britain in the 1960s.  Definitely worth a look.

The Love Business: European Prostitution Drama as British Popular Entertainment

Richard Farmar looked at the bizarre film The Touchables and Melanie Williams gave an interesting account of the film maker David Hart. She talked about the “Right-wing Counterculture” which to some would be a contradiction in terms. The majority of  countercultural participants were either “left wing” or perhaps “apolitical” but she made a very good argument about how many issues, like women’s lib or gay rights, could belong to either the left or right.  She pointed out how politician and journalist Jonathon Aitken started as a countercultural figure in the 1960s but ended up as a cabinet minister in the Conservative Government of the 1980s (before he ended up in jail, that is!). I have investigated elements of right wing attitudes in my essay The Decline of the 1960s Counterculture and the Rise of Thatcherism in which I look at libertarianism and other aspects of the counterculture in the 1980s such as sexual freedom, drug taking and “alternative” businesses such as Virgin and Gap.

David Hart and Right-wing Counterculture

Caroline Langhorst gave an interesting talk on three lesser known films of the 1960s all of which are critical of the optimism and the joie de vivre of the period. These are Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London, Privilege (starring Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones) and Herostratus (featuring a young Helen Mirren).

1960s Dystopian Tendecies

Both Privilege and, especially, Herostratus are relatively unknown films. Privilege had a cinema release in the 1960s (I actually saw it) but I believe Herostratus was virtually lost, although there is a copy now on Blu-ray (which I have yet to see). There are some clips of it on YouTube which are quite intriguing. Personally, I feel that the films that really define and critique the era, especially in terms of pop music and the counterculture, are Easy Rider, Performance (featuring Mick Jagger) and, of course, Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London. What becomes generally apparent is the mainstream media’s inability to really understand what is going on during this period. Their attempt to commercialise the movement in films of the time often produced a cliched view of pop culture and society that, for some, defines what the 1960s are about but is actually a ridiculous fiction.

Niki de Sainte Phalle with her trademark targets. An influence on Mod fashion?

There were some interesting talks about feminism in the 1960s. Alissa Clark investigated Peter Whitehead and Niki de Saint-Phalle’s collaberation Daddy. In 1972, Saint Phalle shot footage for this surreal horror film about a deeply troubled father-daughter, love-hate relationship. She was an artist, sculptor and film maker who made quite an impact on the avant garde scene from the 1940s onwards.

Jane Arden “The Other Side of Underneath”

There was also a passionate and forceful account of radical filmmaker and theatremaker Jane Arden who I had actually not heard of before. In 1970, Arden formed the radical feminist theatre group Holocaust and then wrote the play A New Communion for Freaks, Prophets and Witches. The play would later be adapted for the screen as The Other Side of the Underneath (1972). Arden directed the film and appeared in it uncredited; screenings at film festivals, including the 1972 London Film Festival, caused a considerable stir. The film depicts a woman’s mental breakdown and rebirth in scenes at times violent and highly shocking; the writer and critic George Melly described it as “a most illuminating season in Hell”, while the BBC Radio journalist David Will declared the film to be “a major breakthrough for the British cinema”. Interesting stuff!

Stephen Glynn gave an entertaining look at Whitehead’s films of the Rolling Stones including the iconic promotional film for the song We Love You and Steve Chibnall showed us what the 1960s Counterculture was like in a provincial city, namely Leicester! Well, I should know because I was there, but he managed to come out with facts that I knew nothing about. For example, how the local paper The Leicester Mercury led a campaign to close down the late night clubs and coffee bars that proliferated at the time. Do You Know What Your Children Are Up To While You Sleep? screamed the headlines. My favourite band Legay complained that they had hardly anywhere left to play and were moving to London! I am shocked and stunned by these revelations!

Jimi Hendrix at the Leicester Art College Hawthorn Building. Local rock and roll band Warlock ended up doing the support spot.

