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At Pellicci’s Christmas Party

December 24, 2022
by the gentle author

If you need an excuse to escape over Christmas, why not join me for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS on Boxing Day?


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Today I recall a Christmas party of long ago when my friends Rodney Archer and Colin O’Brien were still alive.

Rodney Archer gives his rendition of ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’…

A rain storm engulfed the East End early on the Saturday morning before Christmas, yet the foul weather did not discourage me from rolling out of my bed and along the Bethnal Green Rd to the celebrated E.Pellicci before nine in the morning with the hope of witnessing Rodney Archer perform “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The golden glow of the cafe interior shone like a beacon through the foul weather as I arrived to be greeted by the Christmas crib with the baby Jesus, angels and shepherds, all just visible through the steamed-up window. Once inside, I joined Rodney at the corner table where he was conscientiously studying the lyrics in advance of his big moment.

Even though the volume of custom was depleted on account of the filthy weather, Nevio Pellicci was not discouraged. He understood that what we lacked in numbers we gained in emotional solidarity as fellow refugees from the storm. And so, taking the initiative in the role of host that is his birthright and which he fulfils so superlatively, he handed out the carol sheets. Striking the metal chimney upon the boiler for the hot water with a spoon, Nevio drew the cafe to order, causing the two tables of families with children to look up with especial eagerness from their fried breakfasts – as he led the assembly in a spirited rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Photographer Colin O’Brien arrived in the midst of the carol, an expression of wonderment spreading across his face as he stepped from the chilly street into the cafe. And then, it was Rodney Archer’s moment. He stood and sang all the verses of his chosen carol, articulating the lyrics with a practised eloquence, and the entire cafe joined in with “You’d better watch out, you’d better beware, because Santa Claus is coming to town…” Visibly relieved to sit down again during his applause, “I didn’t sleep all night,” he confessed to me wiping the perspiration from his brow, “And now it’s over.”

Yet the concert party was just about to change gear, as the members of the Tower Hamlets Environmental Services Team arrived at the same moment as members of the London Late-Starters Orchestra came in for for breakfast, as they always do when practising in the rehearsal room across the road. Gina Boreham stood up and gave a elegantly modulated performance of “When you’re young at heart,” which brought the cafe to a standstill and then followed it with a soulful version of “When the hangover strikes.”

By now, things were going with quite a swing which prompted Nevio Pellicci to bring out his wedding photos and Maria and her crew to emerge from the kitchen bedecked in tinsel. “When I was a kid, all the stallholders from the market used to come in for hot toddies at this time of year,” Nevio recalled fondly, thinking back to years past, “And I used to get lots of Christmas presents.” Colin O’Brien took the rare opportunity to capture all the Pellicci team in one picture which prompted Nevio to say, “That’s the Christmas card sorted for next year!”

By this time, the rain had relented and it was just growing light outside. There was time for a last collective rendition of “Silent Night” before all realised that – once we had exchanged seasonal greetings – it was the moment to disperse upon our respective Christmas errands, while the saner residents of the East End were yet to stir from their slumbers.

The renowned baritone voice of Nevio Pellicci led the carols.

Gina Boreham

Magda and Maria

“I didn’t sleep all night and now it’s over.”

Silva, Maria, Tony, Nevio, Kinga & Magda

Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien

You may like to read these other Pellicci stories

Maria Pellicci, Cook

Pellicci’s Celebrity Album

Pellicci’s Collection

Maria Pellicci, The Meatball Queen of Bethnal Green

Colin O’Brien at E.Pellicci

Colin O’Brien’s Pellicci Portraits ( Part One)

Colin O’Brien’s Pellicci Portraits (Part Two)

Colin O’Brien’s Pellicci Portraits (Part Three)

Colin O’Brien’s Pellicci Portraits (Part Four)

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Andy permalink
    December 24, 2022


  2. Susan Postlethwaite permalink
    December 24, 2022

    Love Pellicci’s. Egg and chips with thick slices of white bread and butter can’t go wrong. ?

  3. December 24, 2022

    *** MERRY CHRISTMAS! ***
    *** JOYEUX NOËL! ***

    Love & Peace

  4. December 24, 2022

    ¡Feliz Navidad, querido/a G.A. desde España! Please wish a merry Christmas to Schrödinger on my behalf.

  5. Peter Jackson permalink
    December 24, 2022

    Smashing! Always a good way to start Christmas ?

  6. David Antscherl permalink
    December 24, 2022

    Very happy Christmas to you, G.A., and to all who are reading this!

  7. Paul Loften permalink
    December 24, 2022

    Thank you for the photos . I would like to know what team that little boy supports . I once had a scarf like that when I was his age accompanied with a noisy rattle
    . Alas no longer allowed at football matches
    Happy Christmas and holiday to you all

  8. Christine permalink
    December 24, 2022

    Thank you for sharing these photos! What a opportunity to have been there for this performance! We visit there for breakfast when we visit London. Such good food and atmospheric lovely people! Salt of the earth x

  9. gkbowood permalink
    December 24, 2022

    Happy Christmas Faces always make me smile. Wishing you and all your readers a very Happy Holiday!

  10. Ros permalink
    December 24, 2022

    Ah, absent friends. The do leave big holes where they used to be. But a visit to Pelliccis always gives good cheer, even without a carol concert. God bless that lovely family!

  11. Susan permalink
    December 26, 2022

    I love Pellici’s! I live in Canada, but have been there several times during visits to London (all thanks to your wonderful recommendation, G.A.). How I wish I could be there for a Christmas meal sometime. In the meantime, a happy Christmas season to you…please do remember that it lasts 12 days, not just the one big blowout day of December 25…

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