Around & About 1986 — 1987

London Portrait Magazine

London Portrait Magazine was London's first glossy, free-distribution magazine. It was delivered to the capital's more exclusive addresses and, unlike its many imitators, was regarded as a 'good read' with excellent editorial features. Eventually a combination of a change of editor and the greedy climate of the late-Eighties 'boom-and-crash' property market took their toll. Christopher Long's 'Around & About' was the regular, monthly news column.

By Christopher Long

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See Around & About 1986

January 1986

Some people, no doubt, will be heartbroken to hear that those familiar Parisian 'pissoirs' have recently vanished from the scene. Others, perhaps, will not mourn their loss. Least visible among the mourners will be a large army of women.

Today Paris is littered with smart concrete and chrome automatic, self-cleaning, unisex superloos – an innovation that was quickly snapped up by Westminster City Council a few years ago.

The Royal Borough of Kensington, however, has come up with its own creation – a sort of mock-Tudor summer-house which owes much to designers at the Royal College of Art. At a cost of around £38,000, the first of these 'Kensington Autoloos' may be found and sampled on the island outside South Kensington tube station.

For 10p you'll get musak or a robot voice issuing instructions after the door closes behind you. Unlike the French version you will not be hurried. And because it's self-cleaning, vandal-proof, cheaper to make and operate than the alternative and an imaginative piece of industrial enterprise on the part of the council, ratepayers should be pleased.

On the other hand some might feel that this new 'convenience' deserves an award for being one of the most monstrously ugly examples of municipal architecture ever to desecrate the pleasant prospects and Victorian elegance of poor old South Ken.

A scheme to provide 100 parking spaces for cars at a cost of £39,000 per space has outraged some Westminster City councillors.

The £4 million underground car park in Dean Street, Soho, is to be paid for by ratepayers although it is part of a larger independently financed scheme to revitalise the area with new shops and flats,

According to Labour opponents the council's parking spaces will take 30 years to pay for themselves and the contract price has risen by more than £2 million in just 18 months.

While Westminster's planning committee agrees that the scheme is expensive – though necessary – their opponents are calling for a District Auditors enquiry into what they describe as 'economic madness'.

This summer could see a revolution in London's taxi system – shared cabs for those heading for similar destinations.

The details have yet to be worked out but under the 1985 Transport Act taxi drivers at certain designated ranks would be given two minutes to offer a shared journey for up to four passengers who are going in the same direction. Apparently this would cost each passenger rather less than the normal single fare though the cab driver would be able to charge an extra 20p or else a supplementary zonal charge.

Most of London's 5,500 cabbies appear to welcome the voluntary system which would probably require them to put on a special new light to indicate that they are operating the shared cab scheme. Others predict that it could be the cause of arguments and confusion.

Nevertheless, as the government is dedicated to privatising large sections of London's bus route system, this scheme makes it still more likely that uneconomic routes could be abandoned altogether – leaving passengers in those areas with no option but to adopt the ordinary or shared cab scheme instead – a scheme which is less likely to adapt itself to areas outside Central London and Heathrow, for example.

The Department of Transport says all this could be in operation this summer but stresses that it would be entirely voluntary for both cabbies and customers. Nevertheless, despite its advantages, many people may wonder whether the scheme won't produce as many dilemmas as it seeks to solve. What about personal safety ? What happens if someone refuses to pay his or her share of the fare? Will those who depend on cheap London bus fares find that their own routes are abandoned as increasing cab competition on already uneconomic routes gives operators an excuse to abandon them?

Next month sees the inauguration of the Reynolds' Lectures at the Royal Academy. The president of the R.A., Roger de Grey, will deliver the first lecture (named after the academy's very first president) on February 6, appropriately surrounded by most of Sir Joshua's finest work. Tickets, at £12 each, include not only the lecture but a private view of the Reynolds' Exhibition which is this year's blockbuster attraction at the R.A. (open January 16 – March 31). For information ring 734 9052.

February 1986

With the scaffolding now removed from Big Ben's clock tower and similar cleaning and restoration now completed on most of the splendid buildings around Parliament Square, only St Margaret's Church now looks like a sooty Cinderella.

Westminster Abbey has spent 11 years on a £14 million restoration scheme which may take another 10 years to complete but St Margaret's, a large church built in 1523, is dwarfed by the Houses of Parliament and the vast Abbey next door. Thus it has been hard to raise the money needed to counteract the effects of death-watch beetle, crumbling masonry and rather shoddy Victorian repair work which needs fixing again.

Canon Beeson of St Margaret's would clearly appreciate any help you can offer. The Americans have put up £200,000 (largely because Sir Walter Raleigh is buried beneath the altar and because the Elizabethan buccaneer is so closely associated with the New World). So far about £700,000 of the £900,000 appeal launched by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Bernard Weatherill has been raised.

One can't help feeling that the tobacco companies owe Sir Walter a favour or two as well because he of course is said to have introduced the weed to Britain. They might chip in a bit to raise the last £200,000 still urgently needed by Canon Beeson.

Once described as "the finest building in London", the Midland Grand Hotel is to become truly grand again at last.

Better known to you and me as St Pancras, the colossal Gothic creation of Sir George Gilbert Scott may still rank as one of the most spectacular buildings in London and certainly the crowning glory of the age of steam railways.

Having been virtually neglected for 60 years, the best that British Rail could ever do with it was to set up its catering headquarters there. Now property developers Speyhawk are to spend 10 million restoring the place.

Completed in 1872, the Midland Grand's 400 bedrooms and palatial public rooms cost £316,000 and boasted the first ladies' smoking-room. In fact the building is only a minor adaption of an earlier Scott design for government offices in Whitehall and when building commenced in the mid-1860s, 3,000 of the meanest slums in London were cleared away.

According to Speyhawk who have bought a lease on the Midland Grand, there's a huge demand for 'theme' hotels among American tourists, though there will be only 200 rooms when it re-opens in 1989 in order to create more conference space.

With nearly all of its interior still intact it seems probable that this could become one of the grandest hotels in the world.

Had it not been for Sir John Betjeman it probably wouldn't have survived at all because so many developers have had it in mind to pull the place down. As its own architect one observed without undue modesty: "It is perhaps too good for its purpose".

The bi-annual Chelsea Antiques Fair takes place next month as usual – to be opened this time by George Melly. The 62nd fair at the Chelsea Old Town Hall runs from March 11 (opening ceremony 2 pm) until March 22, admission £2 (OAPs £1 on Monday).

Forty years ago Churchill began his second period in the wilderness, having been rejected as a peacetime Prime Minister, but by then he had inspired a vast array of commercial artefacts commemorating his colossal bull-dog image.

For those who have not yet visited the fascinating Cabinet War Rooms (Clive Steps, King Charles Street, SW1) there is still time to combine a tour of the subterranean wartime nerve-centre with an opportunity to see some 200 assorted item of Churchilliana now on show until March 23. (Open Tuesdays – Sundays 10 am-5 pm, admission £2, concessions £1).

It's hard to imagine that the man who inspired the deliciously monstrous St Trinian's girls was one of the few who survived the appalling experience of life as a prisoner of the Japanese on the notorious Burma-Siam railway. Just out of art school, Ronald Searle was captured in 1942 and managed somehow to amass hundreds of drawings of that grim existence. Four hundred such drawings were presented to the Imperial War Museum (Lambeth Road, SE1) of which 70 have been selected for a special exhibition at the museum from March 6 until July 6. To The Kwai And Back coincides with a book of the same name by Collins next month at 15.

First the Queen received an unexpected trespasser in her bedroom. Next, tourists were able to camp out in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. The French then managed to embarrass security police with the alleged 'bombs' not discovered at their embassy during President Mitterand's state reception in London. Now an Australian shows how easy it is to clamber onto the roof of No.10 Downing Street without anyone catching him first.

The tale of sad, sorry, laughable and tragic mistakes by the Metropolitan Police should be worrying. Trigger-happy policemen shooting at innocent motorists in Earl's Court or householders in Brixton and Tottenham are just three of many such tragic mistakes. The failure to take a sick gunman out of a van in Earl's Court alive was sad. The killing of an unarmed special branch officer hiding in the grounds of an alleged criminal was a sorry case of bungling. Home Secretary Mr Douglas Hurd said of the Downing Street incident that it exposed "a serious gap in security".

