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This report is taken from PN Review 155, Volume 30 Number 3, January - February 2004.

A Foggy Day Neil Powell

One afternoon last summer, temporarily fed up with the Wimbledon tennis I shouldn't have been watching anyway, I zapped over to a black-and-white film on Channel 4: dark London streets, fog-shrouded gaslamps, policemen in Wolseleys with clanging bells, crooks in sharp suits from tailors in alleys off the Charing Cross Road. 1953, I guessed, clueless as to the identity of the thing; and, when I checked in the paper, so it was. That, not the wretched drenched festivity of Coronation Day, is the London of my childhood, full of nuance and ambiguity in its soft-focus subfusc, though with an atmosphere which on a bad day would thicken into lethal smog. Give that London a nudge and it starts to turn into a book of its own accord: The End of the Affair, say, or Under the Net; Hemlock and After or A Glass of Blessings; or Muriel Spark's retrospective A Long Way from Kensington.

London in the 1950s was a city in disguise. Those too young or too distant to have any first-hand memory of it commonly envisage a drab, grey place of stultifying conformity. Others, better informed though less impartial, recall a time of sustained if often subterranean cultural and intellectual excitement, by comparison with which the 1960s were a garish, glitzy vacuum. It was certainly a different sort of city from the London of half a century later, but the differences are hedged around with paradox: much of the post-war capital remained shabby and damaged, ...


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