A 21-year-old girl's body is found on Hampstead Heath. It turns out she is Sapphire Robbins, a music student, pregnant and planning to marry an architectural student. And it also transpires that she is, to use the parlance of the film, 'coloured' - but she can pass as white, which is what she had done for several months after earlier being part of the black dance and music scene.
Her brother (played by Earl Cameron) is a doctor in Birmingham - and black. He and Sapphire had the same parents - white father and black mother (at least, I think it was that way around) - but a very different appearance.
Many of the streets shots are local - the student architect and his family live at 2 Oakford Road, and his father's sign painting workshop is now where the environmental undertakers keep their corpses. The student's sister works at a dairy - in other words an old fashioned grocer's - on York Rise. There are also street shots of Fortess Road and Dartmouth Park Hill. Really interesting to see the place as it was almost sixty years ago - and looking, if truth be told, distinctly drab. Rationing was over by 1959 but, club scenes apart, this wasn't swinging London.
Just as intriguing are the scenes filmed in west London - if not in Colin MacInnes's Notting Dale (his novel Absolute Beginners appeared in the same year as 'Sapphire') then very much in that mould: the Tulip Club with black musicians and a largely black clientele ... the grim, paint-peeling lodging houses ... the racist Teddy Boy thuggery ... the male Caribbean camaraderie.
It's a police movie, and unsettlingly candid in its depiction of both malign and casual racism. And very interesting in looking at the phenomenon of mixed-race youngsters who decide to pass for white because it helps to sidestep racism and offers them greater opportunities, social and professional.
Earl Cameron spoke powerfully and effectively tonight about the poison of racism - and about his chance entry into acting. He was born in Bermuda, worked as a merchant seaman, and only arrived in the UK when he found himself in Buenos Aires as war was declared in 1939 - while the American members of the crew were repatriated, the Brits (and Earl counted as one because he came from a British colony) were told they had to sail the vessel to London. Once here, for months he couldn't find a job, simply because of the colour of his skin.
Earl Cameron is a CBE, and in a little over a year will celebrate his hundredth birthday - and he still has stage presence. He's a star!
And so are the people behind the Dartmouth Park Film Club - who not only organised the screening, but also brought Earl Cameron and his wife down from their home in the Midlands, organised wine, cake and popcorn ... and were rewarded with a hugely bigger turn-out than the Holloway Odeon usually manages and, I trust, a bumper collection which will help them stage more really good movies and community events.
Storm Katie certainly made an impact in my corner of NW5. At about first light this morning, it brought crashing down an old and decrepit tree in the corner of the grounds of our development, It fell across Dartmouth Park Hill, complete blocking the road. Happily no one was hurt and not much damage done. And the tree surgeon and his team were there impressively promptly. As you can see, they cut up the trunk - and have placed the big pieces either on the side of the pavement or at the edges of our car park area.
Because the tree was on private land, we will get a bill for the cost of clearing the fallen tree, and we will have to arrange the disposal of the sections of the trunk. But at least, as mishaps go, this could have been a lot, lot worse.
The new coffee shop at Crick's Corner - here's the back story - it still in its first week. And I reckon it's cracked it. We went along for a snack lunch today - good coffee, nice sandwich (a pulled pork cabanos, if you want to know), great cake (my son went for the strawberry sponge cake), friendly service and - helped by the streaming sunshine - a really nice place to chill.
And where is Crick's Corner? It's on Dartmouth Park Hill at the corner of Bickerton Street, so just to the north of the covered reservoir (aka Dartmouth Park), about five minutes walk from the Whittington hospital.
The cafe is much more spacious than I expected. The main cafe area is small but sufficient - with some nice snacks and brownies, and bread you can take home. What used to be the Patels' back room with sofa and TV set is now a light, bright additional room of seating. The decor is stylish - my my, N19 is starting to go places - and early this afternoon there was a steady stream of customers.
And in a very nice touch, certainly for this blogger, there was a copy of Curious Kentish Town for the curious to consult. Good on yer!
Crick's Corner is making a comeback - the shop on Dartmouth Park Hill (on the junction with Bickerton Road) is reopening on Monday as a coffee and cake place. Hallelujah!