Similar statements have had to be made by embarrassed Home Secretaries dozens of times in the past few years. Could it be that there is something seriously wrong with the training, procedures and attitudes in the Metropolitan Police force? If so, what harm would it do to admit it? The Royal Family, the Prime Minister and London's eight million occupants might sleep more easily in their beds.

March 1986

After spending nearly 3 million pounds on development work for a new style of London taxi, it seems that years of work may now be abandoned.

Carbodies of Coventry, who make the existing black cabs, received the development funds from the Department of Transport and the Department of Trade & Industry. The result was an adaption of a Range Rover and called the CR6.

It was due to appear on London's streets in 1982 but the prototype, which was tested on London cabbies, was not popular. Even the familiar FX4 model, in use now, costs cab drivers more than £12,000 new, while the CR6 was expected to cost at least £15,000. In any case the cab trade didn't welcome "unnecessary change". However, rumours that the new development may be abandoned is causing speculation as to what has/will happen to the money invested so far.

Providing the plans are approved, this month should see the launch of a 2 million campaign by Westminster City Council to nobble drug dealers. Among a package of anti-drugs policies, the council foresees a reward scheme offering perhaps £50 – £100 to each person who reveals a drug pusher to the police or local authority.

Westminster being at the centre of London's most virulent drug dealing enclaves, council leader Lady Porter has lobbied support from police Commissioner Sir Kenneth Newman and must be encouraged that both Prince Philip and Princess Diana have shown keen interest in cleaning up the heroin-infested Inner City squalor so visible in areas such as Soho, Paddington, Queen's Park and the Harrow Road.

Coupled with the bounty scheme is a 24-hour phone line for advice to users, friends and families, along with information sheets, stickers, badges and other propaganda along the lines of "I'm a heroin hater".

So, for better or worse, we say goodbye to the GLC at the end of this month. Few will lament its disappearance with its profligate last-minute spending of thousands of millions of pounds by the beleaguered paymasters at County Hall, though many must be wondering who will pick up the tab for what after All Fool's Day.

Briefly, most of the GLC's responsibilities will go to our local councils. These include such things as coroners' courts, valuation panels, building control, entertainments, licensing, parking, housing, Thames bridges, waste disposal and parks.

Historic buildings, traffic lights, roads, transport planning and the Survey of London will go to Central Government departments and commissions (in consultation with individual councils).

A new Fire and Civil Defence authority will oversee those matters London wide while a new London Boroughs Grants Committee will take over funding of voluntary organisations in collaboration with individual councils' provisions.

The South Bank concert halls go to the Arts Council and the Thames Barrier and river piers will be taken over by the Thames Water Authority.

The immediate result, according to the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, will be lower rates bills but presumably there will be many people who will think all this reorganisation will hit minority interest groups hard while power remains firmly in the hands of just the same bureaucrats as before, except that the names have changed and they're just not all under one roof.

Meanwhile, on a lighter note, it's good to hear that London's Royal Parks police are to be given good old-fashioned helmets to wear in place of the present rather crass 'flat hats'.

The helmets apparently give greater protection to the men underneath and are also thought to project a more traditional and dignified image to the largely law-abiding and predominantly foreign nationals who use the parks and expect a British 'bobby' to look like one at all times.

The fate of Battersea Power Station is not settled at the time of writing. However it seems likely that Wandsworth councillors will approve the £70 million bid by Battersea Leisure to create their Disney-style leisure centre providing that a 15-minute rail service is provided to and from Victoria to a new station on the site.

Local residents are virulently opposed to the disruption that any such scheme would involve and are not mollified by promises that the developers expect to create 2,400 jobs by the time the centre opens in 1987/88 with a further 2,100 by 1991. They dispute these figures categorically and predict massive parking problems. The developers (those who have already brought us the joys of the Alton leisure centre) appear to be in a strong position nevertheless because no-one else has yet thought of an economically viable and practical use for London's massive, listed and most popular art deco white elephant – now urgently needing millions to be spent on its preservation already.

As unemployment steadily creeps nearer to a figure of 3.5 million, it will not come as a surprise to hear that 16 per cent of the unemployed in Kensington & Chelsea find it's definitely cheaper not to look for work at all.

In a recent survey many people claimed that Inner City rents are now so high that they can only live here by claiming the housing allowance in supplementary benefit. They can't therefore afford to work.

The young unemployed apparently don't go out much, spending their days indoors at home or with friends.

Forty-seven per cent said they never went to Job Centres and of those that were looking for jobs , a quarter of them were looking for something in the literary, artistic or sporting fields.

Of those who have found work, a quarter say that newspaper ads are far more rewarding than any of the government careers or job centres.

Doll-lovers should note that the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood is mounting a major 200-doll exhibition covering 150 years of American production – all from the Lawrence Scripps Wilkinson Collection. (Open March 12 – June 8)

It seems extraordinary that we have had to look to America to provide us with an architect fit to build the extension to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

Robert Venturi, 61, is the man selected from a shortlist of six by Jacob Rothschild's committee to create something which "should relate sympathetically to the present building" – on a car park site next to William Wilkins familiar neoclassical gallery built in the 1830s.

After the disastrous debacle when the monstrous Richard Rogers 'high-tech' plan was given a massive thumbs-down by an outraged public (including Prince Charles who accused the Royal Institution of British Architects of supporting "a monstrous carbuncle"). Mr Venturi's appearance should be good news.

He is a devoted admirer of both Italian paintings and English architecture – being the man most responsible for giving due credit to the works of Lutyens in Britain and India. He intends to build in Portland stone and is clearly an admirable choice. Not least, he perhaps will demonstrate irrevocably that the British public knows what it likes and knows it won't put up with the self-indulgent monstrosities so beloved of so many British architects.

April 1986

Despite the howls of anguish from grant-cut, cash-starved arts institutions, London's theatres seem to be booming.

The famous Whitehall Theatre near Trafalgar Square has re-opened after a 500,000 refit and appropriately enough kicked off with a comedy – J.B. Priestley's 'When We Are Married'. Most apt! After all, this is the theatre in which Brian Rix lost his trousers six nights a week and twice on Thursdays in the Sixties' heydays of London farce.

Meanwhile, just round the corner in Northumberland Avenue, The Playhouse Theatre is also re-opening for business after total restoration, beginning this month. The £2 million property deal by developer Robin Gonshaw means that the superb 1906 Edwardian theatre will no longer be associated with famous radio comedy shows such as Hancock's Half Hour and The Goon Show but will look a little more like it was in the days of Shaw, Olivier, Coward and Sir Alec Guinness who had his first walk-on part there in 1934.

And while the future of the Lyceum in The Strand is still uncertain , at least it seems likely that this too will become a full-blown theatre again now that plans to turn it into a leisure complex have been turned down.

And finally, the recently new-born Old Vic is likely to get a shot in the arm in the form of the perennial Dr Jonathan Miller. At the time of writing the multi-talented doctor is in deep discussions with the theatre's Canadian owner, Ed Mirvish, aiming to become artistic director there.

Tory-controlled Kensington & Chelsea has turned down outright government proposals to allow small businesses to operate from private houses and flats. The result of allowing up to five people to carry on business from domestic premises would result in colossal property price rises, says the council. In 1981 there were 3,114 firms in the borough all employing fewer than five staff – and all of whom might decide to move into rented flats at a fraction of the present costs if the government plans went ahead.

While the RBK&C cite parking problems, price rises and objections from existing residents as the main snags, one can't help wondering whether it's the loss of so much potential rate income that really sticks in the council's throat.

Meanwhile in Westminster another rate loss is distressing the City fathers. They are owed more than £500,000 in rates from overseas embassies. Libya alone has failed to pay £200,000 on diplomatic premises such as the ill-starred St James's Square mansion. While the former Iranian embassy in Prince's Gate continues to deteriorate since the SAS bombed the siege into submission five years ago, the council and Londoners generally are clearly fed up with gross abuse of law, hospitality and financial obligation by governments who use diplomatic privilege to evade responsibility for everything from parking offences to theft, rape, assault and murder.

All of which is not likely to help the Saudi Arabians in their plans to turn Mayfair's most sumptuous property, Crewe House, into a new embassy. Brigadier Gordon Viner of the Mayfair Residents' Association is waging war on the idea of turning the former home of the Marquesses of Crewe into a target for Middle East terrorists, thus threatening the peaceful 'village' life of Mayfair.

