Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Post

A very Merry and Unmitigated Christmas to all my readers!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Cover Story

So, seasonal congratulations to the Radio Times. This cover really stood out in the newsagents, surrounded as it was by its competitors that couldn't free themselves from the usual trashy soap celebs huddled together under snow-covered mastheads. For the RT to break free from this tradition is remarkable, guilty as it has been in the past for indulging the latest Doctor Who or dodgy chef. Christmas issues should be special; when it first came out the RT was in monochrome, and colour was usually only seen at seasonal highpoints. Covers by consummate professionals like Edward Ardizzone and Eric Fraser, and in my own time (under the editorship of David Driver) classic covers by the likes of Peter Brookes. I remember it all stopping when I stared in disbelief at a Christmas issue with a heavily retouched Mike Yarwood grinning out at me, probably doing his impersonation of Frank Spencer. Blimey, that dates me. But this current cover does it for me again. The actual details are very simple, but the overall effect is so rich, like the lid of a decorative biscuit tin. Even the Gruffalo offer is incorporated successfully, but a shame about the barcode, which annoys all designers. The cover is by Kate Forrester, and also comes in a green version. Which I suppose I'll have to get. Or three copies, a red and green for the library, another for seeing what's on the telly. But which colour? Oh God.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Battersea Battery

I've always hankered after taking a photograph of Battersea Power Station, but in its neglected and vandalised state this has proved difficult. I just wanted to be able to demonstrate what a stunning building this is, and a silhouette seemed to be the only solution, considering that so much is now missing. And I love those cranes that were used to unload cargoes of coal from the Thames. At last, the opportunity came yesterday lunchtime as I emerged from Chelsea onto the Embankment and was confronted by this. Snap, snap. What I didn't realise was that Battersea is apparently two power stations- one two chimney structure built in the 1930s, another identical one in the 50s, giving it the fantastic four chimney outline. The exterior was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (phone boxes, Liverpool Cathedral) and is still the largest brick structure in Europe. Going at full bore it got through a million tonnes of coal a year. There's a shot of it in The Beatles' film Help, it's on an album cover for Pink Floyd's Animals (with a barrage balloon pig sailing over it), and perhaps it was appearances like this that started us appreciating hitherto disregarded but important buildings. But since decommissioning in 1983, successive would-be developers have been and gone, after well and truly trashing the building. What a temple to industry this would have made, the art deco turbine hall once again humming with giant dynamos and lit with arcing flashes of electricity to show us just how beautifully exciting these powerhouses were.

Friday, 2 December 2011


As London expanded in the early eighteenth century, so did the need for new churches. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1711 in order that fifty new churches could be built to serve the population gathering at the fringes. By the time the order ran out in 1731, only twelve had been built, but amongst them are six stunning churches by Nicholas Hawksmoor. This master of the baroque was once Wren's assistant, but his own style is from another world altogether. This is Christ Church, opposite the old Spitalfields wholesale market and heralding the very desirable Huguenot weavers' houses to the north in thoroughfares like Fournier Street. Built between 1714-29, this is one of my all-time favourite buildings, and the view I always enjoy is my top picture, taken from down Brushfield Street, where the distinct impression is given that the tower is a continuation straight up from the immense Tuscan porch with its semi-circular pediment. As you move around the entrance, you discover that it's not. And what looks like it should be a square main tower is in fact a rectangle. There is much more to say, and some of it can be found in More London Peculiars where I've gone on about this and three other Hawksmoor churches.