At 11 mins 50 seconds into this half hour colour film, local historian and narrator John Ginn, editor of the Palmers Green and Southgate Gazette, comments – almost apologetically – “this is Arnos Grove tube station in Bowes Road”.
The film lurches from images of the Piccadilly railway viaduct, watch and clock maker’s almshouses, to Charles Holden’s 1932 architectural marvel, “perhaps the design that represents the best of his work on the London Underground network”, according to the Modernist Britain website.
The views of boating ponds, of leafy avenues and Tudor manor houses of Middlesex are like jump-cuts: from a Middle Age of rose gardens and baronial Estates, to the Art Deco high modernity of industrial design, made for the common man and woman.
This was the era of Harry Beck’s tube map, Edward Johnston iconic ’roundel’ for the Underground, and of Bolton-born Holden’s bold architecture: East Finchley, South Wimbledon, Sudbury Town, Southgate and Arnos Grove stations. The latter was inspired by a trip with Frank Pick to see Gunnar Asplund’s Stockholm Public Library. (Frank Pick, general manager of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London, also commissioned Holden to design the UERL HQ completed in 1929 at 55 Broadway overlooking St. James’s Park).
Arnos Grove is in various Agatha Christie adaptations for TV but is in relatively few films. While the Art Deco features of the London Underground are celebrated as design classics now, they were regarded as experiments at the time that they were commissioned. Immediately after World War Two, their designs seemed at odds with the modest suburban conservatism of the ‘New Elizabethans’.
London cinema exists in this gap, between a day dream of London as a Merry England, ‘Metroland’ rural idyll of interconnected villages, and of the industrial necessity of the mass production and exhibition of moving images.
The market gardens and relative seclusion of the countryside provided the materials – chiefly glass and sunlight – for early film production. When cinema was dependent on analogue infrastructure – electrical lighting, sound stages, labs – the city’s Victorian and Edwardian transport and storage capacity made the transition from an Empire of trade to the Hammersmith Empire a nearly seamless one.
Yet in a mainly digital age, England’s seeming inability to build cheap, pleasant, affordable housing – of the kind envisaged in Germany by the Bauhaus designers – stifles its ‘creative industries’, as the philosopher Adorno thought of them. This is because only an increasingly self-selecting elite of graduates can afford to have proximity to the exclusive memberships clubs and bars where films as deals and business plans are, increasingly, being created. Pretty to look at, but as exclusive and parochial as a rose garden in Barnet.