Ever since King Fahd paid £37 million for the house and a neighbouring mansion block, the Brigadier (who is himself an Arabic-speaking former Commander of the South Arabian Federal Army) has led his 600 fellow residents in protest to the Foreign Office, Westminster City Council and local MP Peter Brooke.

An avowed admirer of the Arabs, Brigadier Viner nevertheless plans to put the blame for any ugly consequences four-square on Westminster and Whitehall if the Saudis get their way.

Good news, one supposes, for some residents of Belgravia and Mayfair; bad news, undoubtedly, for the Duke of Westminster, owner of 300 acres of Central London and almost 2,000 freeholds.

The European Court of Human Rights has turned down his £2.5 million legal appeal against British government leasehold reforms which threaten his massive estate. Grosvenor Estate tenants with leases of over 21 years who have inhabited premises with a rateable value below £1,500 p.a. for at least three years are entitled to purchase their homes at prices well below market rates.

By February 215 houses and flats had been sold off in this way with another 300 applications in the pipeline. The speculative opportunities for such purchasers are huge. Some have bought freeholds for around £115,000 and immediately sold them again for just under £500,000.

Very galling for 'Britain's Richest Landlord' who nevertheless is estimated to earn a similar income of £300,000 – £400,000 from his estates each day!

The ultimate enterprise serving London's literati with essential reading material, the Academy Bookclub, has recently appointed two singularly appropriate sisters to run the 51 Beak Street premises.

As the shelves abound with the doings and misdoings of Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, young cousins Sophia and Victoria Sackville-West now man Naim Attallah's burgeoning up-market book distribution headquarters.

Specialising in first editions and Booker-style high-brow oeuvres (not a cookery book or a car maintenance manual to be seen), Victoria and Sophia say that their clientele tends to invest in books much as other people lay down fine wines.

At discounts of up to 25 per cent in return for a minimum of four books ordered per year, the service apparently appeals most to literate workaholics who like to be abreast of events but have little time to browse in bookshops.

At around £30 – £40 a year the sisters promise to educate me, suggesting for April 'A Maggot' by John Fowles, 'The Fisher King' by Anthony Powell, the new edition of 'The Oxford Companion to English Literature' by Margaret Drabble and Victoria Glendinning's biography of – you've guessed it – 'Vita Sackville-West'.

Among other events this month are:

May 1986

Thanks to Felix Barker, writing in the London Standard, a rather appalling tale of municipal neglect has come to light. One of the very earliest London monuments still 'visible' today is the 1,700 year-old Roman bath house in Lower Thames Street. Not only is this extraordinary building the only one of its kind in London, it is just about the only proper Roman monument still visible at all in the City apart from odd bits of wall.

Nevertheless the bath house, probably built in AD 200 and unearthed in 1848, lies mouldering in a vault beneath the Trustee Savings Bank – behind locked gates and inaccessible to the public. Furthermore, according to archeologists who re-excavated this fascinating and unique site ten years ago, it is falling into an horrific state of neglect. The City fathers, through their historic buildings architect, James Clare, apparently have no explanation for the neglect of the past ten years and no immediate plans to make the superb site accessible to visitors. Apparently it might sometime be available to "future generations" but Mr Clare told Felix Barker that he couldn't even hazard a guess as to when this might be.

Perhaps the truth is that the City would prefer us to forget that beneath its square mile lie acres of as yet undiscovered Roman remains which could be revealed for permanent display. Scratching round for a few coins and bits of pottery before redevelopment takes place is all very well. The idea that there might actually be a Colosseum, a Forum, a Theatre or a Palace would be deeply embarrassing. People might want to see them – permanently!

It sounds bizarre but it's nevertheless true – Wandsworth Council is going to spend £5,000 to keep foxes from killing off wallabies in Central London!

At least five wallabies, standing about two feet high, have vanished after foxes broke into their enclosures at the Children's Zoo in Battersea Park.

Wandsworth Council has taken over the park since the demise of the GLC who were accused of spending millions on lunatic fringe groups and £250,000 on a mock birthday cake when just a few pounds spent on proper fencing at the zoo would have spared the wallabies a sticky end and many children a lot of heart-break.

Sports facilities in Central London are at last beginning to look good. This summer should see the opening of North Kensington's new sports centre on the site of the old bath house in Silchester Road. Providing a full size and a smaller sports hall, along with three squash courts, multi-gym, weight training area, jacuzzis, steam room, sauna, solarium and bar/snooker/recreation rooms, this centre complements the nearby Kensington New Pools in Walmer Road, W11.

South Westminster is of course now well equipped thanks to the massive and comprehensive facilities provided at the Queen Mother Sports Centre in Vauxhall Bridge Road; while in Chelsea the old-fashioned Chelsea Town Hall pool and limited sports facilities are supplemented by the new pools in Lillie Road. Added to all that are the ancient pools and Turkish Baths at the Porchester Hall and Porchester Baths, W2, along with the Jubilee Sports Centre in W10 and the Seymour Hall in Seymour Place, W1.

And for pre-summer fitness freaks there are, of course, members-only pools at the RAC in Pall Mall, the Lansdowne Club in Fitzmaurice Place, W1, and gymnasia at the Holmes Place Health Club in Fulham Road.

Keen cyclists may just have time to enter their names for the annual London-to-Brighton Bike Ride in aid of the British Heart Foundation. Now in its 11th year, the event is the largest in the world with 18,000 entrants who last year raised over 400,000.

Although the 56-mile ride is treated more in carnival than serious competitive spirit, those entering for this year's ride on June 15 will (excuse me) have to get their skates on by applying to The London Bicycle Company, Floral Street, London WC2, a.s.a.p.

Prizes for top fund-raisers... starts Clapham Common 6 am... bike mechanics to fix repairs along the route... Bike Bop Ball at Brighton... special late trains to get you back to London.

How lucky that the Spanish voters narrowly decided to stay in NATO. When the referendum took place in March, plans were already well advanced for an exhibition on Anglo-Spanish Military Cooperation during the Peninsular War 1808-14, at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. The exhibition, which runs until July 31, is designed to coincide with the historic State Visit of King Juan Carlos and has involved "the closest possible cooperation with the Spanish Army", according to the organisers.

Well worth a visit, it might nevertheless have caused a few beetroot faces if the Spaniards had decided not to 'cooperate' with NATO nowadays. After all, it was Wellington who largely won independence for Spain against Napoleon's invading hordes and today France is the only major European country which refuses to join the NATO alliance fully.

The impending marriage of Prince Andrew to Sarah Ferguson, the discomfort of Lord Hailsham and the third anniversary of the Falkland's War, could by happy coincidence, have a felicitous and unexpected outcome.

Let's start at the beginning. Recently the Lord Chancellor has been complaining that his woolsack in the House of Lords is disintegrating uncomfortably beneath him. Filled with wool to symbolise the source of mediaeval England's great prosperity, that wool has got packed down under a succession of illustrious bottoms.

Next it must be remembered that Sarah Ferguson's mother is now Mrs Barrantes, wife of Argentina's best-known polo player, who joined the armed forces but saw no action during the Falkland's War.

Finally, it's almost exactly three years since Prince Andrew served alongside thousands of British servicemen to send the unwelcome 'Argies' back where they had come from.

Now some people, it must be said, feel that the Falkland Islanders have demonstrated little apparent gratitude for the lives, losses and diplomatic consequences of the massive Task Force rescue mission sent to save them. Perhaps there could be a happy consequence from all this.

No doubt shrewd diplomats will succeed in using the Barrantes-Ferguson-Prince Andrew connection to mend a few fences. Perhaps the happy couple will be urged to spend their honeymoon partly in Argentina and partly in the Falklands, exploring old haunts and rebuilding bridges between all concerned.

And finally, perhaps Britain's last colony, still genuinely dependent on wool for its livelihood, could send the couple back with a large bale for the House of Lords which is, after all, the repository of all those democratic principles that saved the Falklanders in the first place. The ban on Mr Barrantes playing polo on Smith's Lawn could then be lifted. Sarah's father, as Prince Charles's polo manager, would no doubt be happy to arrange a match where Britain and Argentina could sort out their differences over a brisk chukka. And the Lord Chancellor, himself recently re-married, to his former secretary, would sit happier on a woolsack that symbolised the gratitude that we must hope the Falklanders feel for those who stood by them three years ago.

June 1986

When the Prince and Princess of Wales made their barn storming trip to the USA last year their reception was rapturous. But within a few days the American press was asking itself what on earth an absurd feudal monarchy was doing at the centre of a 20th Century democratic constitution.

