Tuesday, 28 April 2009

FoDL: Chris Mullin MP: A View from the Foothills: Monday 18th May 7pm for 7.30pm

New dance studio at Kennington Park Business Centre

My name is Melina and I have recently opened a dance studio at Kennington Business Centre. I am very keen to promote to the local community high quality tuition in all Ballroom and Latin dances as well as Argentine Tango, Salsa, and Swing.
I would like to offer a reduced membership price of £30 a year until the end of May for Kennington Association members (usual price £50 per year). Membership entitles you to discounts on any classes and courses at the Stardust Ballroom. I would also like to offer a discount of 50% on my Monday Ballroom and Latin drop-in class for the first visit (£5 instead of £10). No partner required for the drop-in classes and complete beginners are very welcome.

Your members might also be interested in our 4-week Ballroom course starting Saturday 2 May and our 4-week Cha Cha Cha course starting Thursday 7 May. Again, no partner required and complete beginners are very welcome.

For more information about me and the dance studio please visit: www.stardustball.co.uk

Kind regards,


020 77...
07951 ...

Monday, 27 April 2009

The 24 Hour Plays: Applications Open

Your big break starts here!

The Old Vic is looking for the most fearless, talented and original actors, writers, directors and producers to take on the ultimate theatrical challenge:

The 24 Hour Plays: Old Vic New Voices

If you’re 18–25 and eager to launch yourself into the world of professional theatre, then we want to hear from you.

Following rigorous auditions and workshops successful applicants will have just 24 hours to prove their talent by creating engaging, edgy theatre for the Old Vic stage. The results will be seen by 1,000 industry professionals, family and friends.

This riveting event has been wowing audiences for the last three years and has launched over 150 careers; securing agents, West End contracts,TV roles and commissions.

Please forward this exciting opportunity to anyone who may be interested.

Go to www.ideastap.com to apply

Deadline for applications is 10am on Friday 29th May 2009

Myatt's Fields Park: The Big Event Midsummer's Eve Saturday 20th June 2pm-7pm


The Big Event: celebrating the transformation of Myatt’s Fields Park, Camberwell, with a spectacular opening procession, music, workshops and performances inspired by the Victorian era.

Midsummer’s Eve, Saturday 20th June, 2009, 2pm – 7pm

5pm: opening ceremony with Kate Hoey MP, CEO Lambeth Council

Myatt’s Fields Park, Knatchbull Road, Camberwell SE5

A free event for all on Midsummer’s Eve, and the launch event of Camberwell Arts Festival, The Big Event officially marks the re-opening of Myatt’s Fields Park, Camberwell, after its extensive £3m renovation. Opened in 1889, the park was designed by Fanny Wilkinson, one of the first female professional landscape gardeners and a well known supporter of women’s suffrage.

The Big Event is the third in a series of innovative artist-led community events produced by Camberwell-based arts organisation, home live arts, in Myatt’s Fields Park. The event is inspired by the Victorian heritage of the park, celebrating the familiar as well as the more quirky Victorian performance and cultural traditions, including: a mass ukulele jam, tea dance, big top performance programme, mass carnival procession and artists’ sideshow stalls.

The event also plays on the ideas of leisure and recreation so prevalent of the era, particularly in South London, home of the original Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. This spirit is embodied in philanthropic projects such as Myatt’s Fields Park, which was originally commissioned by the Minet Family to provide a space of relaxation, recreation and healthy pursuits for the tenants of nearby estates and family homes.

The Big Event invites the community back into the park, championing it as a vital green space in Camberwell and celebrates through arts, music and performance projects, its unique Victorian heritage.

Participants: Kinetika Bloco, Caragh Buxton, Charles Edward Brooke School, Bygones Rent a Mob, Camberwell Choir School, Rosie Cooper, South Connections & The Myatt’s Junkeno, Adam Dant, Stephanie Douet, The Dulwich Ukulele Club, Marcia Farquhar, Christopher Green, Jenny Hayton, Martina von Holn, The Insect Circus, London Irish Rifles Bugles, Pipes & Drums, Jellymongers, The Judy & Punch Show, The London Theatre School, Loughborough Primary, Lottie Leedham, Natasha Mann, McApline Dance School, St Michael & All Angels Academy, Tim Mitchell, Moving into Age, The Nest, Clare Patey, Reay Primary, Rediscovered Urban Rituals, Salsateca, Splatrix Circus, Search Party, South Island Workshop, Yara El-Sherbini, Splatrix Circus, Bob & Roberta Smith, Ragroof Theatre, Rachel Tweddell, Isabel Walker, Eva Weaver, Society of Wonders.

Partners: Myatt’s Fields Park Project Group, Lambeth Council, Southwark Council, Creative Camberwell, Camberwell Arts

Supported by: The Arts Council, Lambeth Council, Southwark Council, The Heritage Lottery Fund, Co-op Community Fund, Southwark Alliance, The Minet Conservation Association

Principal Sponsor: Cowling & Wilcox.

Sponsors: New Dewaniam, Sun & Doves, The Castle, Veolia, Taximedia

Notes to Editors

  • Myatt’s Fields Park, The Big Event officially marks the re-opening of Myatt’s Fields Park following its extensive renovation. The £3 million renovation of the park includes a new playground and the restoration of its landscape and historic features such as the bandstand and roundhouse. A new refreshment kiosk, depot offices and meeting rooms and a wildlife area have been created. Plans also include a range of community activities and events. Work will start on a new children’s building and toilets, to be completed in November 2009.

The restoration has been led by local residents, who are members of the Myatt’s Fields Park Project Group and has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Lambeth Council. The playground was funded by, Biffaward, London Marathon Trust, Western Riverside Environmental Fund, the Peter Minet Trust, Lambeth Endowed Charities and Lambeth Council.

  • The park was originally part of a 109-acre estate, inherited by Sir Edward Knatchbull in 1745 and purchased by Hughes Minet in 1770. Hughes was a descendant of Isaac Minet, a Huguenot refugee who fled to England from France in the late 1600s to escape religious persecution. The park is named after Joseph Myatt, a tenant market gardener, who grew strawberries and rhubarb here in the 19th century.

  • On 20th June 1837, Queen Victoria ascended to the throne.

  • 20th June, Midsummer’s Eve, marks the year’s longest day, celebrated throughout history as a day of ‘gathering’, processions and music.

For more information contact home live art, laura@homeliveart.com, tel. 07957 565336, www.homeliveart.com

Prince's ward by-election

Prince's ward by-election

Ballot box

A by-election for Prince's ward has been called following the resignation of Councillor Sam Townsend as he is standing as a parliamentary candidate in Bristol.

