Back in 1960, the Rank Organisation’s ‘Look at Life’ division (which created short, factual films for cinemas across the UK) made a documentary focusing on London’s famous black taxis.
In nostalgic terms this short film is a real treat. Here are some highlights:
The opening sequence features a traditional horse-drawn hansom cab trotting over Waterloo Bridge. The cab was driven by Fred Jones who, then aged 75, was old enough to have embarked upon his career long before the combustion engine took over. London’s last horse-drawn cab was withdrawn in 1947.
According to the film, in 1960 there were “about 6,000 taxis in London.” In 2017 that figure now stands at around 25,000, alongside approximately 115,000 private hire cars. The narrator also informs us that in 1960 there were 2,000 less cabs than before the war- a subtle reminder of the impact WWII had on the trade.
One of the older incarnations of the Public Carriage Office (the body responsible for regulating the capital’s taxis) can be glimpsed in the film. In those days it was based at 109 Lambeth Road, moving to Islington’s Penton Street a few years later in 1966. The office is now located in Southwark.
In the early 1960s Knowledge students tended to explore London on bicycles. Mopeds are now the vehicle of choice.
Although this was filmed in the early 1960s, the Knowledge school I attended looked pretty similar to this; big maps, books spread out and lots of anxious students. The school featured here was run by the Royal British Legion for ex-servicemen and was based on Kennington Oval. According to the film, the course took one year in 1960… today the average time to complete The Knowledge is at least four times that.
Tough driving tests are still required today. Luckily I didn’t have to suffer an audience when I took mine.
In 1960 there was a lovely mix of old taxi models on the road.
In this modern day and age with everybody glued to apps, London cabbies are often unfairly accused of being ‘dinosaurs’ (even though we had a taxi app long before a certain American multinational started splashing its billions about). But as this film shows, cabbies were embracing technology almost 60 years ago by utilising mobile radio units- quite a feat back then.
On older cabs built in the 1940s and 50s (such as the Austin FX3) luggage compartments were open to the elements meaning suitcases could get quite soggy in wet weather. In the winter, this also meant cabbies had to wrap up warm.
Like today, many cabbies rented their taxis from a garage in the early 60s…. and I must say it looked like the fleets ran a far slicker operation back then. A daily wash and check up for your vehicle, a welfare section, a sports club, cafeteria and a free ride home- that’s the sort of service we can only dream of nowadays.
When this documentary was made, taxi driver identity badges were huge with little change in design since the Victorian era. No wonder Charles Dickens once claimed the large brass labels made cabbies look as if they’d been “catalogued in some collection of rarities.”
Until the 1980s, taxi meters were mechanical and, as shown in the documentary, they had to go through vigorous testing at the National Physical Laboratories before being allowed on the road.
At the end of the film, we’re told that “Tips are going up these days, the average is between a shilling and two bob.” Hmm…I wouldn’t quite say that’s the case in 2017!
To watch the full film, please click below…
Snapped for the London Illustrated News in December 1965, this image of Belgrave Square shows just how much of a free-for-all parking in London used to be. Notice how many of the vehicles are boxed in; a common situation which, as the article accompanying this image says, often left drivers trapped “for hours.”
The image below depicts the approximate area as it appears today.
Incredibly, it is almost fifty years since legendary musician, Jimi Hendrix’s sublime guitar skills became known to the world.
Born in Seattle, Washington on November 27th 1942, Jimi Hendrix obtained his first guitar- an acoustic model costing a mere $5- when he was fifteen years old.
In 1961 he enlisted in the army where he trained to be a paratrooper.
Military life wasn’t for Private Hendrix- perhaps most clearly demonstrated when he was caught dozing whilst on duty!
He was discharged in 1962 and, eager to forge a career in music, began touring clubs across the United States.
Over the next few years Jimi perfected his craft but despite his talent, he struggled to make a wage, remaining undiscovered and creatively stifled.
His luck changed in May 1966 whilst playing at the Cheetah club in New York.
Here he was spotted by Linda Keith– girlfriend of the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards– who recommended the dazzling guitarist to Chas Chandler– former bassist for The Animals who was looking to establish himself as a manager.
Like Linda, Chas Chandler could see that Jimi Hendrix was indeed a very rare talent… and so decided to whisk him to London which, during the swinging 60s, was the place where Jimi Hendrix would flourish and make his name.
Tragically, it was also the city in which he would lose his life.
In tribute to Jimi Hendrix and to celebrate the exciting announcement that one of his former London homes will soon be opening to the public as a museum, I have compiled a list of some of the most notable London locations associated with the late, great performer…
11 Gunterstone Road, W14
Jimi Hendrix first arrived in London on 24th September 1966, flying into London Airport (which officially changed its name to ‘Heathrow’ that same year).
After several years as a struggling musician, Jimi Hendrix had very little to his name. When he boarded the plane in New York his only possessions were a change of clothes, a set of hair curlers, $40 (which he’d borrowed) and of course his beloved guitar.
Upon his arrival in London, Jimi was taken straight from the airport to 11 Gunterstone Road, West Kensington which was the home of British musician, Zoot Money, a major figure on the Soho scene at the time.
Whilst at the house, Jimi took part in a jamming session with Zoot’s friend, Andy Summers– who would later go on to play with The Police.
Scotch of St James Club, 13 Mason’s Yard W1
On the evening of 24th September 1966, Jimi Hendrix played his first ever UK solo gig at the exclusive Scotch of St James club in Mason’s Yard; a peaceful courtyard which is now dominated by the White Cube modern art gallery.
A stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, the club was popular with The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, both of whom enjoyed the luxury of their own private tables. The Who and Stevie Wonder also spent time here.
Immediately after his set, Jimi met Kathy Etchingham and the pair embarked upon a two year relationship.