It was a question that slightly shocked the mindless and sycophantic British media which seldom address themselves to such an heretical issue.

So, publishers Secker & Warburg must be kicking themselves that Piers Brendon's 'Our Own Dear Queen' is not due out until October (£12.95). Brendon promises to bring us a much more acerbic, questioning and revealing assessment of the Queen's public and private achievements than we're normally offered. Too bad that the book was too late for April 21 and all those daffodils and children – let alone in time for the Queen's official birthday and Trooping of The Colour on June 14.

Even Prince and Princess Andrew's wedding next month will be but a memory by October.

But by then (after the unprecedented public hysteria which has mounted steadily since the Queen's Jubilee in 1976/77, followed by the Royal Wedding in 1982) a sober assessment is probably urgently needed.

It is already becoming clear to close advisers of the Royal Family that they may be in danger of over-exposure.

Some feel strongly that the Hollywood Syndrome may be close at hand. Indeed, the greatest threat to the Royal Family may prove to be a fickle public rebellion when, after so much adulation, the public mood suddenly turns.

Certainly these advisers are aware that sheer guts, experience and professionalism are not enough. The role of the monarchy is wholly dependent on a skilfully maintained mystique.

And although no worthwhile institution can flourish and develop without objective analysis, there appears to be a growing risk that the essential mystery may be irreversibly eroded if the media hysteria continues unabated.

The abuse of British law and hospitality by foreign diplomats in London now extends to bogus car registrations, according to police sources. Officially embassies are granted a limited number of car registrations (e.g. 123 D 456) which entitle them to almost total legal immunity, parking concessions and many other advantages.

Now it seems that some 'diplomats' are quite simply inventing and attaching new registration plates of their own.

"It's difficult to know what to do about them." says one exasperated Kensington policeman. "If you challenge them they can get abusive or simply drive off. You'd think diplomats would be the one group to behave without reproach."

In fact (see Portraits passim) the police and Foreign Office seem powerless to control 'diplomatic crime' – a catalogue of crimes from rape and abduction to theft and assault are constantly being hushed up by frustrated officialdom.

Those admirable volunteers at St John's Ambulance Brigade have struck gold! In addition to the Bond Street Ball they are also the sole beneficiaries of the charity events at the 1986 Grosvenor House Antiques Fair (June 11-21).

Due to be opened by Princess Margaret on June 11, the organisers are anxious to persuade us that not all the prices are astronomical – e.g. a taper stick at £25 or a print at £75.

But you can spend £500,000 if you like and the Cartier Museum in Geneva is lending special exhibition items including a Mystery Clock ordered by King Farouk of Egypt, a clip brooch for the Queen of Serbia and the first platinum bracelet, made for the King of Nepal. (Admission £7 including catalogue)

As the summer holidays approach and the prospect of bored children looms, the National Army Museum in Royal Hospital Road may offer a welcome temporary ceasefire.

As usual they will occupy children from 10 am to 3 pm each weekday (July 28 – August 15) suitable for children and their families from age 7 upwards.

Model-making, art activities, action sheets, recreating historical battles with model soldiers and a special project based on Lord Wolseley's attempt to rescue General Gordon at Khartoum are just some of the attractions with a military/historical flavour.

Those who have militaria of their own are invited to take them to the Collector's Corner session for expert opinions. Please don't send little Jimmie there with your illegal, unlicensed Luger or Bren Gun. You're sure to need it when he gets home. For further information, ring soon on 730 0717 (ext. 28).

Estate agents' For Sale boards have been an issue which the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea are now taking tough measures to control.

In truth many more responsible firms of estate agents agree that the proliferation of board is unreasonable. They've been unwilling, however, to stop the practice unilaterally and allow their competitors to gain ground.

The council has obtained a ministerial ban on all boards in four areas for a trial period of one year. Agents will now need permission to erect their signs – permission they are seldom likely to get.

The four trial areas are Royal Crescent, Queen's Gate, Cornwall Gardens and Courtfield Gardens – effective from June 1. Undoubtedly the long-term aim will be a ban throughout the borough with Westminster City Council likely to follow.

The embarrassing government debacle over Sunday Shopping presents an equally embarrassing dilemma for Tory-controlled Central London boroughs. The government bill, killed off by Opposition MPs and Tory rebels, was very strongly supported by Tory councillors in Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster where most London Sunday trading takes place.

Will those councils now prosecute shops, street markets, antiques stall-holders and fast food chains which open on Sundays ? According to some councillors this will only happen when specific complaints are made which oblige the councils to take action.

And if the bill is ever introduced again will the pro-Sunday trading lobby again forget to tell the public that the issue goes far beyond shops and sales staff?

After all, if the shops are open on Sundays there will have to be traffic wardens to keep the streets clear. Parking meters will have to operate. street cleaners and dustmen will have to work as well to remove trade refuse. Buses and tubes will have to operate at normal weekday levels and vans and lorries will have to make deliveries.

Indeed, very few trades or professions won't eventually find themselves working on Sundays as soon as competition forces them all to join in. Rates would inevitably rise as an additional day of public services increases costs by one-sixth. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with all this – merely that Sunday will inevitably become just like every other day of the week for most people and nobody will be able to choose otherwise. Perhaps we should have been told.

July 1986

Two of London's most famous riverside landmarks face uncertain futures. The familiar black and white hulls of President and Chrysanthemum are being sold off by the Ministry of Defence. Both vessels were built in 1917 as convoy escorts and saw very little action in World War 1. In 1921 they earned greater distinction as the London headquarters of the Royal Naval Reserve, moored on the Temple Embankment above Blackfriars' Bridge.

As the RNR moves to new land-based premises at St Katherine's Dock, the Defence ministry hasn't revealed what price it expects for the two 260 ft ships – although two bidders have already come forward.

A charity, Inter-Action, which runs community and youth projects, has won planning permission to turn the ships into 'experience museums'.

More mysterious is a bid by the property and leisure group Brent Walker who run casinos, hotels and restaurants.

Although the winning tender will undoubtedly involve purchase and conversion costs of several million pounds, it will be a condition of sale that both ships are preserved on the present site.

This sale will be a relief to those who regretted the recent loss of Discovery which Scott sailed to the Antarctic 80 years ago. She was recently towed up to Dundee, where she was built, leaving a gap on the Temple foreshore.

It has yet to be seen whether the British Tourist Authority has succeeded at last in persuading scared Americans to come to London, but London's tourist industry is preparing itself for a lean summer.

What is now quite clear is the tide of anti-Americanism that has resulted from American fears of retaliation by Libyan terrorists.

An American journalist says he is accustomed to anti-Americanism throughout the world but "I never thought I'd feel it in London".

Hot on the heels of the Westland Affair, followed by the General Motors bid for Land-Rover, all it needed, it seems, was for Americans to leave Britain to carry the can for their attacks on Colonel Gadaffy.

Americans generally make up about 25 per cent of London's summer tourists and early indications were that this could drop to 10 per cent or less. Hoteliers in particular fear a lean summer with The Churchill, for example, preparing to close 130 rooms – a quarter of its capacity.

Optimists claim that fickle Americans with short memories will flood in at the end of the season but seemed puzzled nevertheless that while the British are fed a steady diet of American TV crime and violence, over in the States they think we're hiding behind sandbags and go in fear of our lives.

All this must be as worrying to the London Tourist Board as it is embarrassing to Americans who live here.

A recent BTA report suggests that London, in 10 years' time, could earn an extra £1,000 million annually and create 210,000 new jobs if tourist beds and facilities were increased sufficiently. This would raise the average nightly demand for hotel rooms from 68,000 in 1984 to as much as 115,000 in 1994.

This month, as ever, sees the start of the Promenade Concert season at the Albert Hall.

Particular emphasis is being given to massive choral works. Andre Previn conducts Walton's Belshazzar's Feast; Sir John Pritchard brings us Berlioz's colossal Grande Messe des Morts; and Mozart's Requiem comes courtesy of the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Highlight of the penultimate evening is Beethoven's Choral Symphony conducted by Sir John Solti (September 12). The season kicks off with Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand on July 18.

Now that the Thames is supposed to be one of the cleanest rivers in Europe with 153 different species of fish and seals swimming up as far as Putney, it's strange to hear that Greenpeace has been doing its own investigations. Their £500,000 30 ft launch Beluga has been monitoring toxins in the river which, they say, is still badly polluted by some of the 146 factories which discharge effluent into the Thames. Bearing in mind that Thames water passes through human kidneys seven times between its source and the estuary – not to mention that Thames Water is bottling water under a designer label – we must hope that Greenpeace is being over-sensitive about all this!