The by election will take place on 4 June. This is the same day as the European elections. Residents living in this ward will receive a polling card informing them where they can cast their vote. Anybody wanting to vote by post can download the postal vote application form.

Prince's ward is bounded by the Thames between Lambeth Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge, along the Albert embankment to Vauxhall station. The A202 Kennington Lane as far as the A23 Kennington Road bounds it to the south. See a map of Prince's ward.

For more details see the notice of election for the councillor of Prince's ward.

Published on 27 April 2009

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Lambeth Invitational Adult Netball Competition Sunday 26 April

Lambeth Invitational Adult Netball Competition Sunday 26 April

24 April 2009

Netball players from across the borough will be coming together to contest the first ever Lambeth Invitational Adult Netball Competition in Kennington Park on Sunday.

More than 180 women representing 18 teams will pit their skills in a knockout competition, all hoping to become Lambeth’s first borough wide netball champions.

The competition has been organised by Lambeth Council's Sports and Recreation team, which runs "Welcome Back to Netball" sessions for women aged between 14 and 60 years old every week at Kennington Park and Crown Lane Primary School. The sessions are designed to provide a fun and relaxed environment for women who want to boost their fitness and get back into sport.

Bisi Alao, Lambeth Council Community Netball Coach, said:

"Netball is a really sociable game and the sessions we run are designed to be a relaxed and fun way for women to get fit and make new friends. The sessions are really popular with women of all ages, and we get a lot of women coming who played netball at school, have had children are now looking to take up the sport again after a gap. It's the first time we've organised a borough-wide competition and we hope it really takes off so that it becomes and annual event."

Photographers are welcome to cover the competition, which kicks off at midday.

If you would like to attend please contact Bisi Alao on 07982 705 395.

The 'Welcome Back to Netball' sessions are held every Monday from 5.30pm-7pm at Kennington Park Muga, and every Wednesday at Crown Lane Primary School. Cost £1.

Lambeth Council spent £1.2 million on a range of new facilities at Kennington Park in 2007. The council has created a new multi-use games area (Muga) at the park, improved the astro-turf pitch and upgraded the tennis and netballs courts.

Community Alert - please read (Regarding Sat 25th April event at Ethelred Community youth club)

Please find this email on behalf of Paul McCann, Community Safety Partnership Co-ordinator – Pmccann@lambeth.gov.uk


Some of you may be aware that Isalm4uk intend to hold an event in the borough commencing with a ‘road show’ event on Sat 25th April from 1pm onwards in Brixton with a leafleting campaign followed later by a conference “Life Under the Shariah” from 5pm -9pm an undisclosed venue.

The event is also advertised on their website www.islam4uk.com and supporters of this organisation have been leafleting at Brixton Tube station periodically during the week

Islam4UK is not a banned organisation. However the council has concerns about the messages they convey and will always adopt a robust stance against those undermine community cohesion.

We have therefore been working to ensure that Islam4UK are not able to book any council premises including schools, libraries and community centres, and the meeting will not go ahead as publicised in their leaflet at the Ethelred Community Youth Club, 7 Lollard St SE11.

However experiences learned from other London boroughs suggests that whilst Islam4UK keep the original venue on their leaflets and publicity material, on the day itself they often direct the public to another undisclosed venue nearby.

Lambeth police have met and formulated a strategy to deal with any eventualities and there will be a low key but overt police presence using local Safer Neighbourhood officers on Saturday afternoon/evening.

Obviously there has been lots or confusion and misinformation about this planned event -if you have any information- particularly in regard to the venue please call Princes Safer Neighbourhoods Team on 0208 721 2627 (mobile 07920 233 837).”

Many Thanks

Paul McCann

Community Safety Partnership Co-ordinator

Adult & Community Services

Tel: 020 7926 2904

Fax: 020 7027 2799

mob 07946 493 660

2nd Floor,

205 Stockwell Road



'Making a Difference'

Friday, 24 April 2009

RPSGB: Behind the Scenes: Healing Herbs

Follow our property guide to the London Marathon

Times Online Logo 222 x 25

April 24, 2009

Follow our property guide to the London Marathon

The annual 26-mile race is the ultimate spectator sport for those who want to window-shop for a home in a new part of the capital

Thousands of runners cross Tower Bridge during the 28th London Marathon in London, Britain

Homes for sale along the London Marathon route (PDF)

For Londoners, a spot of house-coveting is a popular diversion on a weekend stroll. The Flora London Marathon on Sunday will present runners and spectators with a perfect opportunity to indulge in a bit of property lust, especially if they are looking for a new home. Rightmove says that 1,000 homes across the capital had their prices reduced by more than 2 per cent last week, which should mean plenty of choice.

The route starts in Blackheath, moves east to Woolwich and then back west through Greenwich and Bermondsey. It then winds through Shadwell, heading down to Millwall and up to Poplar before moving west through the City and Westminster to the finish line in St James’s Park.

Along the way is the whole gamut of London housing, from East End high rise to swish penthouse apartments along the river, to the grand terraces of Blackheath. In our map on the right, all the homes are valued at less than £1 million. However, variations in desirability and quality en route are reflected in huge differences in typical prices from postcode to postcode. A three-bedroom flat in the plush area around St James’s is priced at £1.05 million on Globrix.com, while a similar-sized flat on Trafalgar Road near the centre of Greenwich is £430,000, and only £234,995 on the less salubrious Poplar High Street.

On this tour of London property, runners might note telltale signs of a market in flux — the ubiquity of To Let signs in each part of the course, especially around Docklands, and the scarcity of For Sale boards. These signs reveal a common theme among London homeowners: the reluctance to sell up. When faced with a decision to sell a house, most will instead try to let. This is in stark contrast to much higher demand from would-be buyers.

Liam Bailey, head of residential research for Knight Frank, says: “Sellers do not like the look of these prices, which means there are lots of people viewing a small pool of property.”

Interest from London buyers has risen by 20 per cent since last year, according to Knight Frank, compared with a 30 per cent fall in supply. Buyers are attracted by price falls: the average price of a home in London is now £293,401, compared with £329,195 this time last year, according to government figures. However, buyers’ intentions are failing to translate into purchases in cases where buyers do not have a big enough deposit to obtain the best mortgage rates.

The extent of price falls is also to blame for deterring sellers — a demand-versus-supply imbalance that is starting to produce offers over the asking price for most-wanted properties in many parts of London.

Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward (KFH), the London agent, this month reported offers over asking prices in areas from chi-chi Muswell Hill to up-and-coming Forest Hill. Competition among buyers is particularly evident in the family home market. Roarie Scarisbrick, of the buying agent PropertyVision, says: “Many families sat on their hands in the bull market, either renting or bursting out of their existing houses, and see this as an opportune moment to get on with life.” This is borne out by an increase in buyers trading up in suburban areas such as Kennington, according to KFH.

Knight Frank expects supply to contract even further over the next three months, which may boost prices. However, the outlook now depends on the type of property.

Prices in London’s new-build market, centred in the Olympic east, fell sharply by about 40 per cent before Christmas. They have not budged down or up since and are not expected to change for some time, because — despite an increase in interest from investors chasing rental yields of 10 per cent or more — demand in this market still lags supply because of a lack of first-time buyers.

However, with all those aspiring owners unable to secure a mortgage, the case for buy-to-let investors with cash is compelling. Russell Taylor, director of DTZ Residential, says: “Almost 4,000 units will complete in the Docklands this year. Apartments in Canary Wharf are going for half-price in an area where incomes are higher than average.” Foreign investors will also benefit from the weakness of sterling, meaning an effective price discount, Bailey says.

Second-hand homes have fallen in value by 20-25 per cent, with another 5-10 per cent drop expected by the end of this year, before they begin to stabilise. Property priced above £1 million has fallen farther, by an average 30 per cent from the peak, Knight Frank says, reflecting the boom in this market before the downturn. Bailey says: “Top-end properties soared when London was regarded as the centre of the universe, which explains why they have been harder hit.”

Anticipating extra interest in distressed prime property, London Central Portfolio has set up a fund to stockpick homes in areas such as Knightsbridge and Mayfair for investors with at least £50,000. However, John D. Wood, the estate agent, says that the prices of prime houses have begun to rise but that prime flats continue to fall, reflecting the desire for larger family homes.

There are still more million-pound-plus pads in London than anywhere else. The three most expensive parts of the country are in London: Kensington W8, Chelsea SW3 and Knightsbridge SW7, according to zoopla.co.uk, the property search website. One property in Kensington Palace Gardens, the home of the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, recently went on the market for £100 million. Such sums might still seem excessive in a downturn, but, as Bailey says: “It’s just that even after a price fall of £10 million, a super-prime property still looks expensive.”

Copyright 2009 Times Newspapers Ltd.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

New music event launches in Lambeth


New music event launches in Lambeth

Thursday, 23 April 2009

A CHURCH will soon be alive with the sound of music thanks to the launch of a new event.

Lambeth's Christ Church & Upton Chapel is set to host the first instalment of a musical night called 'Hub 150 Lounge' this evening (Thursday).

The event, organised by church.co.uk, will include blues and funk music, as well as performances from solo musicians and poets.

It will kick-off at the Kennington Road church at 7.30pm and last until 11pm.

This regular event will be held on the first and third Thursdays of every month.

Email: matthew.wolstenholme@slp.co.uk

KGS: Allotments and Green Issues: Thursday 14th May 7.30pm

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

James Franklin and Jon Lewis take advantage of happy hour for Gloucestershire

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James Franklin and Jon Lewis take advantage of happy hour for Gloucestershire

Surrey (18-3) trail Gloucestershire (333) by 315 runs

James Franklin and Jon Lewis take advantage of happy hour for Gloucestershire
Opening the face: Gloucestershire's Vikram Banerjee helps himself to some runs at the Oval but it was the bowlers who stole the day Photo: Rebecca Naden/PA

Surrey suffered in the Kennington gloaming on Thursday night, losing three quick wickets to Gloucestershire's strike pair of James Franklin and Jon Lewis as they threatened to drown upon their baptism in the waters of Division Two.

Conditions conspired against the day's play, rain preventing any action until 4.28pm before bad light brought a premature halt to proceedings barely an hour later. But what an hour, bringing five wickets, first cleaning up the Gloucestershire tail and then accounting for Surrey's openers.

The England and Wales Cricket Board had hardly helped the occasion by their regulation that the Oval's £3.25 million retractable floodlights cannot, perversely, be illuminated during times of bad light. But still Franklin and Lewis had time to wreak havoc with the new ball, an experimental Tiflex model that produces prodigious swing.

Laurie Evans did not aid his cause, leaving his gate wide open for Franklin to fire in a superb delivery that plucked out the right-hander's middle stump. Less than over had elapsed before the players were leaving the field due to dank conditions for the first time, but a brief break in the clouds afforded Surrey little respite, two more of the top order scuttling off as captain Michael Brown made only eight on his debut. Brown was late on a full-length ball from Franklin that reordered the stumps and reduced Surrey to 11 for two.

Matt Spriegel, in desperation, then attempted to force a shot through mid-on, but missed a late away swinger from Lewis to depart leg before and compound Surrey's anxieties.

After the loss of two full sessions to the weather Gloucestershire were able to add 11 runs to their overnight total of 321 for eight as Jade Dernbach and Andre Nel, living up to his strange alter ego as "Gunther" (according to South African folklore, a crazed mountain man starved of oxygen) resumed their swift dispatch of the tail-enders. Nel had Vikram Banerjee, fending away from the body, caught at third slip on 16, ending with fine figures of four for 52 on debut.

Dernbach had four, too, for 79, utterly beffudling last man Steven Kirby for a duck when he fashioned an inch-perfect off-cutter, terminating the Surrey innings after just 23 minutes of play.

The second day of Leicestershire's LV County Championship game against Northamptonshire at Grace Road was abandoned midway through the afternoon without a ball being bowled.

No play was possible before lunch, which was taken half an hour early, because of bad light. Persistent rain then began to fall and, after an afternoon inspection, the game was abandoned for the day shortly before 3pm with Northamptonshire still on 297 for six in their first innings.

Britain at War: We gasped for breath and reeled about, wishing we were dead

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Britain at War: We gasped for breath and reeled about, wishing we were dead

The most important impression made on me was the certainty that war was not far off. Blockhouses were being built everywhere and soldiers, lorries, horses et al milled around. Even I, at 16, knew that the outbreak of war cold not be far distant. In any case, thought I, would not war be preferable to this perpetual standing on the brink? War was indeed declared later that year to my great relief as I had been increasingly depressed and scared by the thought of it.

The most important impression made on me was the certainty that war was not far off. Blockhouses were being built everywhere and soldiers, lorries, horses et al milled around. Even I, at 16, knew that the outbreak of war cold not be far distant. In any case, thought I, would not war be preferable to this perpetual standing on the brink? War was indeed declared later that year to my great relief as I had been increasingly depressed and scared by the thought of it.