Richard Dacre gave an entertaining account of the Counterculture and Peter Whitehead at the Royal Albert Hall. Apparently, after Wholly Communion, poetry performances were banned at the hall for more than 20 years! Hilarious. I am looking forward to the Whitehead inspired festival at the RAH later on this year!

Counterculture at the Royal Albert Hall

 

 

 

 

THE HOLY BARBARIANS by Lawrence Lipton

The Holy Barbarians was a book published in 1959 detailing the lives of the Beats living on Venice Beach in Los Angeles by poet Lawrence Lipton. It was very influential and was like a How to Do book for us in the mid 1960s in Leicester. Following is a quote from the book about the difference and similarities of Beats and Juvenile Delinquents! Much was written and talked about Juvenile Delinquents in this period. It was seen as a big problem. I remember my Grandmother was very bothered that I might have become one! I assured her I hadn’t but, then again, I did have my moments!

Of course, the Beat writers were in awe of criminal hipsters like Herbert Huncke and Neal Cassady but they weren’t seen as just delinquents, they had a kind of holy destiny. They were viewed almost as divine figures on a spiritual quest and, certainly, Cassady probably saw himself that way as well.

Later on in the 60s Venice Beach was the place that keyboardist Ray Manzarek first met singer and poet Jim Morrison and they formed the Doors.

“Everyone has to go to jail some time in his life,” remarked a fifteen year-old girl I met at Angel’s pad one afternoon. She was playing hooky from high school for the day and had just come back from visiting her boy friend in the County Jail. He had been busted for pot and they were also trying to hang a car-stealing rap on him. “They” were the heat and this was the bond that this chick felt with beatland. The beards puzzled her, and the poetry was so much baby talk to her. She had enough of that at school. One book was the same as any other to her. Pot was baby stuff, too. She had been on horse since she was thirteen.

What drew her to the beatniks was the way they understood her attitude toward her family and elders in general and the fact that they didn’t think she was a bad girl. The fuss that parents and older people made about sex seemed silly to her. Virginity? She and her girl friends at high school had a word for it. “Big issue about a little tissue.”

As a juvenile delinquent Myra Flores belonged to the cool cats who could be seen coming out of Venice High after school hours and piling into a car – integration was no problem here – white, Negro, Mexican. They didn’t hang around street corners; they drove fast cars in car pools that were also clubs of a sort. The Mexican girls were popular with these boys. Sometimes the blond girls dyed their hair to look like Mexican chicks. Their cars were not souped-up hot rods, that was for squares. Their clothes were sharp. Every penny they could beg, borrow or steal went into clothes. They drank wine and smoked marijuana. They didn’t talk much. They were physical in their relations, fondled each other a lot and watched television by the hour. Looking older than their years was very important to them. It meant that they could pass for twenty-one without an I.D. card in the taverns.

Rarely can a girl like Myra Flores make the beat scene except as a place of refuge or a drop-in lay, but a J.D. like Willie Frank can make it for quite a while on nothing but an ability to say little, listen much and play it close to his vest, which passes for cool as long as he doesn’t make any false moves. Willie fell into Venice West from a town in New Jersey where things had gotten too hot for him. He had smoked pot since he was fourteen, graduated to horse not long afterward, and served a term in jail back east.

The beat and the juvenile delinquent are only kissin’ cousins. They have the same enemies, which is the slender thread that sometimes unites them in temporary alliance. Both are outlaws, speak a private language and put down the squares, but in beat circles the J.D. is regarded as a square, a hip square in some things, but still a square.

He is a square because his values are the conventional American values: success, the worship of things, the obsession with speed and devil-take-the-hindmost attitudes in everything They are “sharpies” always looking for angles. They believe everything they read in the ads. The “kick” they are looking for when they “borrow” a car for a night is the kick of making “a majestic entrance” in front of a chick’s house. The juvenile delinquent wants a Ford in his future, but he wants his future right now. He can’t buy it so he steals it. “My old man waited,” one of them remarked to me, “and what did it get him? He’s fifty and he’s still driving a ’49 Chevy.”

