So, the BBC has received about 4,000+ complaints about its coverage of the Jubilee celebrations. And I’m willing to bet not one of them was about the egregious commentary going on by a couple of halfwits who know no local history, talking about local history as the Queen’s car passed down Kingsway and through the Aldwych, towards the Strand and then the Mall.
I’ve even searched and searched for this since, but it was an otherwise dull moment of the live coverage and no one has apparently wanted to save it.
Essentially, the commentary was about the building of ‘grand thoroughfares’ which, according to the commentators, make up ‘Imperial London’ (a phrase with no web presence, however, so that’s all I can tell you). (The fact that this ‘Imperial Thoroughfare’ begins at Holborn Station seems somehow gloriously typical.)
According to the commentator, London – unlike cities like Paris, Berlin, and so on – was ‘suspicious’ of these kinds of grand statement boulevards, because cities that had them had often been prey to dictators and despots. The idea – held by whom, they didn’t say – was that London’s shabby, undignified warrens of tumbling medieval streets befitted her democratic temperament. Or something. (And that this was considered an embarrassment.) So this is kind of interesting, because I’ve never heard it before. More, please!
‘But it really wasn’t very nice.’
‘No, it wasn’t!’
They didn’t say why it wasn’t very nice – that along with other notorious rookeries it was just a pile of poor people struggling as best they could under the yoke of Victorian social policy.
So under King Edward all this old, undignified, stupid stuff, where you could never invite anyone back for tea, was demolished – and the people removed to go who-cares-where – to build Aldwych and Kingsway and bring London into the modern era, improving the whole thing etc. This much we knew, at any rate.
‘Yes! So, the creation of Imperial London…’
It does seem like locking the barn door after the horse has bolted, but never mind.
They didn’t happen to mention that these were Elizabethan streets that had survived the Great Fire. A commodity of which London has a conspicuous lack, through centuries of lack of care. Unlike so many of those other old cities which have preserved the oldest buildings – because, well, you can’t get them back again. No because it’s the Queen’s Jubilee, so therefore even in the face of common sense and the value of actual history, we have to admire and PREFER everything that was so much as touched by a feather of the wing of royalty! ‘Imperial London’ my baroque arse.
(When I was in Basel last year I was walking among buildings that were impeccably preserved, insanely beautiful, and in everyday use. The university has beams and ceiling paintings in departmental offices. Houses, you gradually note, have little discreet plaques over the door – put there when they were built – with years like 1283, or 1317.)
But no sooner has this little wave of bile gone down than I see, next morning good news! Elizabethan London is reasserting itself once more.
The Curtain rises.
Yes: only yards from the best-guess plaque that marks the old Curtain Theatre – and not far from ‘The Theatre’, excavated in Shoreditch in 2009 - the site of the old Curtain, itself demolished in the 17th century, built in 1577 and supposed site of the first performance of Romeo and Juliet, has been found. ‘An outer yard paved with sheep knuckle bones could date from the theatre or slightly later housing’…
This is where Shakespeare’s plays were performed while the Globe was being built – famously, out of the timber from the Theatre, which had been shipped by night across the river to flout the landlord.
So this is amazing news! Shoreditch somehow really is the place to be. The spirit stirs; the old lady moves in her sleep; and Dominic Drumgoole, artistic director of the new Globe, says it best:
“I love the fact that we are excavating London, and slowly clearing away the miserable piles of Victoriana and Empire, and revealing the wild, anarchic and joyous London which is lurking beneath. It reminds me of the Zocalo in Mexico City, where all the Spanish palaces are slowly sinking into the earth, and the old Mayan temples are being squeezed back up.”
Back to the BBC, and my boring old unfindable bit of guff. It would have been a fine ironic echo of the Aldwych itself: scrap your finest historic programmes, and save a dull ignorant slab of ignorant waffling.
And back to the Curtain, the Daily Mail wins my Headline of the Year prize. ‘Is this a digger I see before me?’