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Useful Notes / London

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The city skyline, with Elizabeth Tower (AKA Big Ben) and the London Eye in the foreground.

"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

To Hollywood (and depressingly often to British media as well), Britain Is Only London. How they portray the place is generally split into two approaches:

Where The Streets Are Paved With Gold

A place full of rich people, fancy society balls, posh accents and general happiness. Expect the RP accent.

Where The Streets Are Paved With Excrement

A place full of poor people, dirty streets, violent crime and general misery lavishly filmed in glorious squalorama. Expect Cockney and/or the rougher-sounding East London accent.

Where The Streets Are Paved With Both

  • People associate excrement with Oliver Twist, but both sides are featured.
  • Sherlock Holmes also features both in the stories.
  • Black Butler
  • In video games, London is definitely shown to be a mix of both, with perhaps more emphasis on the paved with gold side. In the Street Fighter series, Dudley's home stages are always set in central London and both versions he has had are suitably glamorous, featuring Big Ben, old style Minis, horse-drawn carriages and the Harrod's building in Third Strike. This suits his gentlemanly vibe. London is also featured as a stage in Capcom Vs SNK 2 and is again given a fairly sophisticated look. London features as a stage in King of Fighters '94, which depicts Tower Bridge and a pleasant parkland setting. In contrast to all of the above, Birdie, also of the Street Fighter series, has had some horrible London stages — in Street Fighter, he had a run-down back street and in Street Fighter Alpha 2, his stage was a public toilet at King's Cross station — can't get more excremental than that.

In Real Life, London is very much a combination of the two and there's very much a sliding scale. London does have a rather notoriously high cost of living, so it tends to be like a lot of cities, full of both people who can comfortably afford it, and people who can't but have to live where the jobs are. On one end, you've got ludicrously posh places in the west central part of the city. In places like Holland Park, Belgravia, and Mayfair, the richest people in the world conspicuously consume like it's going out of style. At the other end, you'll find some of the most deprived places in the nation, known as "sink estates", in areas like Peckham, Hackney, and Harlesden. The really poor places — as seen in Oliver Twist — started disappearing with slum clearance in the 1920s and 30s, with the Luftwaffe obliterating the rest (and some posh places too) during World War II. The important thing to note however is that most neighbourhoods are very mixed income. Council estates can be found in the wealthiest boroughs and million pound properties in the poorest.

Various areas of London (we're using the Greater London Authority area, although people in a number of those areas don't always consider themselves Londoners) have their own stereotypes:

  • The Docklands: Home of the former Port of London. Until that closed down, it had the same tropes as the East End, retaining many of them until the 1980s. With the addition of the Docklands Light Railway and massive urban redevelopment, most notably of the Canary Wharf area, it is now perceived as an area of business and yuppie-owned flats.
    • A good portion of Layer Cake is set in and around the Docklands and Canary Wharf and implies that Michael Gambon's character, a powerful gangster-turned-respected businessman, had a major role in gentrifying the area (this is meant as a Shout-Out to The Long Good Friday where a Bob Hoskins character expresses this same plan).
  • The East End: The precise boundaries of this area vary depending on whom you ask. We'll be using the largest definition, the entirety of the "E" postcode area. Was heavily bombed on The Home Front — the most hard-hit area of London in fact. The amount of fiction set here is massive. You've got a lot of Music Halls, opium dens, and many a British-set gangster film is set here. The place is the home of the London Gangster: the locale has a long history of poverty-driven working class crime and is associated with the famous Kray twins. A number of works involving the UK's South Asian community are also set here.
    • The Bill is set in a fictional version of this area and The Docklands.
    • EastEnders whoda thunk it?
    • Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
    • Brick Lane
    • The novels of Martina Cole are mostly set here and reference specific locales (the Ilford Palais dance hall, Oxlow Lane)
    • Call the Midwife is set in Poplar, which is definitely the East End, but is also definitely the Docklands. (Being set in the middle of the 20th Century, there's not much of a difference.)
    • London's Burning is set somewhere in South East London, close enough to the Docklands for them to do the occasional water rescue. "Blackwall" Fire Station is actually the real Dockhead station in Southwark.
    • The Boy Band East 17 took their name from the post code they grew up in.
  • East of the East End: The areas of Greater London that were formerly part of Essex before 1965 and still identify with the latter. There's Barking ("One stop after East Ham" and its variants are a British way of saying "crazy", referencing Barking station, on the District and c2c railway lines), but most notably Romford. The setting of Garth Marenghis Darkplace, it's become a UK synonym for "chav" — the UK equivalent of "white trash".
    • And 'Dagenham', two stops further out on the District Line, is even crazier being 'beyond Barking'.
    • Though the broad Essex/eastern suburbs stereotype can be best summed up by viewing The Only Way Is Essex, there are other more local attitudes to the area. Without wanting to get into too much depth here, one notable feature of Essex is that it is where many of the original residents of East End areas like Spitalfields, Hackney and Statford moved as they were pushed out by Urban Sprawl and the gentrification of and mass immigration into their boroughs. So many cockney tropes these days are most properly applied to Essex rather than East London (which now has more association with immigrants, yuppies and City bankers in many Brits' minds).
  • Soho: Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola. Home to London's Friendly Local Chinatown, as well as the Red Light District. Regarding the latter, expect to see it more during The '70s, as it's quite small now. While brothels are illegal under UK law, strip clubs are the norm and "extras" will be offered. Warning: Britain, being a very wealthy nation, and London, being the place in which most of that wealth is concentrated, has suitably expensive entertainment. The clubs and bars also like to entrap the unwary with "cover" charges they didn't even know they agreed to, meaning that popping in to one for a quick beer and a lapdance can cost you as much as a whole night out. Now an area full of nightclubs and bars, and not really at all seedy unless you know exactly who to talk to, much to the disappointment of tourists. Also has a arty bohemian reputation for jazz bars and the like, as well as being London's Gay Quarter with many LGBT friendly establishments.
  • South London ("Sarf Landun"): Home of The Yardies, but the two most famous things set there are Only Fools and Horses and the new Doctor Who, where it's the home of Rose Tyler. Also the place where Dubstep came from. The parts just south of the river (i.e. Waterloo, Lambeth and Kennington) are effectively a transplanted bit of North London in terms of both culture and appearance.
  • South Bank: The area of along the south side of the Thames river in Central London. If you picture a postcard of London, there's a 90% chance you're picturing the view of Southbank, or the view from it. Home of the London Eye
  • The Square Mile: The area of the City of London, a distinct enclave from Greater London demarcated by distinctive red and white bollards (the colours of the City of London flag) featuring the City’s crest, as well as a squadron of awesome dragon statues guarding the main artery routes into the City. Centre of Britain plc and referred to simply as 'the City'. Not at all a residential area, although 8,000 people do live there, making it the least-populated and smallest of all English ceremonial counties. Stands on the site of the original Roman settlement of Londinium, where the modern city was re-established by Alfred the Great, the King of Wessex, in 886.note  Arguably the most unusual ceremonial county in England, not only due to its small size, but its unique political status, autonomy, and legacy of uninterrupted integrity as essentially a city-state, complete with its own independent police force, within England. Indeed, the City of London has closer parallels to micro-states like Monaco than it does to many other English counties.
  • The West End. Home of a lot of London's famous shopping streets and its theatres. The West End is of course the UK's equivalent of Broadway and a number of musicals do both of them.
  • Westminster: Home to the Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Some of the most visually recognisable real estate in London, often used in opening shots for anything set there, regardless of how often characters actually visit Westminster. Most importantly for Brits, it's where Parliament is. When people complain about the British government, they often refer to it as a whole as 'Westminster' or they gripe about 'Those idiots in Westminster'. Guy Fawkes tried to blow it up once.
    • Whitehall: Home of various offices of the British Government, though not the location of Parliament. Often referred to in short hand when referencing the bureaucracy of the Government.