The names they give their gangs are indicative of their hunger for social status. In Venice West it’s The Doges. Some of them pronounce it “dogs” but they know it means something like The Man of Distinction. (Wasn’t “putting on the dog” once a slang synonym for distinctive?) If one gang names itself The Counts, the gang in the next block goes it one better with The Dukes. Such pretensions are abhorrent to the beatnik.

Their “social protest,” which is a common theme in liberal magazines trying to “understand” the J.D., is so much double talk in the beatnik’s opinion. They are not victims of the society, they are its fruit and flower. The J.D. in a stolen car, dressed up in his sharp clothes, seated beside his chick and smoking the cigarette that is the choice of men who demand the best, is the ironic triumph of the adman’s dream. They are not likely to yield to the lures of communism. In fact, many of the J.D.’s of past generations are now among the society’s most successful businessmen.

The vandalism of the juvenile delinquent is directed against symbols of authority, like the school. If he finds school too confining or oppressive, or too boring, the beatnik finds ways of “beating the system.” He cuts classes as often as he can but he keeps his scholastic average high enough to stay out of trouble. He doesn’t go back after school hours and wreck the classroom or waylay a teacher and slug him for giving him low marks. Any show of violence among the beat generation, when it does occur, is rare enough – and significant enough – to become legendary. Such a legend is the one you hear frequently about Carl Solomon. “It was at Brooklyn College,” says Allen Ginsberg. “Some square lecturer was giving a lecture on Dadaism, and Carl pelted him with potato salad.” Which is exactly what any Dadaist would have done. That Carl was expelled for it is only further proof that the lecturer was a square.

The violence of the delinquent is usually directed against older people. The beatnik would not commit such acts of violence. He would write a poem about it.

Only a newspaperman with his feet stuck in a slot at the rewrite desk could possibly mistake a J.D. for a beatnik. The newspaper stereo-typed vandal is a composite of “teenager,” “juvenile delinquent” and “beatnik,” a convenient composite since it simplifies headline writing and makes every youth crime story a rewrite of the familiar dope fiend, sex fiend, youth-on-the-rampage yarn. All the reporter has to do is change a few names and places. The J.D. doesn’t mind the publicity. It gives him status. The only thing Willie Frank objected to in the news stories about him and his gang when they were busted for drugs was that the papers misspelled his name and even mixed up names under the pictures. “DOPE RING SMASHED” was a little too grandiose a headline, Willie thought, for a twenty-dollar haul of pot, but it gave him a glow just the same.”

More London Coffee Bars of the 1950s and 60s

This is the full unexpurgated Central London Cafe Tour put together for Architecture Week 17-26 June 2005. The tour takes in a range of 1950s and 1960s London cafe styles. As you can see many more have since closed down, overwhelmed by the big corporate chains like Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero! Support your independent Coffee Bar!!

As of 2005 all these places are under clear and present danger. Most will be gone in a few months or years. (The walk starts off in Marylebone, curves along the edges of Bond St, plunges into Soho, then arcs up to Goodge St.)

French cafés and US diners have received substantial cultural focus over the decades. But the old style Italian Formica cafes of the 1950s, and earlier, have never been given their due ­ despite their manifest contribution to the (sub)cultural life of post war Britain.

Often dismissed as ‘greasy spoons’, Classic Cafes (those unchanged British working men’s Formica caffs which retain most of their mid-century fixtures and fittings) are actually mini-masterpieces of vernacular 1950s and 1960s design.

Most are now vanishing in a welter of redevelopment. But once, their of-the-moment design and mass youth appeal galvanised British cultural life and incubated a whole postwar generation of writers, artists, musicians, crime lords and sexual interlopers.

For a country that had emerged from World War Two economically crippled and facing the complete collapse of long-held social and political certainties, the caffs became forcing houses for the cultural advance guard coursing through London at the time.

