Soho down the decades – where ‘all the world lives’

Soho down the decades – where ‘all the world lives’

There is no better source for understanding the type of British beliefs that powered Brexit than the comment threads beneath old film footage of London on YouTube.

Nostalgia for a Golden Age since “lost” to immigrants is a common theme, typically induced by credulous exposure to post-war state propaganda productions in which all the streets are spotless and all the Londoners are cheery, polite and white.

Those were the days, lament the more benign. Nastier types seethe that London has become a “third world shit-hole”.

Yet the capital in the late-1940s and 1950s was still brutally bomb-damaged, deeply traumatised and its very heart was full of people with roots in foreign lands. And that cosmopolitanism was often relished. Try this tongue-in-cheek 1955 Pathé News piece.

Three decades later, Soho was still remarked upon as an international melting pot, along with being the last bastion of the British film industry and a place where Stradivarius-repairers, shoemakers to the rich and famous, “vice” and 6,000 residents co-existed. This 1985 documentary in John Pitman’s celebrated Just Another Day series, captures it all beautifully. I’m grateful to an On London supporter for bringing it to my attention.

Finally, Soho Boho, an hour-long BBC Four show, first broadcast in 2005, featuring George Melly, Bernard Kops, Anne Valery and more. It describes a creative square mile that enticed “the young and the restless from near and far” to a place that was simultaneously villagey and and dodgy and whose streets offered “the next best thing to a holiday abroad”.

I hope you enjoy all three films.

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Categories: Culture

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