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East End Film Show

June 10, 2016
by the gentle author

(Due to extraordinary demand this event is SOLD OUT but we will repeat it on Tuesday 21st June at 7pm. Please drop an email to to let us know you are coming.)

In celebration of the John Claridge’s EAST END photography exhibition, you are all invited to a free film show at 7pm next Tuesday 14th June at Vout-O-Reenees in Aldgate with a screening of THE LONDON NOBODY KNOWS and a programme of EAST END short films introduced by DAVID COLLARD, who was responsible for the recent successful campaign to Save Spiegelhalters.

James Mason in Hanbury St

If you wonder what it was like here fifty years ago and would like to be personally escorted around Spitalfields in the spring of 1967 by James Mason, it can be arranged next week. Make your way to Vout-O-Reenees at 30 Prescott St, E1 8BB on Tuesday night.

One day when the first leaves were showing but snow was still piled up in yards, James Mason came knocking on the door of 29 Hanbury St (where the Truman Brewery Upmarket building now stands) and in this picture you see him asking the householder if he can look in her back yard, which was the site of the second Ripper murder. I think she makes a fair show of being surprised at his request, when he can hardly have been the first Ripper tourist to knock on her door. It was all part of the filming of The London Nobody Knows based upon Geoffrey Fletcher’s book of the same title.

In a series of books and a regular column in the Telegraph that added up to a life’s work, Geoffrey Fletcher set out to make an affectionate record of all the corners of old London that were being neglected and devalued while the cultural focus was upon modernity at any cost. He wanted to record these precious fragments of the past before the wrecking ball destroyed them forever. Illustrated with his own delicate line drawings, copies of Geoffrey Fletcher’s books can still be found in public libraries and make fascinating guides today because – in spite of everything – most of the London nobody knows is still there.

He doubted very much that the house I live in today in Spitalfields would survive more than a few years – this was at least thirty years ago. Geoffrey Fletcher was an unashamed sentimentalist and I love him for seeking out the poetry in ordinary common things. In fact, reading his books was one of my inspirations to begin writing these posts to you every day.

Brandished an umbrella, with well-polished handmade brown shoes and a cloth cap to signify class solidarity, James Mason makes an amiable guide to Geoffrey Fletcher’s sixties London. He takes us from an old railway goods yard and a tragically abandoned music hall in Camden Town to the perky Kings Rd fashion parade, by way of a Salvation Army hostel and Kensal Green Cemetery, before ending up in Spitalfields. Here they filmed meths drinkers fighting on the steps of the synagogue in Brick Lane, old men collecting discarded cabbages at the Market, garment workers outside their workplaces in Fournier St, and tenement children playing raucous singing games and scrapping on the pavement.

Director Norman Cohen’s film is an unlikely charismatic amalgam of sixties whimsy and realist documentary footage of markets, street performers, hostel dwellers and drunks. These last two subjects are the most memorable, as candid yet humane testimonies of the hopeless and the dispossessed. It is in this rare footage that the film achieves its lasting value, tenderly witnessing the existence of these seemingly-innocent refugees from an earlier world who became casualties in the post-war years.


Look up The London Nobody Knows on the International Movie Database and in the section devoted to ‘plot keywords’ you’ll find the following: River Thames, chains, whip, pub, dancing, lavatory, haggling, catacombs and (somewhat more respectably) ‘reference to Christopher Wren’. That last reference is – we shall discover at the screening on 14th June – wrong in every detail. But the other words give an idea of what a very very strange documentary this is.

I know of nothing remotely like it – imagine Ian Nairn’s topographical excursions directed by Ken Loach. Presented by the Huddersfield-born Hollywood leading man James Mason, this 1969 was briefly circulated as a support feature to the big screen version of the BBC television comedy Till Death Us Do Part. What audiences keen to hear Alf Garnett’s bilious rants made of it at the time is hard to imagine – apart from a couple of heavy-handed slapstick sequences staged for the camera what we get, for much of the time, is harrowing reportage: we encounter the buskers and dossers and meths drinkers of Spitalfields, we enter the squalid slums around Fournier St and meet the inmates of the Salvation Army hostel. 