Since dispatch riders have such a bad accident record and are high on many people's list of noisy nuisances, it's good to hear that Westminster City Council is taking action.

A day-long competition of skill and safety at Battersea Park on July 20 is aimed at implementing a 20 per cent reduction in accidents over the past five years. Amazingly, it seems that dispatch riders can still operate on L-plates with no test of ability. One can only hope there will be a prize for the rider with the quietest radio as well.

A man who successfully sued the National Union of Railwaymen after an unofficial strike may have opened the flood-gates for others.

The Sheffield businessman was left stranded in London and won £100 in damages to include the price of his hotel room in addition to £68 of legal costs.

In principle there's no reason why similar cases may not be brought against bus, tube or airline unions under similar circumstances.

Providing the decision holds on appeal it gives passengers a chance of recompense where they cannot sue the transport authority itself. It also encourages unions to seek a ballot before going on strike.

Although London' crime rate rose by two per cent last year, the statistics make interesting reading. Contrary to previous years, burglary fell (by 11 per cent) making up 21.2 per cent of all crime. And the Capital is nothing like as dangerous as the media would have us believe. Violence against the person constitutes only 2.8 per cent of all crime – 7 per cent up and the same as the rest of the country. Rape is 0.08 per cent of all reported crime and robbery 2.1 per cent.

By far and away the three biggest categories of crime are Theft/Handling Stolen Goods (52.5 per cent); Burglary (21.2 per cent); and Criminal Damage (15.4 per cent). The greatest growth industries in crime are, therefore, Fraud & Forgery (up 11 per cent); Drug Offences (up 15 per cent); and Mugging (up 14 per cent).

The Royal Parks department doesn't spring to mind as the most dynamic creative force in London but they deserve congratulations for the new water gardens being laid out at the foot of The Serpentine in Hyde Park.

The lake, fed by the River Westbourne, now cascades through a bowery dell before heading underground to feed the lake at Buckingham Palace, the canal in St James's Park and, finally, into the Thames through a pipe which crosses Sloane Square tube station. The Royal park-keepers are being rather coy about their landscaping achievement – once the site of many a duel and containing an historic spring which provided the monks of Westminster Abbey with fresh water 900 years ago. And if they really want us to love them, could someone please dump that monstrous restaurant (next door) where it would cause less offence. How about half-way up the M1?

August 1986

Householders in Central London are faced with what may become a far-reaching dilemma now that councils are empowered to fill in basement coal vaults.

Kensington & Chelsea was foremost among those which lobbied for legislation which will undoubtedly affect Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian properties. The result was the recent General Powers Act. Where vaults are considered to be dangerous councils can force the freeholders to make them safe, or fill them in, or allow the council to fill them in – all at the freeholder's expense.

The councils claim this is necessary because so many coal vaults are now structurally unsafe. They then go on to acknowledge that heavier lorries and pavement parking are largely the cause of weakening these structures.

The councils do not however acknowledge that these are their responsibility to control. Parking and axle-weights are certainly not within the control of residents. Furthermore, a very high proportion of basement vaults have been converted to bathrooms, kitchens and utility rooms – forming part of the rate-assessible living quarters of many Londoners.

While Kensington & Chelsea express delight at the new powers afforded to them, one wonders just what will happen when the first outraged owner finds his storage area (or, much worse, his kitchen) being filled in by the council. Lawyers will no doubt have a field-day claiming that the structural damage is the result of negligent traffic management and that if anyone should be paying for the repairs it should be the council, not the householder.

Furthermore, many householders might seek compensation for loss of amenities granted under deeds and leases while demanding rate reductions as well.

All of this will undoubtedly keep many a council bureaucrat expensively employed sorting out the legal niceties while the ratepayers might be left wondering why they should be left to pick up the tab for the council's inability to control traffic and parking or to protect people's property.

After all, they've always had extensive powers to tell householders to put their properties into good structural order. Dumping tons of earth into people's houses sounds like a General Power gone mad.

London Regional Transport is still determined to do away with the familiar Routemaster buses and to introduce driver-only buses instead – on cost-cutting grounds.

All this is despite the howls of protest from London passengers. Driver-only buses have been a disaster in Scotland where they are already being forced to return to the familiar old Routemasters plus old-fashioned conductors.

As London sheds 125 redundant Routemasters to Scotland in a £225,000 deal, and a further 1,300 of the 30 year-old buses head for Peking, LRT is determined to pursue its driver-only policy despite its proven unpopularity in Clydeside, Kelvin and Strathspey.

London passengers say they prefer being able to hop on and off and value the help given to women, children, the elderly and the disabled by willing conductors. They object to delays at bus stops while drivers take the fares, dislike the closed doors and predict a massive decline in business if the LRT policy continues.

One of the starkest and most unwelcoming creations of the early Sixties could make way for a more sympathetic development if an £80m scheme in the City goes ahead.

Paternoster Square, which dwarfs and obstructs the view of nearby St Paul's Cathedral, was designed in the 1950s by Sir William Halford who was also responsible for Peter Palumbo's doomed Mansion House Square scheme a year ago. Since the Sixties, Paternoster Square has signally failed to win the affection of the City and the windswept piazzas between its concrete and glass tower blocks are universally unloved.

Providing that existing tenants agree, and consent is given by the City and St Paul's, the development consortium hope to reproduce mediaeval street patterns in the square, improve views of St Paul's and reintroduce human scale to the area.

A focal point of the new lay-out will undoubtedly be the Wren-designed Temple Bar archway which once straddled Fleet Street and was later exiled to Theobald's Park in Hertfordshire. Stone by stone the massive structure will probably be moved back to the City at a cost of around 1 million.

September 1986

Some will be pleased – and others not so pleased – by the news that the Earl's Court Exhibition Centre is to double in size by 1990.

The already massive art deco building is owned by the P & O Group which has received outline planning permission for the 35 million scheme to provide an extra 1,800 new off-street parking spaces, and additional 25 per cent of exhibition area and a direct rail passenger link.

The new stadium – to be called Earl's Court 2 – will cover the equivalent of 40 tennis courts on presently vacant space south of the old building. And all this development is in addition to the existing 25 million modernisation programme at Earl's Court and Olympia where 5 million is being invested per year.

All this private investment is intended to provide a London rival to the heavily state-subsidised NEC complex near Birmingham and to rival a similar exhibition centre planned for Docklands.

Whether the promise of improved parking and the creation of 200 jobs will off-set the objections of Kensington residents to still larger crowds of visitors remains to be seen.

This year 72 shows will attract an estimated three million people to Earl's Court and Olympia.

It is also uncertain whether the plan will help or hinder the Royal Borough's highly controversial proposal to build a massive 20-30 million motorway relief road down the borough boundary from Shepherd's Bush to the Thames.

Such a road scheme, intended to relieve the congested Earl's Court/Chelsea one-way system, was rejected by the late GLC and still presents the DoT and the council with the dilemma of what to do with the traffic when it hits Cheyne Walk and the river.

Earl's Court, however, has a noble tradition as an exhibition centre. It started with 'Buffalo Bill' Cody's Wild West shows in 1887 and continued with pleasure gardens and a famous Big Wheel at the turn of the century.

It culminated with the present building – which opened in 1937 – fortuitously just a year after the great Crystal Palace burned to the ground on Sydenham Hill in 1936.

The paranoia among Londoners regarding AIDS continues unabated.

London Lighthouse – a pioneering charity which plans to turn an empty Notting Hill school into a combined hostel and hospice for AIDS victims – has met with fearful objections from local residents.

The new centre, planned for the old Samuel Wolfson School in Lancaster Road, would house 26 sufferers from diagnosis to death. If current projections are accurate, one hostel will soon be quite inadequate for the needs of the thousands of men and women who are expected to contract the full disease over the next few years.

While the charity says it fully understands the local fears, there can be no doubt that the safest and most compassionate solution is indeed to house sufferers in specialised units rather than left loose to cope alone.

Given London's high density population, multiplicity of heterosexual, homosexual and lesbian relationships and the unabated use of injected drugs, we can expect many more such hostels will sadly be required.

On a happier note it now seems that Sam Wanamaker's plan to recreate the Shakespearean 'Globe Theatre' will go ahead at last.

