The Tubes, The Twenties and Mrs T

8 Apr

Tubes 20s Mrs T

In recent months I’ve been working on an audio adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray for Big Finish productions. This follows on from their series The Confessions of Dorian Gray – the brainchild of the annoyingly talented Scott Handcock – in which Dorian survives, thrives and cavorts his way across the 20th Century.

Pictured: Literally the first image that came up when I Googled 'cavorting'. Featuring Milton Berle (far right).

Pictured: Literally the first image that came up when I Googled ‘cavorting’. Featuring Milton Berle (far right).

Adapting the novel itself was a very different task, not least of all because it involved producing 4 times as many words as an episode, but I’ll write more about this closer to the release date. The reason I’m mentioning it all now is that last weekend was when we recorded it, at The Moat Studios in Ladbroke Grove.

A day at The Moat is always fun, and as anyone who has worked there will tell you, the lunches alone – put on by sound engineer and kitchen whiz Toby – make any visit worthwhile.

As one actor, on a previous production, noted: “You don’t get this on The Archers.”

Being there on Saturday meant I finally got to meet our Dorian, the brilliant Alexander Vlahos (Mordred in the BBC’s Merlin), along with Marcus Hutton and Miles Richardson (who, I can confirm, were born to play Basil Hallward and Lord Henry Wotton respectively.) But enough of this loveydom. The day went well, everyone was marvellous, and the food was lovely.

I’d like to say I spent that night (a Saturday) carousing my way around the tangled streets of Soho, but sadly, having had far too little sleep the night before and having left the house at 5:30am to catch my train, I was in bed by 10:30 and fast asleep by 11.

Artist's impression.

Artist’s impression.

On Sunday morning, after my attempt at bankrupting my hotel by eating all of the breakfast, I strolled down to Covent Garden and the London Transport Museum. I was there specifically to see their exhibition of Tube posters, celebrating 150 years of the Underground, but the museum itself is a treat. Even the lift taking you to the second floor was exciting, and the examples of classic railway stock and buses were lovely. What’s more, once you’ve paid the £15 entry fee (which may sound a little steep) you can go as many times as you like for a whole year.

The exhibition itself was wonderful; a joyous reminder of how “on-the-nose” vintage advertising can be. Sure, some of it can look a little Orwellian these days, but it was surprising how applicable many posters still are.

This is from 1944. They should reissue it.

This is from 1944. They should reissue it.

 What stood out for me was the inventiveness, and the artistic daring that you see in poster art from the 1920s and 30s compared with later decades that we tend to assume were more adventurous. The earlier tube posters showcase vorticism, cubism, and plenty of other isms from early 20th Century art. The ’60s posters, in comparison, are surprisingly conservative, with only one example reflecting the city’s “swinging” reputation or offering so much as a nod to Pop Art.

In the afternoon I met up with my friends Hannah and Michael, former Cardiffians now living in London, and went to the exhibition of Man Ray’s portraits at the National Portrait Gallery.

Tubes 20s Mrs T

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “You didn’t go to Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum?” Or, “You didn’t go to David Bowie at the V&A?”

No. No I didn’t. And I’ll tell you why. Firstly, it was a Sunday. Pompeii and Herculaneum would have been crawling with Jasmines, Tasmines and Olivers whose parents should have taken them to Thorpe Park or – at the very least – London Zoo, racing about the place and shrieking at each other while their backpack-and-papoose-carrying parents nodded thoughtfully at mosaics and plaster casts of terrified Romans. As for David Bowie, I love Bowie, but I’m not a massive costume enthusiast. I’d rather see those outfits on the man himself, either in concert or in concert footage, than on mannequins in a museum. Just not my bag, I’m afraid.

So… We went to Man Ray, and I wasn’t disappointed. Much like the Tube posters exhibition, it was a strange reminder that the ’20s, while acknowledged as being creative and decadent and all the rest of it, were so much more creative and decadent than the 1960s. Man Ray’s portraits are of dancers from the Ballet Russes, European and Asian nobility, American socialites, androgynous trapeze artists, writers, composers and – of course – Ray’s fellow surrealists. Sandwiched between the austerity of the World Wars, they illustrate a world infinitely more raucous, witty and adventurous than anything that happened at Woodstock.

"I don't know about you girls, but I am tripping my tits off right now."

“I don’t know about you girls, but I am tripping my tits off right now.”

After the National Portrait Gallery we retired to the ever-classy Retro Bar, just off The Strand, where Michael, Hannah and I discussed the eventuality of Baroness Thatcher’s death. We all agreed that while she may very well deserve a state funeral, everything should be tendered out to the private sector, from the undertakers to the security, in keeping with the spirit of the great woman’s politics. Within 24 hours the woman had dropped dead, but we have yet to learn whether we’ll see her coffin emblazoned with Cinzano and BP stickers, as she’s taken from Westminster Hall to her final resting place in the back of a G4S Transit van.

"And so the carriage carrying Baroness Thatcher leaves London, joining the A1 at Edgware..."

“And so the carriage carrying Baroness Thatcher leaves London, joining the A1 at Edgware…”

On a slightly more serious note, though, I’m actually surprised by how little of a reaction I’ve had to Thatcher’s demise. My Facebook timeline is full of people pulling virtual party poppers and raising online toasts, and I can understand that. There will be plenty of left wing apologists in the coming days, telling the world how tasteless they find it, because to celebrate anyone’s death is undignified and tacky… and that’s all true. But there can be few people who grew up in industrial and post-industrial regions of this country who can’t at least identify with those dancing a merry jig right now, however tacky or tasteless they find it.

As for those penning the hagiographies, well… This is the moment they have long been waiting for. A pageant of conspicuous cap doffing and forelock tugging sycophancy. The Daily Mail will be as happy as a pig in shit. A pig wearing a black lace veil, of course.

Just one thing. If they are going to broadcast wall-to-wall Thatcher-themed programmes for the next month, can I ask that we get the excellent drama Margaret, starring Lindsay Duncan in the title role, and not the performance-wasting bobbins that was The Iron Lady?

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