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Clive Murphy’s Snaps

June 27, 2021
by the gentle author

I am celebrating my friend, the late Clive Murphy, by publishing his snaps

Pauline, Animal Lover, 77 Brick Lane, 16 July 1988

When it comes to photography, Clive Murphy – the novelist, oral historian and writer of ribald rhymes – modestly described himself as a snapper. Yet although he used the term to indicate that his taking pictures was merely a casual preoccupation, I prefer to interpret Clive’s appellation as meaning “a snapper up of unconsidered trifles” – one who cherishes what others disregard.

“I carried it around in my shoulder bag and if something interested me, I would pull out my camera and snap it,” Clive informed me plainly, “I am a snapper because I work instinctively and I rely entirely upon my eye for the picture.”

In thousands of snapshots, every one labelled on the reverse in his spidery handwriting and organised into many shelves of numbered volumes, Clive chronicled the changing life of Spitalfields, of those around him and of those he knew, since he came to live above the Aladin Restaurant on Brick Lane in 1973. These pictures are not those of a documentary photographer on assignment but the intimate snaps of a member of the community, and it is this personal quality which makes them so compelling and immediate, drawing the viewer into Clive’s particular vivid universe in Spitalfields.

One day, we pulled out a few albums and leafed through the pages together, selecting a few snaps to show you, and Clive told me some of the stories that go with them.

Brick Lane, May 1988

Komor Uddin, Taj Stores, 7 December 1990

Columbia Rd Market, 13 November 1988

Jasinghe Ranamukadewasa Fernando (known as Vijay Singh), Holy Man with acolyte, Brick Lane, March 1988 – “Many people in Brick Lane thought he was the new Messiah and the press came down in droves. He was regarded as a very holy man, he held court in the Nazrul Restaurant and people took his potions and remedies. When he died, I joined the crowd to see his body at the Co-op Funeral Parlour in Chrisp St.”

Clive Murphy’s cat Pushkin, 132 Brick Lane, July 1988 – “Pushkin followed me down Brick Lane from Fournier St one night and, when I opened my hall door, he came in with me. So he adopted me, when he was only a kitten and could hardly jump up a step. And I had him for twenty years.”

Neighbour’s doves hoping to be fed, 16 March 1991 – “The Nazrul Restaurant used to keep doves and, when they disappeared, Pushkin was blamed but I assure you he had nothing to do with it.”

Kyriacos Kleovoulou, Barber, Puma Court, 23 February 1990 – “I’ve had a few haircuts there in the past.”

Waiter, Nazrul Restaurant, Brick Lane, 29 May 1988

Harry Fishman, 97 Brick Lane, 19 September 1987 – “He was a godsend to everybody because he cashed any cheque on the spot. I think he was used to being robbed, so he wanted to get rid of the cash. Harry Fishman was the most-loved man on Brick Lane in the seventies, his shop was always full of people wanting to be around him, and I often delivered papers to The Golden Heart for him.”

Harry Fishman’s shop, corner of Quaker St, 19 September 1987

Window Cleaning, Woodseer St, March 1988 – “This man used to run an orchestra and, at all dances and Bengali events, they would play.”

Sunday use of Weinbergs (sold), November 1987 – “It was a printers and when it closed it became a fruit stall. Mr Weinberg was a very jolly fat man, slightly balding, who ordered his staff about. He would say things like, ‘Left, right, left, right, do it properly!’ I dined at his house and I didn’t like the cover of my first novel, so I asked him to redesign it for me. He had a nephew who had never been with a woman and he asked me to find him an escort agency. We all dined in a restaurant behind the Astoria Theatre in the Charing Cross Rd, and then I let them use my front room. But after an hour she came out and said, ‘It’s no use, I give up!’ but we still had to pay, and his nephew never became a man.”

Christ Church Night Tea Stall, October 1987 – “I always went out as the last thing I did before I went to bed, to have a snack.”

Clive’s landlord, Toimus Ali, at The Aladin Restaurant, 6 March 1991 – “He was very taciturn.”

Fournier St, 7 February 1991 – “I used to come here and have lunch with all the taxi-drivers who loved it so much.”

Retired street cleaner, Brick Lane, March 1988

Tramp, Brick Lane, 29 May 1988

Pushkin unwell, Jan 4 1991 – “I was told it would be quite alright to feed my cat on frozen whitebait, but I didn’t thaw it properly and it killed my Pushkin.”

Harry Fishman’s shop after closure, 97 Brick Lane, 27 September 1987

Clive at his desk, 132 Brick Lane, 31 December 1989

Photographs courtesy of the Clive Murphy Archive at the Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to read my other stories about Clive Murphy

Clive Murphy, Writer

A Walk With Clive Murphy

At Clive Murphy’s Flat

12 Responses leave one →
  1. June 27, 2021

    Wonderful. The photos from the 70s and 80s have their own technically grainy charm. That’s how you can recognise them. — Today I use my digital camera in the same way as Clive Murphy: interesting moments are snapped! (Based on the higher resolution of the digital pictures, one day you will recognise the year 2021).

    Love & Peace

  2. June 27, 2021

    thankyou for remembering my dear uncle Harry – although I find the photo of him heartbreaking.
    I know that he was the kindest man and I was named after his beloved wife (my middle name is Rose). He would fill our pockets with sweets and chocolates until we burst when we went to visit.
    He would never leave Brick Lane. It was his home.

  3. Jill permalink
    June 27, 2021

    A great insight Thankyou

  4. June 27, 2021

    Very moving pictures. Thank you.

  5. June 27, 2021

    Fabulous photos!! So warm and humane, and full of humour x

  6. Linda Granfield permalink
    June 27, 2021

    Great photos! The two fellows with their dog–they are wearing what is called, in jest, a “Canadian tuxedo,” denim pants and denim jacket.
    Clive still had room to move in his desk and bed photos. And I’ve noticed that plants were important to him, in these photos and previous ones you published.
    The pot of heather in the last image is a lovely bit of colour.

  7. June 27, 2021

    Thanx for the photos. I never looked through his collection….However he took many photos when we were partners in crime. I have quite a lot of photos of me, took by him casually. I also photographed him a lot. When I stopped my drink problem I ended up back at Uni to study Pro Photography. Thanx Clive and The Gentle Author for inspiration. Thanx x x x x Angella-Dee xx

  8. Cherub permalink
    June 27, 2021

    I have nice memories of eating at Aladin back in the early 90s when I was a mature student at Queen Mary College at Mile End. Used to go with a friend late on Friday afternoon after a tutorial, very decent food and it was cheap. After that we’d buy a dozen beigels each. I also introduced my husband to the delights of Aladin!

  9. Mark. permalink
    June 27, 2021

    They are really nice snaps of the Brick Lane that I myself visited several times in the mid to late eighties.
    Vibrant and friendly, but extremely run down. Thanks!

  10. Glenys Taylor permalink
    June 27, 2021

    Please exhibit these they are beautiful!

  11. June 28, 2021

    Thanks for publishing Clive’s photos. They should be seen by many.

  12. Suresh Singh permalink
    June 28, 2021

    Fucking Hell Clive we Miss You SOOOOO Much Love Suresh and Jagir may the Sikh gurus keep you dearly

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