After complicated High Court actions, actor/director Wanamaker and his partners, Derno Estates, can now go ahead with his long-held dream of rebuilding the Globe on its original Southwark riverside site – along with a pub, restaurant, theatre museum and 125,000 sq ft of offices.

If you have strong views about how to improve seedy-and-sleazy Leicester Square, speak now or forever hold your peace. Waterfalls, fountains and a mini-arena for street entertainers are among some of the proposals from Westminster City Council. From this month your views are sought by their planning chairman, Alan Bradley, who makes final decisions next January.

In our youth Carnaby Street was, we thought, rather trendy. But, along with beads, bell-bottoms, happenings and flower-power, it has long looked as tired-and-tacky as Leicester Square looks seedy-and-sleazy.

Now it is leaping from the Sixties to the Eighties and its planned new smartness is aimed at attracting the prosperous Filofax denizens who inhabit the Media-Mecca which now stretches all the way from Regent Street to Covent Garden.

As if to emphasise the point, the stationers, Scribbler have forsaken Sloane Square to be the first to recolonise Carnaby Street as 'suppliers of Filofax to the upwardly mobile'.

All of which will no doubt please Westminster City Council which has long felt that Carnaby Street and that end of Oxford Street has become an embarrassing retail slum-land.

Strange noises at odd times (and sometimes no noises at all) are upsetting the organists and congregations at St Mary Abbots church in Kensington.

Al this is because the organ's 3,256 pipes and other mysteriously intricate workings are clapped out. What is needed, says the Organ Rebuilding Appeal Committee, is £85,000.

While Sir Gilbert Scott's church (dedicated in 1872) is only distinguished by having the tallest spire in London, its musical tradition is undoubtedly more impressive – which is why your help is urgently needed by the Rt Rev'd Gerald Ellison and his flock in order to restore harmony and discourage strange noises. Further information on 937 6032.

In its continuing bid to regain public confidence in the abilities of British architects, the Royal Academy is devoting 11 weeks of exhibition space to three architects: Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and James Stirling.

"At no other period in the 20th Century has modern British architecture experienced such international acclaim as it does today." says the RA, which then admits that the self-same architects attract only widespread antagonism here in Britain.

The exhibition (October 3 – December 21) hopes to provoke comment on why Britain lacks the courage and will to commit itself wholeheartedly to progressive new architecture and will use models, film, AV, lectures and debates to pursue its enquiry.

Presumably the three architects and the major construction supply companies who are paying for the exhibition hope to persuade us not to reject in future such widely unpopular schemes as Mansion House Square, the Green Giant and the original National Gallery extension proposal.

And presumably they won't easily accept the view that Londoners quite simply don't like much new architecture – whatever the rest of the world may think!

To coincide with the exhibition Thames & Hudson are publishing a lavish book entitled New Directions in British Architecture by Deyan Sudjic (£20) – a must for all brokers learning to love the new Lloyds building in the City and for those who love exciting new architecture – on paper if not on the skyline.

October 1986

Ever since the Sixties, books on etiquette and how to jump a clear round socially have been regarded as pretty naff.

And quite right too!

But now that London has become so unmannerly (if not exactly unmannered) perhaps there's room for a new rule book so that Londoners can be quite certain that they and their friends have dotted all the 'eyes' and crossed all the 'teas' in words like nicety and gentility.

As a document of social history, Lady Colin Campbell's Guide To Being A Modern Lady (out this month at £9.95) may prove as significant as Nancy Mitford's U and Non-U in Noblesse Oblige.

For sheer entertainment value it could be just what bored London drawing-rooms have been needing.

Lady Colin Campbell will guide any aspiring lady through all the intricacies of coping with Ascot, House Parties, Picking Up The One-Night Stand and how to get rid of him – while being wickedly indiscreet herself about London's socialites and not a few Royals.

"Titles," she declares, "bore me stiff." But she goes on to tell you nevertheless how to cope with them – with guidance on everything from AIDS to writing paper and the art of flirtation.

Married to Lord Colin Campbell for just nine months in 1974 and an indefatigable socialite herself, 36 year-old Georgie Campbell is uniquely qualified to reveal the secrets of how to be smart and still a lady.

And now that it's definitely boring and unfashionable to be a Sloane, perhaps this little book will make being a lady exciting and chic once again.

Something else which died with the Sixties (1963 to be precise) was compulsory National Service. Those who endured it wouldn't necessarily view their years in barrack rooms, on parade grounds and in hell-holes throughout Britain's declining empire as The Best Years Of Their Lives – which is the title given to a new exhibition opening now at the Imperial War Museum (September 30 – May 1987).

The Rt Hon. John Biffen, MP, has joined playwrights Michael Frayn and Arnold Wesker in lending uniforms and other personal memorabilia to the exhibition which includes contributions from Alan Sillitoe, the Rt Hon. Nigel Lawson, MP, and Mgr Bruce Kent.

Those with nostalgic memories should probably attend. Those who are of the Pill & Tights generation (both born in 1963) will perhaps appreciate what they were lucky enough to miss.

When it comes to art with a capital 'A' poor old Britain has always been regarded as rather an also-ran. For too long we've allowed Continentals to treat our artistic contribution as minor. Not for much longer.

The School of British Art, founded by Linda Rampton and Nina Dolan opens its doors for its first term on October 2 at Leighton House, Holland Park Road, with a lecture on Hogarth.

The one-year course consists of three terms coinciding with standard school terms, lasting 10 weeks, each with tuition from 10.30 to midday on Tuesdays and Thursdays. fees are £ 250 per term.

In addition to British painting, a galaxy of eminent lecturers will cover architecture, furniture, silver, sculpture and pottery with guided tours and museum visits arranged where appropriate.

As an alternative to the often grossly over-subscribed courses at the V&A, Sothebys, etc., this new venture covering British art from the 18th Century to the present day should prove popular.

For further information on courses and fees, contact The School of British Art, 19 Draycott Place, SW3, or phone 01-289 3508.

A Labour councillor in Kensington & Chelsea has appealed to Home Secretary Mr Douglas Hurd to stop Iranians treating Central London as an "overflow battlefield – a suburb of Teheran".

Neil Kearney's protest followed the dramatic bomb explosion at a video shop opposite the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington High Street in August.

Few people will find fault with Mr Kearney's concern – except perhaps to wonder why he draws the line at Iranians.

Central London has indeed become a playground for terrorists, assassins and bombers from around the globe.

Mr Kearney does not appear to have extended his complaint to Middle East factions, Libyans, IRA activists from Eire or the agents provocateurs of major world powers.

Undoubtedly Central London and its residents have become the innocent butt of the overwhelming proportion of violent political extremism – which will make Mr Hurd's response of great interest to most Portrait readers.

Having appealed for an additional 3,800 more police officers to combat London's rising crime rate, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Kenneth Newman now faces a dilemma.

Figures for the first six months of 1986 show a very worrying increase in rapes, muggings, burglaries and assaults in London.

Having already carried out far-reaching 'reorganisation' of his force with far more men supposedly on duty, some may feel that the strengthened force has achieved very little. And having been promised only 1,200 more policemen spread over four years, he may have trouble justifying his demands for still more.

Burglary is up despite an 11 per cent drop last year.

Crimes involving cars, theft and handling stolen goods are also significantly greater.

But most revealing of all is the slight drop in shoplifting, fraud and forgery which police can seldom do much to prevent. Perhaps shopkeepers, credit card companies and businesses are themselves better at tackling this sort of crime than the police.

It may be that Sir Kenneth should concentrate his efforts on finding out why crime appears to be an increasingly popular and paying option for so many and why there are so many angry and frustrated people exercising their anger through rapes, assaults and violence.

Once rejected as uneconomic, bottle-banks are now springing up all over Central London.

Buckingham Palace, luxury hotels and hundreds of restaurants have succeeded in collecting 1,000 tons of glass in Westminster alone since the bottle-bank scheme was introduced last September.

Now the council is aiming to encourage London's youth to swell the mountain of recyclable glass. Apparently an uphill task.

How strange! Twenty years ago, when the scheme was first proposed – and rejected – conservation-minded youth would have been the first to join in.

Twenty years later it takes ageing tycoons like Richard Branson to resell the spirit of the Sixties while erstwhile hippies now toss empty bottles of Veuve Clicquot into the bins as they leave, bloated, from supper tables at the Ritz.

