YouTube is often thought of as a young person’s thing, but it is also a space for nostalgia. Watching footage of London as it once was is enlightening in more than one way. The things that haven’t much changed are often as striking as those that have. The comment threads too are revealing. If you can stomach the carping bigotry, they provide stark insights into how, for some, London has ceased to be the capital of a quintessential, post-war Englishness and become instead the prime example of national cultural self-ruin.
I’ve picked out three items for your enjoyment and reflection. The first is a 20 minute British Transport Films documentary released in 1962. Its title, All That Mighty Heart, is taken from a famous William Wordsworth London poem. Note that Stevenage New Town is also featured – an “overspill” settlement to which thousands of Londoners relocated during the 1950s. Its rather staged quality gives it something of the character of wartime propaganda films – a reminder that when it was made barely 20 years had passed since the Blitz.
The second clip is also a British Transport Films production and older still. Produced in 1953, it mourns the passing of the old London tram network which once linked North and South London, including via the Kingsway subway, still very visible today. It is entitled The Elephant Will Never Forget, and one of its opening shots is of the landmark Elephant & Castle statue. Remember, this film dates from well before the Elephant shopping centre, now facing demolition, existed. It’s just over ten minutes long.
The third and final clip is unused British Pathé material and apparently compiled in 1958. Sadly, it has no sound other than the odd background crackle, but the scenes from London’s roads, walkways and heritage sites are quite engaging, not least for the fashions and paucity of motor vehicles.
“Oh england, please reclaim yourself and purge the multicultural disease so evidently spoiling your authentic beauty,” wails one commenter. I prefer the sentiment of someone going by the name of Beowolf: “Shame you can’t enjoy a bit of nostalgia without all the moaners spoiling it.”