The following month, Hendrix returned to Scotch of St James with musicians Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, who together formed The Jimi Hendrix Experience and thus it was here that the trio performed their UK debut.
Les Cousins Club (now Club 49), 49 Greek Street W1
Originally opened in the 1950s as the ‘Skiffle Cellar’, Les Cousins (tucked away beneath the Soho Grill) was at the heart of London’s folk scene by the 1960s
After just a few days in London, Jimi Hendrix and Chas Chandler paid a visit to the club as regular guests, paying their own entry fee.
Blues musician, Alexis Korner was on stage that night and Chas Chandler asked if Jimi could join him on stage for a jamming session… needless to say the crowd were gobsmacked by the young American’s flair!
Westminster Polytechnic (now Westminster University, Regent Campus), Little Titchfield Street
On the evening of 1st October 1966, Cream were playing at this London Polytechnic campus when Jimi Hendrix rather audaciously asked if he could get up and jam with Eric Clapton, the UK’s undisputed guitar king.
Jimi’s skill and flamboyant style knocked Eric Clapton for six and, once back stage the Cream guitarist had to ask Chas Chandler if the American was ‘always that good?’!
Despite their guitar duel, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix became firm friends.
Cromwellian Club (now gone), 3 Cromwell Road, SW7
Situated directly opposite the Natural History Museum, the Cromwellian Club was rumoured to have started life as an illegal gambling den.
By the 1960s, ‘The Crom’ as it was nicknamed had established itself as a popular casino and music venue, witnessing performances from the likes of Georgie Fame, Eric Clapton and a very young Elton John.
Jimi Hendrix played one of his earliest gigs here in October 1966.
Bag O’ Nails Club, 9 Kingly Street W1
The Jimi Hendrix Experience played a gig at the Bag O’Nails club on 25th November 1966, after which, Jimi remarked, “Britain is really groovy”- not a surprising observation considering the club backs onto the ultra-hip Carnaby Street.
At another Bag O’Nails gig on 11th January 1967, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were in the audience… it was the first time they’d seen Jimi play live and, naturally, they were entranced.
Later that year, Paul McCartney met his future wife, Linda at the club.
Blaises Club (now gone) 121 Queen’s Gate SW7
Located in the basement of the now demolished Imperial Hotel, Blaises (named after the cartoon character, Modesty Blaise) was a cramped, sweaty club which, according to Melody Maker journalist, Chris Welch, was a venue, “where musicians, agents, managers and writers allowed themselves to be deafened whilst imbibing quantities of alcohol.”
Jimi Hendrix appeared here on 21st December 1966 which led to one of first rave reviews: “Jimi has great stage presence and an exceptional guitar technique which involved playing with teeth on occasions and no hands at all on others!” (tricks which he’d learnt from old timers whilst on the US circuit).
Pink Floyd were another big name to appear at Blaises and the club can be seen in the cult 1967 film, The Sorcerers (in which Boris Karloff uses hypnosis to seriously mess up one cool cat’s mind!)
Please click below to view a clip of the Blaises club in its heyday:
34 Montague Square, W1
During the 1960s, the basement of this rather grand address was leased by Ringo Starr.
Consequently, the home has numerous connections with The Beatles– the song, ‘Eleanor Rigby‘ was developed here for example and in 1968 the racy cover for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s, Two Virgins album was snapped on the premises.
Jimi Hendrix rented the basement from Ringo between December 1966 and March 1967, moving in with his girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham. Whilst at the address, Jimi composed ‘The Wind Cries Mary’.
Unfortunately Ringo had no option but to evict Jimi Hendrix when the guitarist, whilst under the influence of LSD, splashed paint all over the walls…
One of the most iconic photographs of Jimi was taken just across the road on Montagu Place outside the Swedish embassy. Sadly, the original street sign has since been removed.
Lime Grove Studios (now gone), W12
Between 1940 and 1991, Lime Grove in Shepherd’s bush was home to a BBC studio where many classic shows including Top of the Pops, Blue Peter, Doctor Who and a 1954 adaptation of George Orwell’s, 1984 (performed live and starring Peter Cushing) were filmed.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience filmed their first appearance for Top of the Pops here on 29th December 1966 with a performance of ‘Hey Joe’. Their next shoot took place on 30th March 1967– and can be viewed below.
Sadly, Lime Grove studios were demolished in 1993 and a modern housing development now occupies the site.
The Upper Cut Club (now gone), 1-39 Woodgrange Road, E7
Out beyond Stratford and past the former 2012 Olympic Park, this is probably the furthest east Jimi Hendrix ever ventured whilst in London!
Based in Forest Gate, the Upper Cut Club was in business for just one year between 1966 and 1967. Despite its short span, the club shone bright playing host to such greats as The Who, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Prince Buster, Ben. E. King and Nina Simone.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience appeared at the Upper Cut on Boxing Day, 1966…and it was here, whilst resting in the club’s dressing room, that Jimi penned Purple Haze, one of his most definitive hits.
A simple plaque now marks the site.
The Speakeasy Club (now gone), 48 Margaret Street, W1
Opened in 1966 a short distance from the bustle of Oxford Circus, the Speakeasy modelled itself on the illegal drinking dens which flourished during the era of American prohibition.
Visitors entered and signed in via a fake undertaker’s parlour… and were then permitted to enter the main club through a false wardrobe door! Inside, a menacing portrait of Al Capone loomed over the patrons.
This was one of Jimi Hendrix’s favourite London clubs and he could often be spotted hanging out with friends here.
Jimi’s first Speakeasy gig took place in February 1967… and it was here that he cheekily tried to chat up Mick Jagger’s then girlfriend, Marianne Faithful!