If only governments would adopt good ideas in good time! By now we could have saved 20,000 tons of glass at least and Mr Branson's young cohorts would not have quite such an overwhelming clean-up and conservation job on their hands. His UK 2000 campaign to smarten up Britain kicks off at Trafalgar Square on October 21 – Trafalgar Day. And twenty years too late, some might say.

November 1986

Opera buffs will have been delighted with the news that the Royal Opera House is to spend £55m on modernisation – even if performances will temporarily have to take place at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, when works commence in 1991.

Thirty-five million pounds in revenue is expected from parallel plans to develop the derelict north and east sides of the site with shopping arcades and office space. A three-tier shopping hall will go up over an underground car park on the site of the present staff parking area.

The bill for the remaining £20m should be met with little difficulty by sponsors and donations, according to general director Sir John Tooley.

The most urgent improvement for opera and ballet lovers, however, will be the 21st Century facilities backstage and in the public areas where the rumble of scene changes proclaims its now lamentably 19th Century technology all too clearly.

When work on the Royal Opera House development starts, architect Jeremy Dixon assures us that new facades in Floral Street, Long Acre and Bow Street (plus a new second entrance leading to a spectacular spiral staircase) will all be sympathetic to the original Inigo Jones architecture of Covent Garden.

A young friend tells me she has never yet received a letter from her father which was not written on a cotton handkerchief. The idea is not new. An exhibition of ancient military training aids at the National Army Museum includes mechanical drill boxes, toy soldiers for drill and manoeuvre training, and printed handkerchiefs with vital information, useful hints and sword drill exercises for cavalrymen. Could the printed handkerchief now replace the Filofax?

The National Army Museum is in Royal Hospital Road, London SW3.

There is better news from the Tate Gallery with the unveiling of plans for Phase Two of its ambitious £30m expansion scheme.

Phase Two involves redevelopment of the former Queen Alexandra Military Hospital to the west of the Tate. It will produce a Modern Sculpture Museum, a New Art Museum covering the previous decade and a Study Centre.

Property developer Peter Palumbo chairs a Foundation committee including Sir Richard Attenborough and the Countess of Airlie while James Stirling is the favoured architect for the scheme. All that, however, is for the distant future. Meanwhile, Phase One – the Clore Gallery, housing the Turner Bequest – opens to the public next Spring.

As predicted in this column some time ago, the Victoria & Albert Museum's 'voluntary' entry charge has been a massive flop.

When launched, Lord Carrington predicted a clear profit of £500,000 in the first year and was seemingly unconcerned that this might involve a 20 per cent drop in attendance. In fact the first year's profit is a mere £133,000 with a fall in visitors of up to 40 per cent.

The cost of the doomed scheme has been around £250,000 in machines and administration plus, it appears, a great deal of lost public goodwill – from those who have lent or donated items for 'free' public view; from the 40 per cent who wanted to go but but were deterred; and from the vast numbers put through the indignity of having to refuse to pay publicly.

It seems likely the scheme will now be dropped – as should those who insisted on introducing it.

A British Rail supremo once told me (off the record) that if steam trains were brought back on most of the BR network, the railways could print money and laugh all the way to the bank. Such, he said, was the nostalgic appeal of steam.

Perhaps London Regional Transport thinks the same. They have reintroduced 'Vintage Tube Trains' on the Northern Line. Five seven-carriage tube trains are now back in service, painted in their original 1938 dark red livery and complete with art deco lampshades, candle-holders (for emergency lighting) and original period notices.

All this is to mark their Golden Jubilee and to help promote tube travel and Capital Travelcards. LRT are hoping to bring back even more vintage stock next year and happily boast that last year's 762 million passengers represented a 50 per cent increase over three years – the greatest volume ever.

But none of this will succeed in obscuring the fact that there will be a swingeing increase in in bus and tube fares next January. Some fares rise by 33 per cent. Overall they rise by 4.5 per cent – significantly higher than predicted. Worst hit will be those without Travel Cards who pass through outer zones to the centre. In Central London the flat rate 50p fare remains, mercifully, the same.

It seems bizarre, but is nevertheless true, that it will cost £354,000 just to find a buyer for County Hall. The former GLC headquarters are expected to fetch something between £100 million and £300 million and would be most suitable for an hotel.

According to consultants there could be a 31 per cent shortfall in London hotel accommodation in 10 years time – a problem that could be significantly reduced if County Hall were suitably converted.

Quite why such a world famous building needs property consultants Richard Ellis to spend £354,000 to find just one buyer is unclear, but information packs, videos, promotions and world advertising will no doubt comfort the Government and the London Residuary Body that it can be sold before a Labour government can give it back to a new GLC.

Meanwhile left-wing Lambeth Council is expected to oppose any such sell-off plans and there are even rumours that the ILEA (which still has offices there) will claim squatter's rights or even try and buy it themselves!

Drivers will undoubtedly be welcoming the revolutionary new 'instant fines' system which come into effect right now. Speeding, shooting red lights, parking on zebra crossings or driving with defective tyres, are just a few of the many driving offences which can be settled on the spot by £12 or £24 fines.

According to some reports there are nearly 250 such relatively minor offences which add up to a court-clogging total of 6,000,000 technical offences which come before magistrates each year.

Furthermore, there have been around one million ignored and unrecovered parking fines per year which the new system will make it much harder to evade.

Failure to pay the new 'instant tickets' will result in them increasing by half as much again and unpaid fines will be stringently pursued, according to the Home Office.

Needless to say you can still object and have your case heard in court if you choose, but overall a very wide number of offences should get settled quickly and more efficiently for all concerned. Payment is to be made by cheque or postal order, attached to a tear-off slip, within 28 days.

And no, as far as I know you may not ask for a discount-for-cash, nor may you suggest a 'deal' for multiple offences. And just in case you choose to go to court in the hope that the overloaded judiciary won't get round to dealing with it for a few years, that option looks less welcoming now. The Government has just announced a £146 million programme to create 160 new courtrooms in London and the South-East.

December 1986

The crisis in morale in London's police force appears to be reaching a new high – or low. Unofficial orders have been issued from Scotland Yard to district commanders to try and curb the steady increase in officers wishing to transfer from the Capital.

Five years ago only 44 men sought transfers to the provinces. Last year the figure rose to 118. In the first nine months of this year there have already been 193 applications. The reasons are thought to be stress and the high cost of living in London.

One officer points out that a single policeman can find himself trying to make an arrest while 50 or 100 youths are shouting abuse at him. Others are clearly still deeply shaken by the murder of an officer hacked to death in the Tottenham riots – an incident which many men feel resulted from poor leadership and 'lost bottle' at a high level.

The problem is made worse by the high proportion of young, raw recruits filling places left by married officers who can no longer afford family life in Central London.

Despite a variety of money-making schemes (including a cafeteria, a brass rubbing centre and market stalls), Wren's St James's Church is launching an urgent appeal for £1m.

The famous church in Piccadilly which is said to be Sir Christopher's own favourite creation is now 300 years old and crumbling away. The cost of restoring the organ alone is estimated at £250,000.

The appeal was launched recently by the Commonwealth Secretary-General who also announced a plan to spend £150,000 on an all-night cafe providing refuge for homeless drifters and young prostitutes.

The years and fortunes spent restoring Westminster Abbey appear to have paid off. Reguilding the railings at Buckingham Palace has not!

In a survey published this autumn it seems that the palace is top of the league of 'most disappointing buildings' in London – hotly pursued by London Bridge and 10 Downing Street.

According to architects Scott Brownrigg & Turner, the Abbey was voted just one better than the Telecom Tower, to win first place among 'London's Most Exciting Buildings', by 3,800 country dwellers.

The Palace, it seems, lacks fairy-tale appeal; Downing Street looks too small (although in reality it's relatively vast); and the Houses of Parliament, once despised as Victorian Gothic bad taste, are now London's most beautiful buildings according to those who think Mrs Thatcher lives in a two-up-two-down.

Unless the government changes its mind there is likely to be an embarrassing Tory revolt in Inner London boroughs whose rate support grants from Central government are being cut. While so-called 'spendthrift' boroughs such as Newham stand to gain £31.9 million (an increase of 45 per cent), such 'thrifty' boroughs as Kensington & Chelsea are being offered a cut of £6.4 million.

With a few exceptions the pattern appears to be that Labour boroughs do better and Tory boroughs do worse – Wandsworth being the only Tory borough to gain anything. Local Tory MPs are furious, saying the allocations punish those who've done what the government asked, and stressing the urgent need for rates reform.