The Patels - who ran a newsagent and small corner store - moved out well over two years ago. And ever since, except for one brief spell, it's been empty. I walked past this morning, and Simon (he'll be running the cafe with Kelly) had his paintbrush out getting the signage sorted.
"I've never done anything like this before", Simon said - I think he was talking about running a cafe, but perhaps painting a shop sign too.
One really heartening aspect of the new business is that they have latched on to the old name.
I've blogged about Crick's Corner and its history before - between the wars, it was a newsagent's and cheap subscription library. And an old ghost sign reading "Crick's Corner" is still visible on the Bickerton Road side - I played a modest role in saving it a couple of years back when some workers seemed intent on painting it over.
It's not going to be easy to make a go of the business - there are no other shops immediately adjoining, and not a lot of people walk past. But it deserves support, and I'll be there next week trying it out. I'll let you know what I make of the place.
Currently at the printers, and in the shops in under a month - Curious Kentish Town, a copiously illustrated 92-page book about thirty or so places in and around NW5 and the unlikely stories attached to them. There's more details here - and the map below indicates the range of locations featured ... and you can get more of a clue from the titles of the various entries posted below the map.
There will be a launch - we hope at Owl bookshop on November 10th. Watch this space!
1: Dust-up in Islip Street
2: "Hey Ho, Cook and Rowe"
3: The Caversham Road Shul
4: A Country Cottage
5: The Poets' Meeting House
6: Rocker's Newspaper Kiosk
7: A Celtic Saint
8: The Smiling Sun of Hargrave Park
9: 'Catering for Beanfeasts'
10: Borough Control
11: The Drapers' Ghost
12: The River in a Rusting Pipe
13: Ghana's Revolutionary President
14: The Great War in College Lane
15: St Martin's - still crazy after all these years
16: At Home with Karl Marx
17: The Secret Horse Tunnels of Camden Lock
18: The Artist Colony in Primrose Hill
19: Ready Money Drinking Fountain
20: Matilda the Absurd
21: A Bridge over Nothing
22: The Antidote to Blue Plaques
23: The Strangest of Poets
24: Two South African Revolutionaries
25: The Elephant House
26: When Baths were Baths
27: Find HOPE
28: Pianos for all the World
29: Protect and Survive
30: The Crimea Commemorated
31: Boris the Cat
The York Rise street fair - it's in Dartmouth Park, NW5 - is nothing grand. It's not on the scale of the Alma Street knees up in Kentish Town. But it is a really nice local get together - lots of stalls, food, entertainment, arts and crafts, bric-a-brac (I'm very happy with the badge I got today, see below), and local community groups from the Friends of Highgate Library to the Dartmouth Park Neighbourhood Forum.
And the badge? Here it is ... I imagine it dates from the 1975 referendum (yes, we had them even then) - the first time I voted.
The wording 'Common Market' tells its own story about the vintage - that's what the European Union was known as back in the day.
There's a spot along Chetwynd Road in NW5 where Butterfield's high church St Mary Brookfield looms imposingly as the church on the hill. Walking to work this morning through Dartmouth Park (yes, I walk all the way - it takes me an hour) I looked back on the church, which was caught enticingly by the sharp rays of the morning sun. This iphone photo doesn't fully capture the golden light striking Butterfield's multi-hued brickwork, but it has I hope a dash of magic about it.
Shop renovations bring with them moments of magic. Fleeting moments when remnants of another era resurface, and then just as quickly are again submerged, often forever.
That's what's happened at a disused corner shop along Dartmouth Park Hill in north London (on the junction with Bickerton Road to be precise). I posted about 'Crick's Corner' earlier in the year when the corner shop business run by the Patels - they used to deliver my newspapers - was about to close. The shop is now being refurbished. And driving past the other afternoon, I could see that old signage on clouded glass long since lost to view had come to light - 'Confectionery', 'Library', 'Periodicals', there was a fourth but the glass is broken. The shop used to be, between the wars, a library - lending out novels for a few pence a week.
Within days, these evocative signs - they look as if they date from the 1920s or 30s - were replaced by clear window glass. We will never see them again.
But it was wonderful to get a last glance of a shop front from perhaps seventy or more years ago.
The old 'Crick's Corner' signage still survives - for the moment.
I think it only got into the new century because it was hidden behind an advertising board which, some years back, was removed.