Actually having war was much better and I decided that I'd join as soon as I was 18 but there was quite a time to go. I continued at school while my great friend Brundrett joined up but was fairly rapidly thrown out when his real age was discovered. Evacuees descended on Ashford as, ostensibly, it was in central Kent and, therefore, a ‘safe’ area. It did not, of course, occur to anyone in or out of authority that there might be a defeat in the west and that the Germans would, therefore, be as close as 21 miles to the county in under a year. These evacuees were accepted as being 'proper' and, by and large, not treated too badly; there was a large measure of contempt for those evacuees and their parents who did a bunk to 'sitting on the fence' USA and Canada.

I took my exams in December 1939 and could, from then on, only think of leaving school. I'd done nearly two terms in the 6th Form when the defeat in the west was a fact and the Evacuation of Dunkirk was upon us. We used to see the trains coming through from Dover full of soldiers, and there was an air of elation rather than gloom as it seemed that things could have been much more desperate. But Churchill soon reminded us that wars were 'not won by evacuations'! I managed to get hold of a .5-inch Boyes' anti-tank rifle round from a soldier on a train. To make it `safe' I removed the bullet and extracted the cordite – so far so good. A little knowledge was, indeed, dangerous as I decided to make the percussion cap safe. Standing the now empty cartridge case on its open end, I held a large nail on the cap – a smart tap on the nail with a hammer should do the trick. It nearly did as the cap exploded and the nail was whipped out of my fingers and past my head. It was a singularly stupid thing to do and I was very lucky to be alive or, at least, not blinded or badly hurt.

At about this time, Anthony Eden broadcast on the wireless and asked for volunteers to defend the shores to be known as 'Local Defence Volunteers' (LDV); anybody male, between 16 and 60 or thereabouts. So I joined the next day and, in due course, got an LDV armband and a defunct rifle from the Cadets. It had no firing pin and certainly no ammunition. It really was a farce but nothing else could be done at this dire time. The use the modern jargon, it was a 'public relations exercise.' We did guards at the then Ashford Town Halt (it still stands as a sort of 'island' but is now all shops) and at the water reservoir near to the Maidstone Road at Potter's Corner, two miles north-west of Ashford.

The `old soldiers' chose the first or last stint and left the middle one, with interrupted sleep, to boys like me who did not know the 'form.' Eventually we were issued with uniforms; they were, in fact, denim battledress overalls and were meant to fit over the proper serge battledress, so the look and fit of them can, perhaps, be imagined. Any German would have died – of laughing. We had no cap badges so I wore that of The Buffs, the local county regiment to which our Cadets were affiliated.

I soon felt that the LDV was a waste of time, except for possible morale-boosting, and when it changed its name to 'Home Guard' I still thought that it was a waste of time. I never changed my opinion; many of the 'volunteers' were really trying for a way of avoiding real military service with little loss of face. There was one other snag: my absences caused much annoyance and jealousy to The Duke. She had discovered about my lust for Audrey and could not, or would not, believe that my nights on guard were other than fornicatorial interludes and this caused me much distress – especially as I had never laid anything on that beauty.

It was the period of post-'funny war' in London and air activity was starting up in Kent. So that, at weekends, I saw the beginning of the Battle of Britain, ie some air fighting, some bombing and parachutes and aeroplanes coming down. I'm afraid that, so far as the latter were concerned, I saw more British than German. I visited some of the bomb craters as, at that time, they were a novelty.

On weekdays, things, so far as the war was concerned, were quiet. Work was certainly not difficult: my very first job at William Jacks was handing out clean towels in exchange for dirty one to everyone including bosses, typists, messengers and the tea woman. I wondered what part of my studies for Matriculation had qualified me for this brain-taxing job. However, the hours were fairly long, as I have mentioned, and frequently beyond the official closing of 1800 hours. But none of my job really required any formal education at all. Saturday mornings' work stopped after 7th September on which day there was the first large-scale air-raid on London.

I arrived back from a weekend in Ashford, where the air Battle of Britain was going strong and, as we arrived in London, I could see that there had been heavy bombing. Effects of bombing have been described often enough not to have to be repeated here, except perhaps a few specific instances which affected me. Over the nights, the City was frequently hit but Winchester House was lucky and survived. One of the staff was killed while out to lunch – a coping stone, loosened in the raids, fell on him. For the first few nights we all stayed in our rooms at Mark One (I was on the 2nd floor) but as the bombing got worse and its results more obvious, we all agreed that that, was foolish and that we had better sleep in the sitting room on the ground floor, and this we did. It meant, of course, that we had no beds, only mattresses, but we also did not have the ‘naked' feeling we had higher up.

One night in particular there was a most dreadful clattering noise which we could not understand. We recognised the noise of shells going up and the 'crack' of the guns which had sent them; we recognised easily the ‘crump' of exploding bombs or mines. But this noise was like a lot of exploding fireworks, which it nearly literally was. About 20 or 30 incendiary bombs had fallen on Pembridge Gardens – we could see at least that number in the street and gardens, each giving a brilliant light, which sparkled and spluttered. About five or six of us ran out to help extinguish the bombs; we were helped by the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Post which had occupied half our basement. We were more concerned with those bombs which were indoors, as most of those outdoors could blaze away, probably harmlessly.

I'm afraid that over half the members of Toc Mark One did not go out that night, preferring the comparative safety of the building. Peter Marchant and I discovered that there were two bombs in the top floor of number 28 and we managed to deal with both with sandbags we took upstairs. We also tried to put out another in a second house but that had been brought under control by the time we arrived. It was exhilarating as there were many shell fragments raining down, plus bombs of all sorts nearby. I did not feel frightened, but I was concerned lest a shell fragment went through me, and was comforted by my tin hat. The quick action of the various parties prevented every single bomb from starting a conflagration. I don't know, of course, how many others were in houses – all we could see were 'our' bombs and those outside – but there were no burnt-out houses visible in the street next morning.

There were air raids every night, 57 on the trot, I think, and especially heavy ones on fine, moonlit nights. One evening in mid-September, I was in the bath on the second floor when I heard a terrifying whistle and thought that the bomb would crash on the house. In the event, there was a muffled, but loud, thump and our house trembled noticeably. I waited for an explosion, which did not come – a 1000kg bomb had landed in the garden of number 26 and had not exploded. The next day we were evacuated to Toc H Mark 13 in Kennington Road, SE which was a case of 'frying pan into the fire.' This was nearer the East End, where the bombing had always been more severe than to the west. We were there for four weeks before the unexploded bomb was removed and then allowed to return to Pembridge Gardens. Like all other living accommodation, when 'doubled up', we naturally became more cramped and uncomfortable. We admired immensely the Royal Engineers' team who laboured for three weeks in a deep hole to make the bomb 'safe' and deal with its removal.