The classic cafes of the 1950s added an impassioned colour to Britain’s post war social, artistic and commercial scene. The mix of cafes, a nascent TV industry and the skiffle cult effectively created a new world order as, from 1963-1967, London dictated youth culture to the world.

Within a decade of the first Soho espresso bar, The Moka at 29 Frith Street, being opened in 1953, London became the world’s hippest city: a ferment of music, fashion, film, advertising, photography, sex, crime, and the avant-garde.

The cafes were, “the first sign that London was emerging from an ice age that had seen little change in its social habits since the end of the first world war. Once the ice began to crack, everything was suddenly up for grabs.” Without them, the unleashing influence of the 1960s might never have been so seismic.

Today, the big coffee combines are destroying classic cafes en masse. By deliberately negotiating exorbitant leases, and raising ‘comparables’ (rent levels used to calculate local rent increases) they are putting competitors out of business at an astonishing rate. This brutal Starbuck-ing of the high street is leading to the wholesale erasure of British vernacular retail architecture.

“The architecture and ambience of [classic cafes] is fast being levelled in a kind of massive cultural, corporate napalming by the big coffee chains… they will not rest until every street in the West is a branded mall selling their wares. Orwell’s nightmare vision in 1984 was of a jackboot stamping on the human face forever. If the coffee corporates have their way, the future is best represented as a boiling skinny latte being spilt in the lap of humanity in perpetuity.” (Adrian Maddox, The Observer, Aug 1 2004)

The loss of London’s classic cafes should be particularly sadly felt. For their far-reaching impact on modern Britain, we owe them, and their founders, an immense debt of gratitude. And a serious duty of care.


Guardian: June 22 2005: ‘Greasy spoon wars’ by Chris Hall

There is no greater call to arms during this year’s Architecture Week (June 17-26) than that of saving the old-style Italian cafes from the 1950s, often disparaged as greasy spoons or working men’s caffs.

Adrian Maddox, author of the definitive book on the subject, Classic Cafes, has compiled a “last chance to see” tour of around 30 of them in London (see http://www.classiccafes.co.uk for details).

Maddox’s concern is with the design and ambience of these cafes, which he finds “bracingly Pinteresque, seedy and despairing”.

The pictures in his book are part Edward Hopper, part Martin Parr.

I met Maddox at the New Piccadilly cafe, the “cathedral of cafes”, in a side street by Piccadilly Circus.

“Everything here is original, apart from the mirrors,” he says. He’s soon enthusing about the Thonet chairs, the three shades of Formica and the extremely rare horseshoe menu.

This Saturday, the cafe can be seen on BBC1 in the new Richard Curtis film, The Girl in the Cafe, with Kelly MacDonald and Bill Nighy.

For Maddox, it’s a war against the big coffee chains whose “policy of extermination” is forcing these cafes out of business.

He reckons that there are only 500 classic cafes left in the UK. Two London cafes, Pellici’s in Bethnal Green and Alfredo’s (now S&M) in Islington, have been grade II listed by English Heritage, but most, if not all, will be gone in a few months or years, he claims.

Is listing the answer? Catherine Croft, director of the Twentieth Century Society, says: “A lot of the charm is in the furniture and the menus and what’s on the tables. It’s popular art, not high architecture. Listing them can only protect the building elements.”

In fact, the owner of the New Piccadilly, Lorenzo Marioni, is glad that English Heritage didn’t recommend it for listing last September, as this would have diminished his potential for selling it, which he still might have to do.

With his landlord demanding ever higher rent, he’s never going to be able to compete with the big chains. “I’d just love to be here at a reasonable rent, serving the local community at a reasonable price,” he says.

 


Start: south Marylebone High Street (Bond St tube/Baker St tube)

 

Golden Hind [73 Marylebone Road W1]
Open for nearly forty five years, and owned by the Schiavetta family, this Art Deco Vitrolite chip shop has a full range of classic cafe chairs and tables.

