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At Pellicci’s Christmas Party

December 23, 2023
by the gentle author

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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)

2 Responses leave one →
  1. December 23, 2023

    Pellicci’s is a local and national treasure, a little bit of Italy on Bethnal Green Road. How sad to think that some of the revellers are no longer with us. Christmas is often a time for reflection and remembering those gone before us. Thanks GA, and once again, a Merry Christmas to all.

  2. Cherub permalink
    December 23, 2023

    Things have been a bit miserable this past week as my husband is just getting over a bad bout of Covid, but this has really cheered me up.

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