One night, while still in SE London, and coming back from the City, we were stopped from leaving the tube as the raid then in progress was too heavy. We eventually emerged at 6am the next day, tired out, dirty and dishevelled. I knew then that I would never again spend a night in a tube station or train – but, with locked gates, there was no escape that night. How thousands managed to spend week after week in the tubes to avoid sleeping on the surface is beyond me – they must either have been a deal more scared than I or much less fussy about the smell, sounds and proximity of scruffy humanity.

When we returned to Pembridge Gardens I became an unofficial messenger for the ARP Post and dashed hither and thither, achieving little, but feeling important; many of the messages were not urgent but were given to me to take to keep my interest. That way they had a second string if telephone lines were cut. A thoroughly unpleasant experience was being trapped in the Notting Hill Gate tube lift, with about 50 others, for four hours during an electricity failure in an air-raid. We dared not think too much about what would happen if a bomb caused our cables to part. A few women were driven to apparent madness – so were we, by their screaming.

At weekends I went home to Ashford by train, though the return journey could take four or five hours for a 90 minute trip because of the bombing. There were, of course, no refreshments on the train and the lighting was about 1/10th power for blackout reasons – so reading was quite impossible. But now poor old Kent was the comparatively quiet spot after having borne the brunt for some time. Ashford had suffered some damage, the nearest to our house was in Star Road, about 250 yards away. Ashford had several scares but, by and large, got off pretty lightly, especially as it had one of the largest railway yards in Britain. It may well be that, as London was only perhaps 15 minutes’ flying time away, it continued to be by far the most important and prestigious target – and good for getting ‘gongs’.

I decided that, as I had now reached 18, I would join as soon as I could. I, therefore, tried to enlist in The Buffs, the one to which I felt proper loyalty as I lived in East Kent, but, to my odd relief, they were fully booked and I could not be accepted. Instead I opted for the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment. My reason for not being really sorry about not joining The Buffs was that I hoped, eventually, to earn a Commission in that Regiment and, therefore, it was better for me to serve any time in the ranks in another. So, I was really rather pleased that events had decided things for me in the best way. It never occurred to me to join anything but the ‘Infantry of the Line' as, to me, they were the only 'true' soldiers; everyone else, no matter what service or job, was really only part of the backup service for the infantry who were the ‘close-encounter’ soldiers.

I had my medical in Maidstone, Kent on Valentine's Day 1941 and he must have loved me as I passed, to my immense relief, 'A1.' At that time 'if you are warm, you are in' was not always the case. I had, therefore, joined up about 18 months before I would have been conscripted and so avoided the odium of being a 'conscript' in time of war. However, getting into uniform was not so easy and it was exactly three weeks later, on 7th March 1941, that I joined the Training Detachment of the 70th Battalion, Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment. I took the Oath of Allegiance and felt a moment of terror when the term 'Infantry of the Line’ in the Oath was mentioned.

After this little 'oath' ceremony, I got my uniform, rifle and 50 rounds of .303-inch ammunition and I was a soldier. The uniform was coarse, itchy and not particularly well-fitting. The hat had to be balanced on the right of one's head so that, for a week or so, I walked with my head well tilted to avoid dropping the cap from my head.

I had read in the Daily Express an article by a fairly newly-joined soldier that among various other things, soldiers did not wear pyjamas and that they did not get undressed. I thought that this meant that even when not in action they kept their uniforms on, even in bed! On the very first night I was allotted a bed space in a hut with a lot of filthy cooks, who were sitting around and spitting on the hot, slow-combustion stove, an intellectual pursuit. Feeling tired, homesick and a bit frightened, I thought I'd go to bed but, to avoid letting the cooks know I was a brand new soldier, I popped into bed in my uniform, rather than in the approved style in my shirt and underpants. Unfortunately, the cooks saw me do so – there were immediate shouts of 'get undressed; you dirty little bugger' and 'we don't want none of yer dirty 'abits ‘ere'. I was crushed and miserable as I had done what I thought right; my start had not been a success. Next morning, I was ordered to clean out the hut and was further ordered to be ready to move to the Depot Barracks of the RWK at Maidstone (10 miles away) for 12 weeks' basic training.

At about 1430 on Saturday, 8th March 1941 I joined my first platoon in Maidstone Barracks, near the prison. Almost all the other 30 members were ex-miners from the Kent coalfields, a rough, but very nice lot. They were the sons of the Scottish miners who had come to Kent when the coalfield was started some years earlier. There was also an Old Marlburian called John Black from Boys' Hall, Willesborough. We all became friends.

Many 'drills' may seem pointless to civilians, but an example of a life-saving drill is this: after guard duties we were lined up to 'ease springs', or to move the bolt to and fro several times to ensure that no round had been accidentally left in the breech. In theory the movement of the bolt, in conjunction with the ejector, should safely throw out any round. Just in case this did not happen, and a round still remained in the magazine, the rifles were held pointing towards the sky at an angle of 45° so that, when the bolt finally closed the breech and the trigger was squeezed on a theoretically empty breech, if it was not empty, the bullet would go harmlessly into the air. Private Woods, standing next to me in the rank, did all he was required to do and squeezed the trigger. There was a loud 'crack' and a bullet sped heavenwards. Had the full drill not been followed, that bullet might welt have been discharged in the barrack room. He was 'on a charge', of course, as there should have been no round in his rifle – but, at least no-one was dead or wounded and he was not on a manslaughter charge. I had a rather deaf ear for a time.

The second half of my basic training was at the Infantry Training Centre (ITC) at Invicta Lines just outside Maidstone, and then it was all over. I was posted to `A' Company, 70th Bn QORWK, stationed at RAF West Malling (near Maidstone), one of the erstwhile Battle of Britain airfields. The whole of the 70th Bn was on airfield defence as we were not allowed to go overseas. The Battalion had four companies – the others being at Biggin Hill, Detling and Shirley Hall, near Tunbridge Wells, white Bn HQ was at 'The Glebe', a house at Penshurst, Kent.

At the airfield, we spent a fortnight on guard duty at the various platoon posts around the perimeter and a week ‘off' at a requisitioned house, Teston Manor, on the left bank of the River Medway, near Teston. While we were on guard, it was two hours on, four off, day in and day out. It was hard going, especially as there was a ‘stand to' at one hour before dawn and at sunset when, whether on or off duty, we all had to turn out taking our machine guns, grenades, etc to take up our fighting positions in the trenches, dugouts and pillboxes in case of enemy parachute landing. When we were on our ‘week off' we spent our time digging or repairing trenches, putting up or mending barbed wire, training, etc. and all for 2/6 (ie 121/2p) per day. Perhaps now, in 1975, that should be multiplied by six, which still makes it only about 80p per day.