Paul Rothe & Son [35 Marylebone Lane W1]
Untouched, early twentieth century deli and old-fashioned provisions shopwith cafe area featuring unique, folding white leatherette-seating (late 60s vintage). Many archive pictures, and a full history of the premises, are displayed in the windows. (Rothe’s liptauer sandwiches are legendary.)

Marylebone Cafe [58 Marylebone Lane W1]
Plain-style caff on the verges of Oxford St. Good exterior mosaic tile patterning and a big bold nameplate and awnings. Decent booth interior. John and Alma Negri were the proprietors for many years from the late 50s to the late 60s. “My paternal grandparents ran it before that. I remember seeing my auntie Brenda on the evening TV news in 1963, crossing Wigmore Street, with a tray of tea and biscuits: they were for Christine Keeler and John Profumo when they had just been arrested… We only opened at lunchtimes and it was run by my dad’s twin sisters, Anna and Maria. I think they were as big a draw as the steak and kidney puddings.” (Peter Negri)

The Lucky Spot [14 North Audley St W1]
Oddly grand carved stone exterior. Heavy on crypto-Swiss ambience. High-backed carved pews, lots of dark panelling which the owner insists is meant to be Elizabethan pastiche.

Sandwich Bar [Brooks Mews W1] RIP
Hidden gem, utterly overlooked in a superb lost mews by Claridges. Amazing sign and door handle. Brilliant green leatherette seats. Worn Formica tables. Interesting mix of clientele: cabbies & Claridges doormen. Functional and friendly. A model of British utility. (One of only two remaining establishments to be listed in ‘The Good Cuppa Guide’ of the 1960s.)

Chalet Coffee Lounge [81 Grosvenor St W1]
One of the original first generation Coffee bars. This swish little place is kitted out in 60s Swiss-style (very much like the Lucky Spot in North Audley St, St Moritz in Wardour St, and the Tiroler Hut in Westbourne Grove.) This styling was once all the rage as Alpine-exotica briefly irrupted throughout Europe after the war. Wistful ­ seemingly hand-drawn ­ exterior sign, lots of polished brown wood, fancy ironwork lighting, inlaid coloured lights, and pew-bench seating. (Don’t miss the two basement sections hidden at the back.)

RIP/Site of… Rendez-Vous [56 Maddox St W1]
Gaze longingly at the outside Espresso Bongo-like sign and then scoot into one of the very best London caffs left standing around Bond Street. It’s arranged like a domestic living room: covered tables, wooden chairs, lovely lights, lashings of warm Formica…

RIP/Site of… Euro Snack Bar [Swallow St W1]
The little Euro Snack Bar was installed in an obscure street lined with lap-dancing clubs. Superb orange and green frontage (with top 60s typography), small, comfortable booths, low ceilings, and odd little mini-counters on every table for holding the drab-green salt n’ pepper sets. (These are featured on the cover of the book Classic Cafes.)

Source Cafe [78 Brewer St W1] RIP
Ruined cafe (near New Piccadilly) that has some interesting original 1950s exterior features: marble and Vitrolite stall riser with chrome stall-boards; chrome transom/ventilators. (A well-preserved ‘harvest’ mural is still visible through the windows.)

Cafe Rio [58 Brewer St W1]
Unremarkable modernised cafe, however a historic family archive is displayed on the walls.

The New Piccadilly [8 Denman St W1] RIP
A cathedral amongst caffs – a place of reverence. One of the few populuxe Festival of Britain interiors left in the country. Pink Vitrolite coffee machine. Big plastic horseshoe menu. 50s clock. Wall-to-wall yellow Formica. Rows of shiny dark wood booths. The New Piccadilly menu alone is a collectors-item. “I’ve seen 50 years of change in this place,” says proprietor, Lorenzo Marioni, whose late father, Pietro, founded the joint in 1951. Lorenzo was born in a village in the Apennines, not far from Pisa. His parents moved to London shortly after the Second World War. He followed them in 1949. Within a year he was washing up and peeling the potatoes. The Marionis once owned six cafés but sold the premises, one by one, to the next wave of immigrants. Soho gangster Albert Dines once sat in the New Piccadilly and told the young Lorenzo about his association with Prince Felix Yusupov, one of the conspirators who killed Rasputin and sought refuge in London in 1919. In 1956, the cafe became a meeting point for Hungarian dissidents fleeing the Soviet invasion. (Lorenzo remembers the day when one of their number proudly showed his father a rival’s severed finger, wrapped in a handkerchief.)