The result for most Portrait readers will be either higher rates bills or at least a smaller cut than they might have been expecting – a curious situation when a General Election looms – perhaps next Spring, perhaps next autumn.

A furious row is brewing in Paddington. According to Westminster City Council there is a real fear that London Regional Transport may try to turn Paddington Station's goods yard into a £40 million coach terminal, using a private member's bill in Parliament to get round the council's planning objections.

The scheme, which would allow for more than 2,000 coach movements each day, is intended to replace Victoria Coach Station which is due to close in 1990. Westminster Council has united with local residents' groups in opposing the idea which they regard as quite unsuitable for a residential area.

Instead the council has approved plans for new housing, shops and light industry. If a new coach station is needed, says the council Leader, Lady Porter, it would be better sited on the M25.

Promising to oppose the LRT 'stitch-up' scheme in the High Court if necessary, both Tory and Labour councillors were united in opposition to any plan to turn Paddington into "a giant transit camp".

Another scheme which has won local authority approval is Terry Farrell's plan to straddle London Wall in the City.

The 150 million development will involve demolishing Lee House – generally regarded as a glass-and-concrete Sixties monstrosity – replacing it with escalators to piazzas and arcades providing shops, restaurants, wine bars and pubs.

The massive arch will act as a gateway to the Barbican and will allow Monkwell Square to be completed with new houses, a livery hall and a landscaped lawn.

A year later than planned it now seems that the new Clore Gallery at the Tate will at last open to the public next Spring. Thanks to a £6 million donation from the Clore Foundation, the 300 oil paintings and 19,000 drawings and watercolours left to the Nation by J.M.W. Turner on his death in 1851, will all be housed together at last. But design problems, construction details and some strained relationships between all concerned have considerably delayed completion of the long-promised new gallery.

Architect James Stirling is at pains to point out that there is no clash of views on the final appearance of his two-storey L-shaped creation adjacent to the Tate. He thinks the bright reds, greens and yellows which adorn the exterior will thrill everybody. The museum itself denies that there have been disagreements over the minutiae of egg-shell paint finishes or minor damage to the decor by removal men.

Instead, everyone says they hope a Royal will be found to open the building with all its revolutionary, self-adjusting sun-screen light-wells and oak, brass, granite and plaster interiors.

Meanwhile site workers say they hope to complete "thousands" of items on the "snag list" before then. At which time, of course, everyone will cheer loudly that after 136 years, the nation has finally abided by the terms of Turner's will and one of England's greatest artists has all his work freely on show to the public!

Christmas, to most of us, just isn't Christmas without carols. But the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir are going one better with six Christmas Bach concerts at churches across London.

The musical tour includes the six great Motets, the six Brandenburg Concertos and the six Cantatas from the Christmas Oratorio.

Starting at 6.30 pm and running for an hour and a quarter each, the joint choir will perform at St Sepulchre Without Newgate, EC1, on 15 December; at St James, Piccadilly, on 17 December; at St Clement Danes, The Strand, on 19 December; at St Lawrence Jewry, Guildhall, on 12 January; at St Bartholomew The Great, EC1, on 14 January; and at Southwark Cathedral, SE1, on January 16.

Not to be missed – and a very Happy Christmas to you all.

February 1987

As Londoners react anxiously to the consequences of the AIDS epidemic, there is some reassuring news which should be balanced against the barrage of media scare stories.

By the end of December the Blood Transfusion Service had tested approximately 2,750,000 blood donations. Of these only 0.0002 per cent were found to be infected with the virus.

In fact this tiny proportion (1 in 500,000) is the only realistic indication of how far the syndrome has penetrated low-risk 'average' members of the population. The half dozen cases that have been picked up from the Blood Donor screening have nearly all been of people with 'higher risk' histories. Blood donors by definition (and pre-selection) do not include active homosexuals, bisexuals, haemophiliacs, prostitutes or intravenous drug-users.

The conclusion therefore must be that at present there has been a negligible penetration by the syndrome of the mass heterosexual population – regardless of past sexual adventures and excesses. However, clinics throughout London report massive numbers of scared clients turning up for blood tests and an average wait of 2-3 weeks before the results are known. Provided that the nation as a whole heeds government health warnings and advice, the prospects of keeping the syndrome in check seem better than many media scare-mongering reports suggest.

Among higher risk categories the toll is now tragically high. By the end of December there were over 600 cases of developed AIDS of whom about 300 had died. DHSS estimates reckoned there were 30,000 carriers (mostly restricted to homosexuals, bisexuals and injectors). One in three homosexuals are affected and 4,500 carriers already identified.

Anyone who has good reason to feel they may be affected themselves should go to the Special Clinic at Westminster Hospital, St Stephen's Hospital, St Mary's (Paddington), St Thomas's Hospital or The Royal Free Hospital – to mention a few.


Having successfully cleaned up the waters of the Thames, the Port of London Authority is making this River Year in a campaign to clear up surface pollution.

Last year the PLA cleared out 1,000 tons of driftwood alone – twice as much as the year before and the Docklands developments are held largely responsible for tyres, oil drums, bottles, polystyrene, etc.


The Waitrose supermarket in Gloucester Road is reported to be due for closure in 1989 when its lease expires after 78 years. The shop was founded by Mr Waite and Mr Rose in 1908 and is the sole survivor of their chain of 10 shops.

The Gloucester Road emporium will probably be remembered as the model upon which most of London's smarter and more modern delicatessens were based.


A proposed change in planning regulations threatens the staid and stately bespoke tailors of Savile Row. New laws would, tailors say, permit 'workshop' premises to become more valuable 'offices' – thus putting them out of business.

Clearly MPs and Cabinet Ministers were lobbied for their help when having their suits fitted, since a deputation of tailors managed to meet Environment Secretary Nicholas Ridley to explain their plight. No doubt Mr Ridley was impressed by the fact that Savile Row produces £15m p.a. in foreign currency and that 3,000 staff are employed, making 60 per cent of their suits for foreign businessmen prepared to pay £800 a time.

Mr Ridley has promised to make a decision on the issue this month.


London's 13,500 black cabs face competition – a rival black cab is currently being launched in the Capital. The Metrocab is intended to replace the current FX series which have scarcely changed in 25 years.

The new model has a plastic body, seats four (and a fifth in a wheel-chair), costs £13,950 and seems an altogether lighter and more spacious machine.

The performance of this new Metro-Cammell Weyman cab is not brilliant. The 2.5 litre engine has a top speed of 75 and takes 30 seconds from 0-60 mph. But the ride is apparently smooth. In appearance they are still very cab-like though there's a passing resemblance to a smallish Range Rover.

MCW hope to introduce them at a rate of 2,000 per year and have plans eventually to produce a 'stretched' seven-seater version – presumably to cash in on the government's deregulation of public bus services.


For years London's long-awaited Theatre Museum has languished, invisible, in the bowels of the Victoria & Albert Museum – where not so long ago the collection bore the brunt of a disastrous flood.

In April the curtains go back in Covent Garden to reveal the collection of costumes, set designs, theatre programmes and miscellaneous memorabilia, all thanks to a special £150,000 grant from Arts Minister Richard Luce.

Meanwhile the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich has persuaded the Duke of Edinburgh to launch its £5.5m appeal to restore the museum's central building, Queen's House, a former Royal residence designed by Inigo Jones. Two million pounds is to be spent on a new research centre to handle the 30,000 maritime queries from academics and students, while a further plan involves acquiring the old Devonport Nurses Home, now redundant following the demise of the gloomy-sounding Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital.


Prince Charles was clearly very upset that the new gentry in Kennington have put paid to his plans to provide housing for some of London's many homeless youngsters.

The Prince's idea was to convert two houses on his Duchy of Cornwall estate in Kennington to accommodation for 12 people in self-contained flatlets. But the residents, who have seen house prices rocket in recent years, thought the scheme would drag the area down.

While Prince Charles may privately feel he's met the 'oink and grunt of hoggishness' among his manorial tenants, publicly at least the scheme has probably been ditched so as not to provoke controversy over his large, private land-holding in the area.

Meanwhile the youngsters he is so clearly concerned about under the arches at Charing Cross would probably be staggered to know that average Kennington 'gentry' have seen the value of their houses rise by £1,000 per month for the past six years.

This was the last in the Around & About series (1983-87).

© (1986) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

Christopher Long

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