However, RAF food was excellent – much better and more plentiful than that of the Army. Quarters for us were Nissen huts without beds or, during the week 'off', sleeping on 6-inch high trestle boards with a straw-filled ‘palliasse' in a barn adjoining the Manor. Needless to say, the RAF were in warm, modern barracks, living a virtually peacetime existence, with no stand-to's, exercises, etc. We hated them far more than the enemy as we felt that we were there to protect a load of wingless wonders who should at least have been men enough to protect themselves. We felt (rightly) envious of their conditions of service, pay and uniforms – we only had battledress, whereas they had a smart Service Dress, and a battledress only for work. Small things, perhaps, but not to young men, for whom they were important.

During one of our 'rest' periods we went swimming in the Medway. It fell to my lot to be handy when a young woman got into serious difficulties and shouted for help. As I was by far the best swimmer, I was able to pull her out and, certainly not before time, as she was only just conscious. After a lot of thumping and pumping she appeared to recover and went on her way. She did not say who she was – probably too shocked – and I was too shy to ask her name.

Airfield defence for me lasted from June to September, when I was sent on a three months' signals course, again at Invicta Lines. I was not very pleased about going on the course but, once I was into it, I enjoyed it. We learned telephone line-laying and its maintenance and to use the wireless, Morse, flags and even heliographs . We all hoped that, when we returned to our units, we would form a signals platoon, but that was not to be.

I qualified on the course and was entitled to wear the regimental signallers' crossed flags symbol on my left sleeve: this I did with pride. I rejoined my Company (A), now with the whole battalion at Old Park Barracks, Dover, in December 1941. The barracks were as good as the RAF's at West Malling and we were only nine to a room, that number being an infantry ‘section’ – the smallest 'command', under a Lance Corporal. But we had no beds and, as at Invicta Lines, slept on the floor.

We went to the ranges on the cliff tops for a day's Bren firing and took turns in firing and in the 'butts', ie at the end where the targets were, in front of a large mound designed to stop the bullets after they had passed through the fabric targets; similar .303-inch ammunition was used for both rifles and Brens. Any bullet which went high over the top of the target sailed harmlessly into the sea beyond the cliff's edge. The holes in the target made by the bullets were repaired between shoots with stickers but, being temporary, wartime ranges, we applied these by climbing onto the butt. In a permanent range, the targets were pulled down with wires and pulleys into pits in front of the butt and below it and repaired there in absolute safety. Despite all the safety precautions on the firing line, some idiot made a mistake and we ten or so soldiers repairing the targets received a burst of about half a dozen rounds of Bren fire. I'll never know, nor did anybody there know, how it was that none of us was killed or wounded as the mean point of impact of the bullets was on the butt, on which we were standing. I don't know what happened to the firer or to those in charge of safety.

An item in our training was to make us realise and appreciate the full worth of our respirators – as we were not to know that gas was not to be used; it had often been used, with hideous effect, during the Great War. So, we were ordered to 'experience DM gas' – DM being the code name for a vicious gas with a 36 hour, but not permanent, effect. We all trooped into the gas chamber with our masks at our side; there was no gas when we entered. We were ordered to put the masks on and then a DM canister was set going; with our masks on we could smell or feel nothing, except that our breathing was laboured, as it always was when wearing a mask, to which we had grown accustomed.

We were then ordered to remove masks and, at once, felt pain in the eyes, throat, nose and chest. We gasped for breath and hawked; our gums ached terribly – we just reeled about and wished we were dead. Then we were let out of the gas chamber and collapsed on the ground, trying to be sick and numbed with pain in our teeth, gums and throats. The after-effects lasted over a day – for a 'harmless' gas I felt that enough 'harm' had been done. But we all respected our 'gas masks' far more after that and, to ensure that we were not put through the gas chamber again during our military service, our service records were endorsed 'Experienced DM Gas Dec 41.' Of course, the density of the dose was much more than someone in the open would receive and we could not move away: but we had learned the lesson – gas was hideous and the mask essential.

It was about this time that the great USA was forced into the war. I was, of course, glad that they were in on our side as, at that time, we could well do with any allies going. In January 1942 the powers that be decided that we should move again. We were not surprised as the average time was about three months to prevent us ‘getting our feet under the table’ and, thereby getting soft. It also stopped us from acquiring too much kit. I was detailed, with 10 others to accompany 2Lt Shields (the platoon commander, for whom I had the greatest respect) on the ‘advanced party’ to RAF Biggin Hill airfield. It was one of the most bitterly cold days that I can remember and driving from Dover to Biggin Hill (about four hours) in an open 15 cwt truck froze us to the point of insensibility. In any case, ‘A’ coy’s interest were looked after by the advanced party and we were ready for their arrival about three days later. But I was only there about a fortnight more as I heard that I was to be promoted to Lance Corporal (the lowest appointment – not even a rank – in the Army; but my first promotion, nevertheless) it maybe that the good result I’d received on the signals’ course helped.

While at RAF Biggin Hill, I was ‘Senior Soldier’ in charge of a guard at one of the posts: it was still midwinter and very cold. There was no fuel of any sort for our ‘Tortoise’ stove and, after two hours of guarding at night, the soldiers were chilled to the bone. The RAF did not do any guards, except by RAF police on the main gate, where they had a proper Guardroom and heating.

There was coal dump a hundred yards away, in the open but encircled by a barbed-wire fence. I told two of my guards that if they could get in, they could help themselves to two bucketful of coal. They were caught in the act by the RAF Police – I was charged as I had authorised the theft and duly appeared before an RAF Flight Lieutenant. He asked how I pleaded and I replied ‘Guilty’. He followed this by asking if there were any ‘mitigating circumstance.’ He fully accepted what I said and said ‘Case dismissed.’ I had had great worries about being found guilty of theft as that would probably have dashed all hopes of going, sometime, to Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU). I silently thanked the RAF officer for his common sense and forbearance: I had not always felt well disposed to that Service; I also had had a warning and lesson in ‘Man Management’ and common sense, which I never forgot.

