The Colours and Characters of Soho: Photos of Berwick Street and Around

19.10.12

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Berwick Street Market

Soho: Berwick Street and Around, a set on Flickr.

I can’t imagine London without Soho, which, as the jazz and blues singer George Melly explained, was the only interesting place in the whole country in the 1950s. I first visited Soho in 1976, as a teenager, on a trip to London with my mum. We were staying, somehow, in a big hotel on the edge of Soho by Piccadilly Circus, and when I wasn’t going up and down in the lifts, pretending to be working there, I wandered off in search of Marvel comics, somehow discovering Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed, an extraordinary shop in a basement on St. Anne’s Court, off Wardour Street, which was apparently the biggest science fiction bookshop and comic store in Europe at the time, where I obviously thought I had stumbled onto the closest thing to heaven, and spent as much time as possible browsing and stocking up on favourite comics — a list that, at the time, included Steve Gerber‘s the Defenders and Howard the Duck, the X-Men, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and Daredevil.

Dark They Were closed in 1981, sadly, but by then Forbidden Planet, originally based in Denmark Street, took over, by which time I had also visited London on a few occasions in a completely unsupervised manner, once staying with friends of a friend’s parents in a flat in a mews in Mayfair, of all places, when we spent an entire long weekend in the arthouse cinemas that proliferated in Soho at the time, and, if the tunes in my head are anything to go by, also listening to Motown Chartbusters Volume 3. We watched 17 films in five days, if my memory doesn’t deceive me — Easy Rider, Gimme Shelter, probably some Antonioni …

After moving to London, I worked in Soho, or not far away from it, on and off for various periods from 1987 to 1994, and it has always felt like somewhere familiar, and also, of course, somewhere that buzzes with countless legal and not-so-legal enterprises. These photos — and a set to follow —  just scratch the surface of its charms, and I’ll be back in the near future, I hope, to take many more photos of its restless warren of streets, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy these glimpses of life on and around Berwick Street, parallel to Wardour Street, where the famous Berwick Street Market does a good job of keeping the irritating traffic away.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, everyone who’s liked and shared this. It means a lot to me!

  2. Mary Smith says...

    Went to see George Melly once at Ronnie Scott’s in Frith Street. I thought Ronnie’s own group were good and went and had a drink with them while Melly was on as he wasn’t my cup of tea. I was with other people who were fans.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the memories. I’ve only been once, and I can’t even remember now who it was (perhaps not so great, then)! It was a press launch of some sort around 20 years ago, when I briefly worked for a press agency.

  4. Ken Woolass says...

    Like you I have a great affection for Soho and Berwick St Market I believe the hotel you stayed in may have been The Regent Palace? [Happy days] now long gone, I have incredible stories and memories relating to Ronnie’s Flowers especially

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Ken,
    Great to hear from you. Please feel free to share any memories relating to my photos! You are correct that it was the Regent Palace Hotel I stayed in – back in 1976!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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