London Night and Day, illustrated by Osbert Lancaster, edited by Sam Lambert (Architectural Press, 1951)
Surely one of the most entertaining of the plethora of books brought out in the wake of the Festival of Britain. The coloured cover illustrations and the vignettes in black and white were by Osbert Lancaster, a friend of John Piper—the same John Piper who is named in a section devoted to the Festival, to which he contributed, among other things, a superb semi-abstract panorama. If you hadn’t been informed that Lancaster had designed the cover, you would have attributed it to Piper, whose style of portraying shop fronts is showcased in Buildings and Prospects, which had appeared just a few years earlier. Lancaster’s style is identical. Was Piper concerned that he was being flagrantly copied by Lancaster? Probably, but according to his biographer Frances Spalding, the two men were friends.
London Night and Day, like Stanley Johnson’s Soho (c1949), previously reviewed on Jot101, is a sparkling read. It seems to be multi-authorial, though in the list of names that feature in the Acknowledgments only that of J. M. Richards would be recognised by most people today. However, a few of the others, such as Colin Boyne, and Gordon Cullen were prominent in the world of architecture back then. One or two of the remainder may have been restaurant critics—seeing as at least a third of the book is devoted to pubs, restaurants, cafes and night clubs. Although his name doesn’t appear anywhere in the book, the voice of John Betjeman, then at the height of his fame, seems to colour much of the text. Perhaps he is there under a pseudonym, perhaps as the ‘editor’, Sam Lambert. After all, this is the sort of guide to which he would have been attracted. Betjeman also worked with Richards at the Architectural Review and was a close friend of Lancaster’s. Neverthess, the best Betjeman bibliography, published by the Betjeman Society, has nothing to say about London Night and Day.
The guide is arranged to reflect a whole 24 hours in London, hour by hour. Under '4 pm cuppa' some attractive tea shops and cafes, none of which have survived, are described. Back in 1951 Yarner’s Coffee House, at 1, Langham Place , was the place to find BBC types. I know for a fact that the abstemious Geoffrey Grigson, at various time both a producer and a contributor, was a frequent customer. His more thirsty colleagues, like Dylan Thomas, Louis MacNeice and Rayner Heppenstall, were generally to be found in a favourite local around the corner, propping up the bar way beyond the time allotted for lunch.
Two hours later, if you fancied a beer or a glass of wine after your day in the City, the Jamaica Wine Bar, off Lombard Street, would be a good place to overhear city types gossip, although in those innocent days before financial meltdowns, that accountant who looked like Bob Cratchit, was probably only on about £12 a week. In 2014 anyone at all Cratchit-like in appearance probably works for Goldman Sachs and has deliberately dressed down to disguise the fact that he’s just received his £1m Christmas bonus.
Under '2 am open all night' there is a wonderful description of a long-gone greasy spoon in Aldgate Avenue, which boasted ads for Coca Cola and boxing matches, and green plastic shakers for vinegar and sauce. There was also a Jewish bagel joint around the corner in Wentworth Street and hints that the place to meet a film star or West End luvvie is the late-night Boots in Piccadilly.
And talking of film stars, it would seem that back in 1951 a young Donald Sutherland would be happy to ‘look after you ‘in the Gents at Hyde Park Corner.
Lastly, under open on Sunday, we are given a low-down on street markets, many no longer the haunt of ‘Hebrew race gangs, cockneys in mufflers, spivs in belted coats and Aldgate jewesses’. Most revealing is the description of Portobello Road market as 'lurid'. Today, this epithet might be applied to the retro dress styles of students to be found here on a Saturday, but of course back in 1951, the famous antique market had not yet been established.[R.H.]