Apparently about ten or twelve of us from the battalion who were thought to be ‘officer material' were all to be posted as very junior NCOs to 'B' Coy at Redleaf House at Penshurst, Kent. I was made a section leader and had seven or eight soldiers to my name. The whole platoon (three sections) was in one room; bunks were three high; we all slept head to toe as bunks were only 18 inches apart. With our kit, rifles, etc the squash was terrible and I can only liken it to the lack of space to which submariners become accustomed.

The house was bitterly cold and, with about 150 soldiers, grossly overcrowded. All the ablutions were out of doors and shaving in cold water (to which I was well accustomed) was made no easier as there was no light or roof above the tin wash basins.

An order appeared in about February 1942 that 'Drawers, long, woollen' should be handed into the Quartermaster's stores and that 'Drawers, short, cellular' should be taken out in exchange. I did not do so and my crime was discovered on the next kit inspection when all kit was laid out in a uniform way to enable a quick check by the Company Quartermaster-Sergeant (CQMS) to spot deficiencies or crimes like mine. I was put on a charge and duly marched up before the Officer Commanding (OC the Company – a Captain). I was terrified, as such a crime might mean demotion to private and bang would go all chances of going to an OCTU.

However, I pleaded that I had not handed in my pants because it was so cold that I could not do without them; there was no question of wilfully wishing to disobey orders. The OC believed me and I was admonished but kept my single stripe, to the nettling of the CQMS who had charged me. But I did lose my ‘long johns.' I blessed the OC and remembered something for my future (hoped for) officer's service – that commonsense, tempered with kindness, produced loyalty. I also had the feeling that the OC had thought the episode to be pretty petty, which it was.

We trained hard in weapon drills and firing, section and platoon exercises, map reading, some signals, etc and, to my delight, had to learn to drive. As it happened, I had already taken a driving test for cars and light lorries but I was now trained in riding motorcycles and Bren-gun carriers (a tracked vehicle which looked like a turret less and very small tank). I much enjoyed riding and driving both and became proficient.


The man who stood up to Orwell

April 15, 2009

The man who stood up to Orwell

Norman Collins and the middlebrow panorama of capital life

Norman Collins (1907–82) bestrode the media landscape of his time in a way that might seem rather startling to some of his modern descendants. A bestselling novelist – his debut, Penang Appointment, was published as early as 1934 – he served, successively, as assistant managing director of the left-wing publishers Victor Gollancz, a BBC radio talks producer, director of the Light Programme, an immensely successful controller of BBC television (where, between 1947 and 1950, he presided over a twenty-fold increase in licence holders), a lobbyist for commercial broadcasting and, finally, deputy chairman of ATV. Only Melvyn Bragg, perhaps, among his twenty-first-century epigoni, boasts the same degree of switched-on and thoroughly trans-medial clout.

If the parallels with Lord Bragg can seem faintly eerie, Collins’s persistent shadowing of George Orwell’s career during the 1930s and 40s looks eerier still. As the Gollancz employee charged with seeing Orwell’s London novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) through the press, Collins was one of the few people who can be said to have taken on Orwell in a quarrel and emerged his moral superior. The alarm having been sounded by Gollancz’s press agents, it was Collins’s task to inform Orwell's agent, Leonard Moore, that the supposedly spoof advertising posters strewn throughout the text were more or less drawn from the life. Orwell, forced to make changes, pronounced the book “ruined”. Collins, as his tactful letter to Moore made clear (“Please don’t regard even this as a sign of messy or slipshod procedures on our part. It is simply that the author has evidently been too close to the work”), was only doing his job.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying sold in the low thousands and earned its author £100. Nine years later, Collins published his own “London novel”, London Belongs to Me (1945), which shifted some 880,000 copies. Four years before this, both men had joined the BBC, Collins swiftly rising through the ranks to become Head of Empire Talks, while his subordinate languished in the Eastern Service before escaping to a more congenial billet as literary editor of Tribune. The ill feeling left over from the Gollancz days burned on, and Peter Davison, the editor of Orwell: The complete works prints several notably terse memoranda that buzzed back and forth along the corridors of Broadcasting House in the period 1941–3. London Belongs to Me appeared in the same year as Animal Farm, and if Orwell received the cachet it was Collins who took the cash.

700 pages long, dense, compendious, and almost heroically diffuse, London Belongs to Me represents the high-water mark of what might be called the middlebrow panorama of capital life: one of those novels in which the incidental detail is heaped on with a trowel and even a visit to the funfair unleashes a page of technical information about the electric cranes and What the Butler Saw machines on display. Its most obvious debts are to J. B. Priestley’s no less compendious Angel Pavement (1930) and, to a slightly lesser extent, Patrick Hamilton’s trilogy Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky (1929–35), but some of the echoes go back even further, to the kind of lodging-house reportage pioneered by George R. Sims’s Memoirs of a Landlady (1916). At the same time, Collins’s work prefigures later variations such as Monica Dickens’s The Heart of London (1961) and in particular R. F. Delderfield’s The Avenue Goes to War (1964), whose “people’s war” theme it shares. There is even a German spy, Dr Otto Hapfel, who, while masquerading as a research student, files punctilious reports to his superiors in Berlin about the Englishman’s love of cricket and his reluctance to stand up in cinemas when the National Anthem is played.

As in many another London panorama, the action in London Belongs to Me takes place, by and large, at a single address – 10 Dulcimer Street, Kennington, SE. Here, first assembled on December 23, 1938, can be found Mrs Vizzard, the establishment’s vigilant and exacting landlady, the retired clerk Mr Josser and his wife (with and without their daughter Doris), the widowed Mrs Boon and her car mechanic son Percy, the esurient tinned-food hoarder and tea-brewer Mr Puddy, and an elderly woman named Connie, nightly ornament of a cloakroom in a West End speakeasy. Soon swollen to nine by the arrival of Mr Squales, a nest-feathering medium who occupies the back basement, Dulcimer Street’s human cargo is thereafter prey to dispersal and decline. Rather like Hamilton’s Craven House (1926), another novel to which it bears certain resemblances, London Belongs to Me ends in diaspora. The premises may endure, but two years down the road the people are most of them gone.

What is this library favourite from the year of VE Day and the Attlee landslide actually about? Again like many another London panorama, its gaze is at once limitless and extraordinarily restricted. It is about everything – which is to say that its cast are busy marrying, dying, making speeches at the “South London Parliament”, whose debates mirror the progress of the war, creating life and on one occasion snuffing it out – and nothing. It is about London, of course – and the geographical coverage extends from Mayfair to the City – and yet the organism that stretches out on all sides beyond Dulcimer Street is curiously undifferentiated. So, too, are the people, who for all their generational divisions – Doris and Percy are interesting specimens of restless, machine-age youth – talk in the same way, think many of the same thoughts and, in social situations, operate as a kind of catch-phrasing chorus. They are sure they look a perfect fright. They have met his (or her) type before. They insist that visitors must take them as they find them. Diffidently, but with a certain affairé pride, they banter the signature remarks of the day back and forth. “Where was Moses?”, Mr Josser wonders at one point when the lights fail.