Lina Stores [18 Brewer St W1]
Beautifully preserved 1950s exterior in green vitrolite and ceramic: “This tightly packed shop is charmingly old-fashioned, and the range of imported Italian produce extensive. Olive oil, porcini, lentils, beans, Seggiano chestnut honey, Sapori panforte and Paccheri pasta jostle for shelf space, and the deli counter contains great olives, cheeses, hams, salamis and truffles, marinated artichokes and anchovies plus ownmade pasta and sausages.” (Time Out) … “Lina… has been going 50 years; it still stocks everything an Italian chef, or anyone cooking Italian food would ever want and even if Italian food does not appeal it is still worth calling in here for a glimpse of what Soho used to be in an era before supermarkets, when it was the only place in the country to buy any faintly exotic foodstuff. (When we interviewed the late Jane Grigson she recalled that if in the 1950s and early 1960s you were walking along and spotted someone else with a packet of spaghetti in the old blue wax paper you would wave acknowledging a kindred spirit!)” (Jancis Robinson)

RIP/Site of… 2I’s Coffee Bar [59 Old Compton St]
The 2is, owned by professional wrestler Paul Lincoln, was a musical melting pot: country, blues, jazz, skiffle, calypso and rock. It attracted visitors from all over the country. 2is regular Joe Moretti moved to London in 1958 to play guitar for Vince Eager and Gene Vincent: “In 1958 the 2is was the fuse for the explosion that was to come in the world of UK Rock and Rollit was just a little cafe with an old battered piano in the basement in Old Compton street. But it had a soul and a buzz” Adam Faith recalled: “a ground floor cafe, with linoleum floors and Formica tables it was downstairs, at night, under the street, that the real action took place the record industry, fuelled by the skiffle craze, began to explode. But everyone expected it to be a nine-day wonder. The old-timer agents would sit around in their old-timer agent restaurants, shaking their heads, muttering ‘It’ll all be over in a week or two'”


RIP/Site of… Heaven and Hell coffee bar
Next door but one to the 2is. Another legendary 50s coffee bar.

Bar Italia [22 Frith Street W1]
On the site since 1945 (before the 50s Espresso boom) the neon entrance sign and ornate hanging clock front an interior with stools running down a long counter space laminated in two-tone Formica. Authentic Soho Italiana, but the atmosphere is somewhat vitiated by the large projection TV.

RIP/Site of… The Moka coffee bar [29 Frith St W1]
Reputedly the first Soho Espresso bar. The Moka had the first Gaggia machine in London. The venue was created by Pino Riservato (related by marriage to the director of the Gaggia company). Originally a dental equipment salesman, he decided to open his own cafe on the site of the old Charlotte Laundry after failing to sell any coffee machines to other establishments. The Moka was designed by Geoffrey Crockett and Maurice Ross. Opened to a massive publicity fanfare by Gina Lollabrigida, it would be the model for many cafes to come. (Soon after, the Coffee Inn at 37 Park Lane opened, and the Mocambo in Knightsbridge, and The Chalet in Grosvenor Street.) This 1950s cafe scene led to the reforging of London in the 60s as the world’s hippest city: “a ferment of music, fashion, film, photography, scandal and avant-gardism.”

