Location, location

Kensington Gore: Luke Honey takes us on a trip around some London landmarks captured on film and uncovers some strange and groovy goings on down the King’s Road…

I first noticed him one Saturday morning; about a week or so after moving into my new house in Battersea: a man with an instamatic camera, lurking near the bay tree outside my shiny, bijou front door. A middle-aged man with a beard, wearing an anorak. One twitch of the curtains, and he was gone.

Knowing that something was up, I turned to that “simple sword of truth”, Google, and discovered that I had the great fortune to be living in the Tardis: my house had been used as a location for the 1981 Doctor Who series, Logopolis. The Doctor Who Locations Guide website gave precise directions on how to get to my street, several helpful “then and now” photographs (how grim it looked back then!) and further directions to another Doctor Who location at a lay-by on the A413 near Watford.

The camera is kind to London, and it looks, perhaps, better on celluloid than it does in truth. Are not the pavements and parks haunted by the ghosts of films past? Who can forget dear old Genevieve and the tramlines of Westminster Bridge; the true star of Blow-Up, Maryon Park near Greenwich- its grass painted lime green by Michelangelo Antonioni; the dancing chimney sweeps of Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins, the mean suburban avenues of SW11 in Up the Junction; foggy Berkley Square in Midnight Lace (actually, filmed entirely at the Universal lot, Los Angeles) or the charming street anachronisms of Shepherd’s Bush in Quadrophenia?

Still on the theme of London and film, I must raise my hand and admit to a guilty secret. I am a fan of Dracula AD 1972. Those of you who have yet to see this legendary Hammer oeuvre have a treat in store. Dracula (as played by Christopher Lee) arrives in Swinging London, and heads straight for the King’s Road where he soon hangs loose with a gang of groovy flower children, headed by a miscast Stephanie Beacham and a teen-like Michael Kitchen. The blurb on the DVD case reads: “The Count is Back with an eye for London’s Hot Pants and A Taste for Everything…”

All this, of course, is deeply amusing: it’s as if the producers at Hammer (undoubtedly pipe- smoking, Telegraph-reading squares) suddenly woke up to the idea that if the studio was going to survive, it had to get “With It”. Setting their picture in Swinging London was the answer; except of course, that by 1972, with the oil crisis just around the corner, the glory days of Terry and Julie were well over.

Christopher Neame (to go on to greater things in Colditz and the excellent Secret Army) features as Johnny Alucard (those of a cryptic persuasion will have realised that this spells Dracula backwards), the suave Count’s manic vampire side-kick. Being an acolyte of the Devil has its financial rewards, and the producers gave Johnny a mustard coloured Triumph Stag and funky Notting Hill mews pad in which to seduce the obligatory dollybird and plot fresh evil.

Other highlights include a hilarious sequence in which the gang gatecrashes a dinner party in Paultons Square: a spectacular montage involving go-go dancers gyrating to the sound of the American band, Stoneground, watched on by tut- tutting old biddies in dinner jackets and horn-rimmed glasses; and a Black Mass in which the tasty Caroline Munro writhes spreadeagled on a fibre glass altar splattered with Kensington Gore, as Christopher Neame shrieks out one of the all-time immortal lines in British C-Movie history: “Dig the music, Kids!”

Chelsea, alas, is now probably a shadow of its former past: the area around the former Duke of York barracks (where in the glory days of Vivienne Westwood, punks used to gather) now a clean-cut shopping mall for banker’s wives along New England lines; Carlyle Square, where William Walton and the Sitwells first performed Charade to a salon of the avant-garde, now more likely to echo with the pneumatic drills of a basement dig-out; The Cavern, at World’s End, once the haunt of the chain smoking kids from Dracula AD 1972, now a Yoga Health Studio; quirky boutiques replaced by international chains. Picasso’s Cafe, The Chelsea Kitchen, Pucci Pizza and the Chelsea Antiques Market (albeit in their original incarnations), no more. And so on, and so on. Chelsea, requiescat in pace.

But London, like English society, is fluid; constantly evolving, and this is one of its many strengths. The city is built on a mixture of shifting sand, clay and gravel, and what lies below is mirrored above. Perhaps “Chelsea” is more an attitude of mind, rather than an actual place, more likely these days to be found in Spitalfields, Shoreditch and other environs of the East End? In a century’s time, I have no doubt that “Chelsea” will still be with us. With any luck, it might even arrive back in SW3. Full Circle.

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10 thoughts on “Location, location

    • lukehoneyfineart@aol.com'
      July 9, 2012 at 17:23

      Dig the music, kids!

  1. law@mhbref.com'
    jonathan law
    July 9, 2012 at 15:04

    Nice article. Your statement

    “The camera is kind to London, and it looks, perhaps, better on celluloid than it does in truth.”

    seems to me entirely true; in fact, it m,ay be that the only way to make London really bearable is to walk around pretending you’re in a film.

    From the same era as Dracula 72, but reflecting a rather different milieu — this:


    Lambeth and Hammersmith c. 1970, as captured in the Mark Lester –Jack Wild vehicle Melody (SWALK).

    Saw this in the cinema when it came out (I must have been nine or ten) and bits of it have stayed with me ever since. To a country lad like me. it just seemed to sum up a certain sort of London-ness. Watching these opening credits on youtube is the first I’ve seen any of it in 40 years – the film is never on TV and I don’t think you can buy it.

    • lukehoneyfineart@aol.com'
      July 9, 2012 at 17:21

      Lovely titles. This reminds me of those Children’s Film Foundation excerpts they were always showing on “Screen Test”: couple of early 70’s street urchins wearing those anoraks with squirrel fur collars and pudding basin haircuts- mucking around on a muddy Thames beach somewhere; often Gravesend; or on a bomb site, converted to an adventure playground.

      Isn’t there something evocative about the early 70’s derelict river bank? As in “The Walking Stick”- with David Hemmings and the desirable Samantha Eggar?

  2. Worm
    July 9, 2012 at 16:14

    really enjoyed this Luke, and it has made me want to watch Dracula ad 1972!

    • lukehoneyfineart@aol.com'
      July 9, 2012 at 17:22

      Thank you. I had great fun writing it. You can buy Dracula AD 1972 on DVD: it’s perfect rainy Sunday afternoon fodder.

      • bugbrit@live.com'
        July 9, 2012 at 21:11

        If you shop around you can get it on a 2 disc 4 movie Dracula set that also includes …Has Risen From the Grave, Taste The Blood of… and the original Hammer Dracula …well you can over here and it cost me I think $7.50 recently. I’d bet the same package is available in the UK too though it likely runs a wee bit pricier.

  3. danielkalder@yahoo.com'
    July 9, 2012 at 19:51

    That is a great film, I remember it well from my late teen period of watching wads of Hammer/Corman movies. A late florescence of the curious late 60s/early 70s meeting of the counter culture with the occult which saw an ultra-reactionary such as Dennis Wheatley become a guru to acid heads, Black Widow release “Come to the Sabbat” and Marvel release the first Ghost Rider comics, wherein an Evel Knievel analogue sells his soul to Satan.

    A great book on the period is Robert Irwin’s “Satan Wants Me”.

  4. andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
    July 9, 2012 at 22:30

    I’ve somehow missed this (despite watching a lot of late night Hammer films in my student days)… I must get it, though for me it would have to be 3am semi-comatose Saturday morning fodder rather than Sunday afternoon.

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