The developer is clearly hoping to find a commercial use for the property - though that may not be too easy. It's got a good corner site, but there's not much passing trade - as the Patels discovered.
When I wrote about Crick's Corner before, an old friend Bob Trevor - who grew up along this stretch of Dartmouth Park Hill - got in touch to say he remembered when it was still a commercial library and old-style mags and sweets shop. He recalled: "Another landmark of my life gone. Mr Crick used to cash cheques for my father, deliver newspapers and the 'Boy's Own Paper' for me. His son and daughter-in-law lived next door to us in No 79. My mother and Mrs Crick jnr were great pals. In those days there was a parade of shops stretching from Chester Road to Raydon St. Happy memories."
Part of the charm of ghost signs is the slow, ethereal fading away - if the inscription wasn't visibly ageing it wouldn't have that magic about it.
But it's still frustrating when you come across a ghost sign that's no longer fully legible. Take this one, for 'John Hirst, Builder, on the gable end of the house he lived in, in Dartmouth Park. What does it say?
Even the most assiduous of ghost signers has failed to make it out in full. But here's my best attempt:
????? Sanitary Work
If anyone can fill-in the blanks, do let me know. The sign is at the junction of Twisden Road and Chetwynd Road, NW5.
The admirable Kentish Towner has had a good look at the ghost signs at the heart of Dartmouth Park. There's a more detailed, and illustrated, account by M.H. Port, 'Living and Building in Victorian Dartmouth Park', published by the Dartmouth Park Conservation Area Advisory Committee. Many of the streets in Dartmouth Park, especially those on the southern side, bear all the hallmarks of speculative builders. They would buy a small lot of land, cram in a few houses, and the telltale sign is the variegated design - walk down a street such as Spencer Rise, and you get small clumps of houses all with the same design, then a jarring change not just to design detail, but often the number of floors as well.
It's one of the commanding landmarks of N19 (Upper Holloway to the untutored) - and has a fair claim to be one of north London's most enduring murals.
This 'smiley sun' - and doesn't the reference to "Atomic Power" date it - is painted on a gable wall at the junction of Dartmouth Park Hill and Hargrave Park. I've lived nearby for the last sixteen years, and have driven past this mural and seen it as part of my London since I moved to the city more than thirty years ago.
Various attempts to find out how this smiley sun came into existence - and more details here - have thrown up two facts: it was all about the squatters' movement so evident in north London in the late '70s, and this particular piece of public art was the handiwork of Kelvin 'the mushroom maniac'.
Well, I have now heard directly from Kelvin - it's only taken three years or so to track him down - and here's his account of how this landmark was born:
Thanks for your interest ... in that 'smiley'!
Well, can't imagine how you ever found out, but you were right, twaz me that scrolled it!
How? Well, a lucky combination of circumstance I guess - A copy of that book [John W. Gofman and Arthur R. Tamplin, Poisoned Power: the case against nuclear power plants before and after Three Mile Island, 1971], a flourishing anti-nuclear movement, and me, a young headstrong hothead in thosde days, in love with life and convinced the world could be saved, (and magic mushrooms).
When? Well, I can pin that down for you too - It must have been (incredibly) - 1976. How am I so certain? Well, the man who told me of your website (born at the end of '75) was a babe in our arms at the time. Homeless and living on £5 a week we heard of the incredible squatting community that thrived in that area at that time - and with a massive sign of relief we moved into that house!
Why'd I graffiti my own house? Hard to say, perhaps having just got back from a nightmare demo at Aldermaston - where I'd experienced the most hideous mushroom induced vision I'd ever had in my life - (before or since) - may have had a little something to do with it! - ...
Where? how? Having come across a few tins of old paint while on another blindingly enlightening anti-nuclear trip I was suddenly seized with the absolute necessity to do something about it then and there - so, in the middle of the night, much to the misgivings of my long suffering wife and convinced I'd be getting busted for it in the morning (if not while doing it) I grabbed a ladder from a building site opposite and dashed it off. (If I'd have known it was to last half a lifetime I may just have taken a little more care over it! I was in such as hurry I remember I nearly fell to my probable death in the process! - anyway,
There's your story.
And it's a great story, Kevin. Thank you!
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