Jimmy’s [23a Frith Street W1]
The Greeks and Italians set up the first Soho cafes early in the 1900s. This time warp 1950s basement restaurant has remained pretty well unchanged for half a century. Brilliant 50s door sign, foyer floor, and stairway down to the eatery itself. The décor is well preserved: rough white plaster, a primitive painted mural, ancient furniture and a wall space in a corner covered with cards congratulating Jimmy’s on its fiftieth birthday, “a comfortable place to sit and read, the Greek music at a low level … a welcome respite from the aggressive din of central London.”

A. Angelucci [23b Frith St W1] RIP
‘The finest Coffees for over 50 years’. The Angelucci family have been blending coffee on Frith St since they came here before World War One. Go to see the straining shelves, the fluted wall coverings, the 50s cash machine, the old grinder, the unchanged dangling lights… “Alma Angelucci and her family have been coffee specialists for over 50 years. Her father’s secret blend Mokital is enjoyed in many restaurants and cafes in London, including Bar Italia.”

The Stockpot [18 Old Compton St W1]
Retains a late 1960s pine wood design feel.

Amalfi [29-31 Old Compton St W1] RIP Sep 05
Sensitively renovated restaurant with massive basement and a small add-on side cafe which used to sport more 1950s fittings than it does now. Amazing Sorrentine murals. (Be sure to check out the amazing moderne ceiling mouldings ­ similar to Morrelli’s in Broadstairs.)

RIP/Site of… The Pollo [20 Old Compton Street W1]
The Pollo with its ox-blood booths, Lapidus beanpole railings, Contemporary ceiling, murals, top notch signage, and perfectly preserved light fittings always had hungry queues waiting outside…

RIP/Site of… Cafe Torino [corner of Old Compton St & Dean St W1]
Soho had a greater concentration of coffee bars in the fifties than anywhere. The new caffs attracted many of London’s leading intellectuals: Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Frank Auerbach… At Cafe Torino, the prices were low and the owners allowed credit. Poets and pale young artists flocked there. Writer and Soho character Daniel Farson recalled: “It was pleasantly old-fashioned with tall, arched windows. It had wrought-iron tables with marble tops, cups of proper coffee you could talk for hours over a small cup of coffee… the tables were usually crowded. There were dark Italians huddled in earnest discussions, suddenly bursting into furious argument and several pale young artists and poets searching half-heartedly for jobs”…

Algerian Coffee Stores [52 Old Compton St W1]
“Opened in 1887 by Mr Hassan. With over a century of experience in the world of coffee and using the finest Arabica beans, and with over 60 different blends available, Algerian Coffee Stores are one of the leading coffee experts in the UK, specialising in the creation of new exclusive blends to suit the individual entrepreneur” … “The current owner, Mr Crocetta, inherited it from his father-in-law, who refused to accept credit cards or sell tea bags. Coffee was delivered to the basement, roasted, then sold wholesale or through the shop upstairs. The shop now sells 120 different types of coffee and over one tonne of coffee each week. It is also a stockist for Alessi products, imports and repairs espresso machines from Italy, and does now sell tea bags, along with some delicious chocolates – coated plums and ginger and large bars of sleek black Valrhona. The roasting is done in a separate warehouse – there simply isn’t room in the shop. Mr Crocetta buys his coffee through brokers, who send him samples. He then roasts these in his tiny roaster on the top floor of the shop. If he is happy with the beans, he places an order… he has seen a 30 per cent increase in the purchase of espresso coffee in the last five years.”

RIP/Site of… Bunjies Coffee House & Folk Cellar [27 Litchfield Street WC2]
One of the original Folk cafes of the 50s. Bunjie’s (named after a hamster)has played host to Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Al Stewart. A regular haunt too of writers, singers, comedians and cartoonists. One of Leigh Bowery’s favourite cafes in the 80s, and Jarvis Cocker’s… “[Bunjies is] a bunker just off Charing Cross Road that probably hasn’t changed since it opened over 40 years ago. Jarvis Cocker first discovered the place when he was studying at Central Saint Martins College of Art round the corner… Pulp’s songs are like Mike Leigh plays set to music – little kitsch ‘n’ sink dramas about urban deprivation and strange sex. Cocker’s lyrics, which are group’s mainstay, are perfect examples of lo-fi realism, full of dirty fingernails and soiled undergarments, damp council flats and indiscriminate muggings.”

