Len Deighton’s London Dossier….
“My idea of a perfect Saturday would begin with buying books” so wrote Len Deighton in his travelogue London Dossier published in 1967. We quite agree and reading his chapter makes one yearn for a Spring Saturday in 1960s London where Deighton takes us from Leicester Square Underground station to both sides of Charing Cross Road. Here Deighton insists there is no other place in the world which compared with it for the number and variety of books on offer and he gives the reader a charming guide to his favourites.
Take Poole’s Bookshop at number 86 Charing Cross Road, ‘great gloomy basements full of dusty books, each carefully ranged according to subject-matter, and ladders stand ready for you’ We are given a fascinating choice of bookshops from those which specialised in paperbacks to car magazines, erotica or ‘publishers remainders going for a song’. But book buying is thirsty work and Deighton, known for his love of good food and drink tells us where to luncheon:
‘Just around the corner is Soho, a district packed with restaurants. Sheekey’s, the Terrazza, and Chez Solange (35 Cranbourn Street) are near by. For a quick snack go to the Moka Bar (Greek Street at Shaftesbury Avenue end)’ To escape the crowds Deighton suggested a coffee at Guys n’ Dolls Coffee Bar or Brown’s Hotel for afternoon tea to watch the American tourists engage in good old English etiquette.
It is easy to imagine Deighton making the most of what London had to offer, he suggested the latest art house cinema and lists phone number WAT 3232 to find out what’s on. Oh for the days before Google I hear you cry! For music lovers, Deighton takes us to Discurio at 9 Shepherd Street, W1 for specialist records or Collectors Corner at 63 Monmouth Street for ‘records dating back to the turn of the century and is particularly famous for producing rare vocal and operatic records’. By the evening Deighton’s mind had turned to entertainment and a symphony orchestra which played by the lakeside at Kenwood throughout June and July where it plaid come rain or shine. Deighton praises both the musicians and the audience for their resilience and ‘their chance to display true British staying power’
Len Deighton’s London Dossier is not an easy title to find these days but for fans of the London scene in the sixties as well as an insight into how the Harry Palmer creator spent his weekends it is worth seeking out. It is a veritable mix of topics as only the sixties could have produced but it offers a wonderful insight to the city, the era and what made it all beat so memorably. A glorious period.
Categories: Retro Heaven, The Reading Room
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