The spectacle of Mason strolling through street markets as heads turn, or loitering in a dank urinal, or uttering a fastidious ‘yick’ at some modern blot on the skyline is one that will stay with you. He is brilliantly empathetic sharing a mug of tea with hostel inmates, wonderfully sad in the wreck of  an abandoned music hall. How he came to be involved in the project – well, you’ll find out at the screening. That the film today is something of a cult is hardly surprising – it ticks all the boxes and creates some new ones to tick.

Other plot keywords for The London Nobody Knows are ‘decay’ and ‘Camden Town’ – if Withnail and I had been shot as a documentary it might have looked something like this.

John Claridge’s EAST END exhibition runs at Vout-O-Reenees until 21st July

You may also like to read about

Down Among the Meths Men

Geoffrey Fletcher’s Pavement Pounders

In the Footsteps of Geoffrey Fletcher

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Chris F permalink
    June 10, 2016

    I love that film and have watched it numerous times…

  2. Robert Green permalink
    June 10, 2016

    The London nobody knows is one of my all time favorite films, made just before a lot of the old London that remained after the war was swept away, it is quiet humorous in some ways but then again parts of it are desperately sad, I must have watched it hundreds of times over the years but even so there is one part in particular that always makes me cry, its an intoxicating mixture of fact, history, nostalgia sadness and humour all rolled into one of the most important documentary style films ever made on London’s post war legacy, there are a few people I remember who are in it and it contains some wonderful scenes of life around the East End and various other parts of London, I want to go to this event and watch it again, and I will make sure I take plenty of tissues with me ! !.

  3. June 10, 2016

    Sounds great, and once again I am sorry to be here and not there! Valerie

  4. rosemaryHoffman permalink
    June 10, 2016

    I have actually got the book somewhere in my collection !

  5. June 10, 2016

    Good to read such an eloquent appreciation of the splendid Geoffrey Fletcher; I too am a devotee of his atmospheric drawings and pithy prose. ‘The London Nobody Knows’ is still in print – with a new introduction by Dan Cruickshank – and most of his dozen-or-so other books about overlooked aspects of the capital are easily available, secondhand. I found one going for a song in a charity shop in Watney Market, just off the Commercial Road – which seemed entirely apt.

  6. Annie S permalink
    June 10, 2016

    It’s a great film – can recommend!

  7. Malcolm permalink
    June 10, 2016

    The book and the film are both wonderful in the depiction of the city in the post-war period before the town planners, with fatuous dreams of skywalks and concrete housing estates, destroyed those communities that still survived. The film today is more than a nostalgic look back, it is a powerful reminder of the how London was once a unique city of many communities and villages, instead of the homogenous corporate building site that it has become.
    I look forward to Tuesday night’s viewing, I’m sure there will be a moist eye or two among the audience.

  8. pauline taylor permalink
    June 10, 2016

    The great Geoffrey Fletcher books can be found in most second hand bookshops at reasonable prices. Charity shops tend to charge more for them, as they do with many books, but I am talking with my book sellers hat on of course.

    I am a fan of James Mason as I am of all men who have a lovely speaking voice like his!!

  9. Sue permalink
    June 12, 2016

    Wish I were nearer London as I would love to see it. In fact it does sound vaguely familiar, maybe I saw it at the cinema at the time.

  10. Brian R BirdH permalink
    June 12, 2016

    have the book & the DVD, both of which I’ve enjoyed over the years. Have a good screening.

  11. David permalink
    June 13, 2016

    Sometimes you can view ‘The London Nobody Knows’ on the web, but here’s a short video comparing locations in the documentary with those in the present:

  12. Stephen Foster permalink
    June 13, 2016

    Thanks for sharing that David. I love how it’s a Scottish guy that commentated. Being one myself, I am also drawn to London more that say Glasgow or Edinburgh, but don’t tell them that.

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