Trattoria da Aldo [51 Greek St W1] RIP
Old time 1960s style trattoria with rows of neat little booths and cod-Italiana hanging from the ceilings.

Maison Bertaux [28 Greek Street W1]
130 year old patisserie cum cafe sited between a strip club and an old pub with an upstairs room that looks like an old dairy annex. The rickety seats and tables, and worn Lincrusta lend it a, “traditional French charm and paysan appeal.”

Lorelei [21 Bateman St W1]
The Italian flag exterior and the lovely old sign are all absolutely untouched and the inside resembles a miniature village hall circa 1958 – linoleum floor, square Formica tables, shabby posters, tiny serving area, creaky wooden chairs, dingy murals. Look carefully at the sign on the side of the restaurant. The legend on the house coffee machine reads ‘Con la Cimbali… un Cimbalino!’; like everything else in this little enclave, it’s been here for over 40 years. “The espresso it produces is consistently the best in London. On top of which it is probably also the cheapest you’ll find… ” (One of the few remaining Soho basement drinking clubs is hidden round the corner, check out the Lorelei sign.)

Bar Bruno [101 Wardour St W1]
A little slice of authentic Soho of olde which, along with the Lorelei, has outlasted the developers. Chalet style booths in cheery green leatherette, and massive wall menus.

site of… 101 Snack Bar RIP [101 Charing Cross Road WC2]
This little pull-in (almost opposite the Phoenix theatre) has been a Soho staple for decades. Recently unsympathetically refitted, the all yellow and black laminate interior was blazingly bright, standing like a beacon all day and night. The outside sign, long gone, was a 50s classic.

site of … Tea Rooms [Museum Street W1]
British dinginess at its most downbeat and determined. Paint-stripper tea, biscuit displays, bacon sandwich posters… timeless, brilliant and perfect. With its trademark Deco-yellow exterior sign, the Tea Rooms seemed to refract two previous centuries of caff half-life: a hint of nineteenth century worker’s snack bar; a dash of twentieth century Lyons dining hall… The mosaic-Formica interior had an affecting spartan beauty. (The owners Rene and Eugenio Corsini attended to their flock from an old war-horse cooker called The London.)

site of … Zita (aka Ida’s) [New Oxford St/Shaftesbury Avenue WC2]
Just round the corner from the Tea Rooms, the Zita preserved a few highlights from the Festival of Britain Contemporary look: a nice 1950s exterior sign, glorious orange Formica seats and a suspended ceiling. (The old ladies who ran Zita’s had orange aprons with the cafe logo on it. They’ve gone back to Italy but their cousin has bought it.)

Sidoli’s/Lino’s Buttery [Store Street/Alfred Place WC1] RIP Jun 06
Great booth seating and a pleasing mid-century ambience all set well back from the crushing boredom of the Tottenham Court Road furniture shops. The Sidoli family used to run chains of cafes throughout Britain.

Fish Bar & Kebab House [Whitfield Street W1] RIP
The main front-section is a standard fish bar, but tucked round the side is a bolt-on mini-restaurant that looks pretty well untouched since 1953. Features include: square, solid, metal and drab-green leatherette chairs; ranks of tables; polished vinyl-wood walls; scallop shell ceilings; period clocks; random wall plates.

site of … Tony’s [91 Charlotte Street W1]
The most infamous of all the 1940s (pre Espresso) Fitzrovia cafes. Frequented by Lucien Freud, George Orwell, Dylan Thomas, Louis MacNeice & Quentin Crisp. The largely boho/villain/prostitute clientele was overseen by a razor-scared Maltese called George.

Perugino [Tottenham St W1]
Pleasant leatherette booth selection, and marble-top tables.

 

Finish: north Tottenham Court Road (Goodge Street tube)