It is one of the novel’s most authentic moments, a perfect example of how people really talked to each other in 1939. The answer, which nobody gives, but which I can remember my father (b1921) reciting a dozen times, is “In the dark”. All this makes London Belongs to Me, with its cinema fantasies, its minutely itemized car fleets, its farewell parties in EC2, very true to life, without perhaps being true to any of the individual existences fugitively at large in it. Gas-ring-haunting, baked-bean-swilling Mr Puddy, who remembers even his late wife only for her culinary skills, is a case in point. Mr Puddy’s distinguishing marks are his colossal appetite and his adenoidal vocal tones (“If the drains are still rudding – if it isn’t dodal war by then” etc). The reader knows that this cannot go on for ever, that these hopeful stake-outs in the grocery queue can’t be indefinitely sustained, that there will come a moment when Mr Puddy must quit his gas ring, his tin-opener and his comfy nightwatchman’s basement and perform some heroic act. And yet when he pulls an injured fireman from the flames during an air raid (while returning to rescue the packet of ham booked for his supper) the result is oddly unsatisfactory, as if by jumping out of his stereotype for a moment he has somehow jumped back into it, merely confirming our expectations of him.

Collins’s other great theme, perhaps, is the ability of the human spirit to prosper beneath a topsoil of washed-out mornings, minor privations and the rent being due. Mrs Vizzard has her eye on hard-up, orotund Mr Squales, but her hopes are crushed by his flight, shortly before the wedding, into the arms of a rival admirer – and a breach-of-promise suit. The Jossers pine for a country cottage. Mrs Boon’s dreams are vicarious, bound up in her slinking son. Other hopes are more elemental. Mr Puddy merely wants to accumulate enough provisions to see out the war (“6 tins condensed milk, 8lb sugar, 3 packets Quaker Oats, 2 marmalade” etc). Connie’s only thought, in a world characterized by last warnings, police raids and, on one occasion, a two-week prison stretch, is to survive. Sadly this proves finally beyond her.

In his forgivably partial introduction, Ed Glinert maintains that one of Collins’s strengths is his firm hand with slapstick. He notes in particular a scene in which Mr Puddy’s home-made provisions shelf collapses into matchwood, sending a stream of tinned goods cascading down the stairs and upending Mr Squales on to the carpet (“What the hell happened there?” “You drod on a sabbod . . . . A Sailor Slice”). It could be argued, though, that Collins’s real talent is for incidental dialogue, tangles of smart-alecky call and response whose cumulative effect somehow transcends the minimalist nonchalance of their raw material. There is a wonderful piece of police procedural in which two bored-sounding plain clothes men extract vital pieces of information from a murder suspect without his ever realizing that he is giving himself away. In an early scene, Percy Boon tries to chat up the blonde at the funfair change counter: “I noticed you as soon as I came in”, he said.

“I dreamed about you last night,” the girl told him.
He grinned politely.
“Ever have any time off?” he asked.
The girl shook her head.
“No, I go straight on. All day and all night.”
“What’s your name?” Percy asked.
“Oh, call me Mrs Simpson,” she replied.
“Like to come out some time?”
“Yes, but not with you.”
“Fond of dancing?”
“Never heard of it.”

And so unyieldingly on, in a mosaic of repartee that is practically Firbankian in its rococo patterning, for another half-page.

In a roundabout way, London Belongs to Me answers a question that has always hung over urban English novels of the 1930s and 40s: their lack of susceptibility to American influence. This, after all, was the age of classic American naturalism, of Dreiser, Farrell and Steinbeck, of grim biological imperatives, suicides in Bowery flop-houses and remorseless journeys towards the electric chair. We know that the Priestley–Hamilton–Collins school of metropolitan panorama was aware of these transatlantic determinists to the extent of occasionally nodding to them (Bob, the literary-minded barman in Hamilton’s The Midnight Bell, has ambitions to write a novel that “would put [him] in a class with Hugo, Tolstoy and Dreiser”). If nothing else, Collins demonstrates the absolute impossibility of producing the English equivalent of, say, James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan trilogy here in a world of Lyons cafés, social security and the ceremonious routines of the South London Parliament. As it happens, London Belongs to Me has one violent death (the funfair blonde, whom Percy pushes out of a stolen car) and one unexplained drowning, a son missing in action, a trial scene and a death sentence later commuted to life imprisonment. None of Percy’s mental anguish, though, quite dispels the faint air of cosiness that hangs over the proceedings. Collins is not a sentimentalist, but nor is he a realist, and the stagecraft that novels of this type require quite often descends into stage management. It is the same (up to a point) with Hamilton’s “Komic Kapitals”, or with Angel Pavement, where the dissatisfactions of Turgis, the pimply clerk brooding over his gas fire, or Mr Smeeth, the desiccated accountant worrying about his finances, are always ripe to be borne away on a tide of sub-Dickensian comedy.

To anyone brought up on the London cosmopolitanism of Zadie Smith or Hanif Kureishi, London Belongs to Me may seem less a novel than a piece of dramatized sociology, or even an anthropological study. Like an old-fashioned situation comedy, it is predicated on a shared vernacular, geographical precision, a social uniformity that is only reinforced by the faint variations up and down, and a series of assumptions about human behaviour that the intervening sixty years have called sharply into question. Its most distinctive, and simultaneously its most attractive feature is its communality, its nervous protocols, its endless politenesses, its inches given and received, the surface frostiness that nearly always dissolves into inner warmth. It isn’t in the least surprising to discover that Collins’s chief legacy to the Light Programme was the commissioning of Woman’s Hour and Dick Barton Special Agent. Both as a writer, and in his role as one of broadcasting’s first hauts fonctionnaires, he clearly envisaged popular art as a kind of societal glue, designed to bring people together rather than to drive them apart. But of all the assumptions about human behaviour put under the microscope in the sixty years since London Belongs to Me, the idea that popular culture is a unifying rather than a divisive force is the most questionable of all.

Norman Collins
738pp. Penguin. Paperback, £10.99.
978 0 14 144233 4

D. J. Taylor’s book Bright Young People: The rise and fall of a generation 1918–1940 was published in 2007. A new novel, Ask Alice, is published this month.

Copyright 2009 Times Newspapers Ltd.