Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Jazz Age in Londontown

In 1920, the British Empire covered a fifth of the world's surface and contained 400 to 500 million people.  London was, in point of fact, the capital of the world.  Of course there was also a world of trouble brewing: Ireland and India -just for example- were dangerously restive. But if you were young and British in the 1920s - and rich if possible - there was certainly a lot of fun to be had and trouble must have seemed very far away indeed.  London was the biggest city in the world in 1928, and if you couldn't find it in London you couldn't find it anywhere.  

In Up, Back, and Away,  Miles' trip to the capitol is not for fun but for work - he has to find Ada.  And in his search he has to contend with the dark side of Brightest London.  Still, even under the weight of danger and anxiety, he is beguiled by London.  Miles arrives in the capital via the Old Euston station - a fabulous place which was famously torn down in one of the worst city planning decisions of the 1960s.  Here are a few images of  the old (lost) Euston Station:

They tore it down in 1961 and here's what we have today.  Pure vandalism.

Of course Miles a music fan and London was full of great music.

 I enjoyed all the research I did for Up, Back, and Away, but learning about the music and the venues where one could hear it - and dance to it - was the most fun.  The video clip at the top this post records a bit of the spirit of London's nightclubs in the 1920s.  The Music Halls were past their very greatest days, having to compete with cinema, the gramophone and the radio (and those night clubs), but they were still entertaining masses of people. Miles search takes him into the beautiful (fictitious) Diamond's London Pavilion in Leicester Square where he gets to see a variety show that impresses him with the quality of the entertainment and the enthusiasm of the audience.  Ada sings a song there, a song she sang for Miles back at Quarter Sessions, that was already a nostalgia number in 1928.  Here's a nice 1910 recording of that famous song, "Rings on My Fingers," which was a hit in 1909 for Blanche Ring and Ada Jones.  (Ada Ardilaun's mother was so fond of it she named her daughter after Ada Jones).  

The styles and fashions and the music of the 1920s continue to inspire.  (For those with an appetite for even more archival footage, here's a link to a great old documentary about a teenaged flapper in 1920s Britain).

Some of my interest in the 1920s was generated by the work of a wonderfully talented artist and sometime writer, Gladys Peto.  She illustrated all kinds of children's books, a handful of travel books and advertisements galore, including a series of images for Ovaltine, Allenbury's infant food and Erasmic soap.  

Another blogger with a similar interest connected with me some years ago and she has a great website devoted to Peto's works. (Have a look if you like the ad - there's a treasure trove there).  

The internet is giving anyone with an interest great scope to explore the cultural world of the 1920s.  Lots of the artistic productions of the day are falling out of copyright and into the public domain.  (Mickey Mouse famously made his first appearance in 1928 and the US copyright laws have been re-jiggered a couple of times to keep him under Disney copyright) but lots of material is still available for us all to share now.  I'll leave you with a link to a song from a popular musical that I discovered while researching for Up, Back, and Away.  I really liked Mercenary Mary. What do you think? Maybe it's time for a revival?

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