Archive for the ‘pubs’ Category

When Brad Pitt celebrated his wedding in Soho’s French House pub

March 14, 2017
Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in Allied

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in Allied

Watched the film Allied on the jet from Sydney to Hong Kong the other day in which the Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard characters get married and celebrate in the York Minster pub. She’s French (in the film as well as in real life) and it’s in London. I thought, can that be Soho? Sure enough it was the York Minister in Dean Street, as became clear from the interior scenes – though it’s amazing how they made it look so big!

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The French House in Soho 

The York Minister was the meeting house for the Free French in London during the Second World War but had gained the nickname ‘The French House‘ because of Gaston Berlemont, the landlord (though he was, in fact, Belgian). De Gaulle is supposed to have written his famous BBC rallying speech there. In 1984, it changed its name to the nickname.

John Taylor, founder of Man About Town magazine drank in the French House, York Minster, in Soho

John Taylor, founder of Man About Town

The Minster was always popular with writers and artists. Also, among the many pictures that cover the walls is supposed to be a photograph of John Taylor, the founder of Man About Town magazine and editor of Tailor & Cutter, the world’s most influential style magazine for much of the past century. I’ve never spotted it though.

I was in The French House a few weeks ago with a couple of friends. Highly recommended is a bottle of the house red and a plate of bread and cheese with homemade chutney. Lunch for three for £30!

It was also The French House that gave me my favourite piece of graffiti, on a theme that has been much in evidence since the US presidential election.

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Pulp fiction and off-the-shelf thriller plots

December 31, 2015
Miles Jupp on pulp writer William Wallace Cook and Plotto, his 'Master Book of All Plots'

Miles Jupp expounds on US pulp writer William Wallace Cook and Plotto, his ‘Master Book of All Plots’

Miles Jupp set out on BBC Radio 4 this morning to answer the question: How many stories are there in the world? In Miles Jupp and the Plot Device he investigates the ideas of William Wallace Cook, an American writer of pot-boilers and stories for pulp fiction magazines in the 1920s. According to Cook there were 1,462 plots and he laid them all out in Plotto, his ‘Master Book of All Plots’, in 1928.

Any writer stuck for inspiration could leaf through Plotto to discover plots like ‘a ventriloquist, captured by savages and threatened with death, makes an animal talk and is given his freedom’ or ‘a reporter, writing up an imaginary interview as fact, quotes a man as being in town on a certain day. The man, subsequently accused of a crime, establishes an alibi through an interview innocently faked by the reporter.’

Cook hailed his own book as ‘an invention which reduces literature to an exact science’ and it worked for him, turning out up to 50 novels a year. Perry Mason creator Earl Stanley Gardner is mentioned as having ‘borrowed liberally’ from Plotto and Alfred Hitchcock had a copy. Jub reckons that pulp plots cover just about every episode of both Downton Abbey and Mad Men.

Jupp enlists the help of crime writers Val McDermid and John Harvey in his investigation. Harvey has written more than 100 thrillers. McDermid – writer of 40 books – reckons thrillers are character-driven, rather than by plot, which is why Plotto falls down for her. However, she does reckon it has a role in prompting plot ideas.

Such writers filled the pages of the popular weekly and monthly magazines in Britain and the US for most of the 20th century; the serials were then turned into books (and the other way round when the writers became popular). Cook’s output pales into insignificance when compared with the most prolific British writers – Ursula Bloom (560 romance novels in her 91 years), Barbara Cartland (359 romances in 98 years) and King Kong inventor Edgar Wallace, regarded as the most widely read author in the world in the 1920s with 170 novels (but then he died while working on the film King Kong at the age of just 57).  Presumably, they just got on with writing and never read any books!

You can still hear Miles Jupp and the Plot Device on the BBC website. Or, better still, pop into the Edgar Wallace pub off Fleet Street for a New Year pint and listen to it on your laptop.

To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

I peed on my shoes laughing before Pravda landed on the streets of Thatcher’s Britain

October 8, 2015
The first issue of Pravda monthly in English in 1986

The first issue of Pravda monthly in English in 1986

It’s 29 years ago and the latest monthly magazine to hit the news-stands is an English-language version of Pravda – the newspaper of the Communist party of the Soviet Union. The 44-page, A4 magazine proudly boasts it was founded by Lenin in 1911, on the 5th of May to be precise, and announces its battle cry ‘Workers of the world unite’.

This was still the Cold War. Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s prime minister and Mikhail Gorbachev was the Russian president facing up to Ronald Reagan in the US. A headline inside, ‘How Star Wars flouts the law’,  attacks the US strategic defence initiative with its bluster about energy weapons mounted on satellite systems. BBC Radio 4 is presently serialising Thatcher’s official biography by arch Tory Charles Moore, a former editor of the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph and Spectator magazine, where he writes the weekly Notes column.

Besides Star Wars weapons and the Chernobyl fallout (also the subject of a recent Radio 4 series), it was the era of my favourite piece of grafitti, seen on the wall of the otherwise spotless men’s loo of the French House pub, underneath the pavement in Soho’s Dean Street. In 1984, in the run-up to the election battle against Walter Mondale, someone had scrawled: ‘Lee Harvey Oswald, where are you, when your country needs you most?’ Not a Reagan fan then, but the former actor won by a landslide. I peed on my shoes laughing.

