The Scala London Underground Film Map 1916 – 2016, Part I

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Our rules of thumb in selecting films for the Scala map were:

1. We could imagine the Scala showing the film, if it were still around physically as a film club in an old cinema building.

(That is, in addition to the spirit of the Scala being channelled by the good people involved in the Scalarama film festival).

“We,” in this case, are BeeKeeper-about-town Tim Concannon and poet, novelist and film critic Roz Kaveney. Tim is in the habit of writing about himself in the third person (mainly for the lulz).

2. The film was made at – or has some link to – the station, which can include links to the stars, cast and crew.

Some of these associations are very strong.


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The sequence where a commuter is savaged by the lycanthrope Yank tourist in ‘An American Werewolf in London’ was made at Tottenham Court Road station.

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Hidden City’, mid-Eighties Channel Four weirdness starring Charles Dance and Richard E Grant, is about the British government’s pre-digital network of secret archives, including some stored in the eight London Underground stations with deep-level air-raid shelters that were built during the Blitz. One featured in ‘Hidden City’ is the Goodge Street Deep Level Shelter on Tottenham Court Road. It’s opposite Torrington Place, and near to Warren Street station (which is where it is on the Scala map).

goodgestreetshelter

In other cases, the link is – admittedly – quite tenuous. There isn’t much to be said in terms of cinematic history about Fairlop. However, Fairlop Fair was an important fixture in London’s calendar for several centuries and there’s a good fairground sequence in ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’.

3. For the jollies.

This last point is quite significant to many of the selections we made for the map. A lot of the choices are capricious, not to mention whimsical. Children’s Film Foundation film ‘One Wish Too Many’ (1956), the film at East Ham station, is about young Tony Richmond who becomes the luckiest lad in Poplar when he finds a magical marble of his very own and which grants him any wish. ‘One Wish Too Many’ is unlikely to be receiving a full restoration by the British Film Institute and international distribution as a neglected masterpiece of post-war cinema, any time soon.

Made around the futuristic Lansbury Estate (named after Labour leader, radical firebrand and grandfather of Oliver Postgate and Angela, George Lansbury) the film is mainly of interest for the purposes of the Scala map because Tony wishes for a giant steam-roller. With it, he goes on a rampage of High Modernist architectural criticism, trashing the crumbling, bomb-damaged remains of the old East End.

In this regard, ‘One Wish Too Many’ is very much like the Rita Tushingham starrer ‘A Place to Go’ (1963). A kitchen sink drama about the changing lives of working class Londoners, who mostly walk around bomb sites near Old Street, no one is going to claim it’s a lost classic.

A Place to Go

However, like a few films on the map which have been restored and re-released as part of the BFI’s ‘Flipside’ Blu-ray and DVD series recently – ‘Nightbirds’ (1970), at Whitechapel station on the map; ‘The Moon Over the Alley’ (1975) at Notting Hill – and also like the 1969 James Mason-narrated documentary ‘The London Nobody Knows’, these films are of interest now mainly because they give a glimpse of a lost world.

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These movies are a time machine taking us back to a decaying Victorian and Edwardian London, shattered by German bombs, eaten away from the inside by post-War austerity, rented by the new people moving into London from the Fifties onwards and as part of the “Windrush” then squatted by hippies and punks. In an overheating glass and steel London – a greenhouse where everyone is monitored on CCTV and is monitoring themselves and everyone else with smart phones – the footage of this other, more anonymous, disappeared London might as well be being beamed to us now from Mars.

A bright new future-

(‘The London Nobody Knows’ enjoyed a period of popularity a few years ago on DVD-re-release, when ‘psychogeography’ was A Thing. At one point in the documentary Mason wanders along the line by Camden Roundhouse near to Chalk Farm underground station, where it’s marked on the Scala map. A former engine shed next to the North London railway line, shortly after the documentary was made The Roundhouse became a pivotal venue in the London counter culture).

There are four films on the map with Rita Tushingham in. In addition to ‘A Place to Go’, there’s Richard Lester’s ‘The Knack …and How to Get It‘, plus Lester’s and Spike Milligan’s ‘The Bed-Sitting Room’ (1969) at Leyton, another movie restored as part of BFI’s ‘Flipside’ series and released on DVD a few years ago.

(Following a nuclear misunderstanding with the Soviet Union, the Queen’s char woman Mrs Ethel Shroake of 393A High Street, Leytonstone, is next in line to the throne. Rita Tushingham is among the twenty survivors in Britain and, with Arthur Lowe and Mona Washbourne, lives in a tube carriage on the Circle Line, actually shot on the Aldwych platform of Holborn station).

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The third film on the map with Tushingham in is ‘The Leather Boys’ (1964) which is at Hanger Lane on the Scala map, near to the Ace Café which features in the film as the biker’s hang out. Dot (Rita Tushingham) and biker Reggie (Colin Campbell) get married but things quickly turn sour. Reggie grows closer to his eccentric mate Pete (Dudley Sutton). Considered daring at the time because it portrayed gay characters, the film is a time capsule of the Rocker lifestyle to go alongside the depiction of Mods in ‘Quadrophenia’.

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Incidentally, ‘Quadrophenia’, made in 1979, is on the map at Shepherd’s Bush Market, which Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) and his Mod mates drive their scooters round at night. There’s another Mods-and-rucks film – ‘Bronco Bullfrog‘ (1969) – at Strafford where Del Walker and a few of his friends, all with equally dead-end lives, fail at robbing a café.

quadrophenia

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