Badges from the Pravda title

Badges from the Pravda title

The Pravda masthead shows two Lenin badges and the hammer and sickle in front of what I take to be the battleship Potemkin –  scene of the failed mutiny of 1905 made famous by Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film.

Nowadays, you can read Pravda on the web.

To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

John Bull magazine at the Angel in Rotherhithe

December 19, 2014
Detail from John Bull magazine cover of marching policemen with the Angel pub at Rotherhithe in the background

Detail from John Bull magazine cover of marching policemen with the Angel pub at Rotherhithe in the background

It was the detail in the background that caught my eye for this 1952 John Bull cover by Royal Academy artist Alfred Thomson RA. The line of marching policemen points to the lit-up Angel, clearly a pub. And not just any pub I reckoned, but the Angel in Rotherhithe.

John Bull cover by Alfred Thomson from September 1952

John Bull cover from September 1952 showing the full painting by Alfred Thomson

The Angel is right on the Thames river wall, in fact at high tide the terrace is a foot under water and the waves splash up against the windows.

There’s no police station nearby now, but a look at a map and a web search fills in the details. The painting’s view is looking north up Cathay Street to the river. The police station, no longer in use, was on the corner with Paradise Street.

The bobbies are all eyes left towards the waiting woman with her dog, apart from the PC at the end of the line.

I like the caption, which fills in the story behind the scene, inside the weekly magazine:

One of the pleasures for AR Thomson, RA, is a pint and a friendly game of darts at a favourite pub. On his way recently to one of his haunts in London, he passed a local police station and saw the scene he has depicted on the cover painting. ‘The girl was obviously waiting for her PC 49 to come off beat,’ he writes. ‘My guess is he got a ribbing when his relief arrived.’

John Bull was a fiction-based, large format weekly published by Odhams, with offices in High Holborn. It was founded in 1906 by the notorious MP and swindler Horatio Bottomley who was only brought to book in 1922. It relaunched with colour covers in 1946 and became Today in 1960. Odhams was one of the companies that merged to form IPC, now Time UK.

Today, the Angel is run by Samuel Smith, with a restaurant upstairs, and, as with all the Yorkshire brewer’s premises, you’ll find just about the cheapest beer in London.

Kitchener or Cavell – the WWI coin controversy

January 24, 2014
Royal Mint's Kitchener coin is based on Alfred Leete's cover from LOndon Opinion

Royal Mint’s Kitchener coin is based on Alfred Leete’s cover from London Opinion

The Royal Mint has announced several coins to mark the Great War, one of which features Kitchener’s face with the words ‘Your Country Needs You’ – an image by Alfred Leete for London Opinion magazine. It’s sparked a row and a petition campaign for a coin featuring the executed First World War British nurse Edith Cavell. Kitchener is a hero for the organisational skills that underpinned the British empire in the Sudan, South Africa, Egypt, India and, of course, in defeating Germany. However, he is also a controversial figure, and not just for introducing concentration camps during the Boer War.

In 1968, Leeete’s Kitchener image was revived for the Back Britain campaign, which riled Daily Mail columnist Anne Scott-James:

To invoke Lord Kitchener – an arch imperialist, a foul personality, a man who quarrelled with politicians, viceroys, officers and men, and who had the Mahdi’s head made into an inkstand – is to revive the crassest attitudes of World War I … Let’s hope the Kitchener campaign will be laughed out of court, for the British have grown up since 1914 and remained wonderfully civilised through all the agonies of World War II.

Anne Scott-James in the French pub in Soho from a Daily Telegraph biography

The journalist Anne Scott-James in the French House pub in Soho from a Daily Telegraph biography

Scott-James was one of Fleet Street’s most experienced journalists, having been woman’s editor on Picture Post during the war, editor of Harper’s Bazaar and a star columnist on the Sunday Express. She was married to Osbert Lancaster, who had designed the jacket for Philip Magnus’s 1958 biography, Kitchener: Portrait of an Imperialist. Her mention of the Mahdi’s head refers to the 1899 controversy over Kitchener having the body of Mohammed Ahmed, leader of the Sudan uprising, taken from its tomb and thrown into the Nile. The desecration was defended on the grounds that a cult might grow up around the grave and lead to another uprising. Magnus describes how the ‘great howl of rage’ in the press over the skull being taken caused Kitchener to write to Queen Victoria expressing his regret at any distress he had caused and saying: ‘I had thought of sending [the head] to the College of Surgeons where, I believe, such things are kept. It has now been buried in a Moslem cemetery.’

Cavell is the antithesis of Kitchener. She had run a training school for nurses in Belgium for seven years before the Germans invaded and she treated combatants of all nationalities. Her downfall was in helping allied wounded escape to Holland. While papers in Britain called for vengence after her execution, Cavell herself was reported as saying as she awaited her fate: ‘Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.’ She was hailed as a heroine and martyr with statues just off London’s Trafalgar Square and in Norwich, near where she was born. The Cavell Nurses’ Trust that helps nurses in time of need was set up in her name in 1917.

The Royal Mint’s Kitchener coin commentary does not even mention Leete and it gets its facts wrong, stating: ‘This design was selected to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War because the poster [my emphasis] has come to be strongly associated with the outbreak of the war.’ But this image was produced by Alfred Leete as a London Opinion magazine cover. Only later did it become a poster (and never an official one with the ‘Your country’ wording). It’s a surprise that the Royal Mint is inaccurate on such a point and such errors damage its credibility when it says how carefully its committee has made it choice of subjects.