  • North London: Islington, Shoreditch, Hoxton and so on. Trendy, "artistic", sometimes "liberal" (in the American sense of the word) upmarket areas often shown as being full of pretentious tossers and centrist politicians. Islington is relatively wealthy and "nicer" than the others — here you'll find the "chattering classes". Hotblack Desiato from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is famously named after a firm of Islington estate agents. Also has its less glamorous areas, as portrayed in the novel White Teeth.
  • Camden: Also an arty, trendy area famous for its markets. Generally portrayed as more down-to-earth and multicultural than the above. Lots of drug subcultures - usually soft drugs rather than Trainspotting-style squalor. The main characters in Withnail and I live in Camden. Modern day Camden is generally full of students and other limited income types, and at the weekend it's overrun with 'goth' or 'alternative' stereotypes who think it's trendy.

The Famous Streets of London

London has many famous streets. Some are best known from the UK version of Monopoly:

  • Abbey Road — The Beatles, on the much-homaged cover of their album of the same name, featured the band walking across what is consequently the most famous zebra crossing in the world. Numerous tourists traverse it in a similar manner.
  • Carnaby Street — a shopping district famous during The '60s.
  • Harley Street — Home of many private medical facilities, but not on the board.
  • Old Kent Road — the first spot past GO on the board, this road starts in Walworth and heads South East.
  • Baker Street — Home of Sherlock Holmes (also Basil of Baker Street and Danger Mouse), and the title of Gerry Rafferty's infuriatingly catchy song.
  • Strand — in Westminster, commonly "The Strand", although officially the article is omitted. A cultural hub of 19th century London, which retains several West End attractions today. Its crossing into the City of London is marked by Temple Bar, where it turns into...
  • Fleet Street — a metonym for the British press, who were historically headquartered there. The Fleet used to be a dreadful open sewer, full of a stinking slurry of the most vile rubbish imaginable; any similarity to real persons living or dead is, of course, strictly unintentional.
  • Oxford Street — the main shopping district, home to the flagship stores of many retail chains.
  • Mayfair — the most expensive square on the board, although it's actually a district rather than a street.
  • Bond Street — Technically two streets and a green square on there.
  • Sloane Street — A designer shopping street in Knightsbridge. Also famously the living area of many victorian and 60s artisans. Oscar Wilde was arrested at the hotel for sodomy.
  • Kings Road — Known as a major trend setting street in the 60s. Home of Vivienne Westwood and Mary Quant's first stores. Now a very middle class and somewhat arty shopping district.
  • Brick Lane — Found in the East End of London, and home of the famous street market.
  • Portobello Road — Another street market road in the Notting Hill area, known for its second hand thrift stalls, though its become more up market in recent years. Had a featured song about it in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
    • The antiques and bric-a-brac market at the southern end trades on Saturdays only. The fruit and veg market between Elgin Crescent and the Westway flyover is active Monday to Saturday, with more bohemian trade under the flyover itself. North of that is more of a flea market, although as gentrification surges ever northwards this may be changing. Locals are accustomed to American tourists on Sunday mornings wondering where the market is. They will patiently point out that they really want "Petticoat Lane" (Middlesex Street) market near Aldgate, at the opposite end of the Circle Line.
  • Columbia Road — Location of the Columbia Road flower market.

E Numbers - - The London Postal District system

When you're walking around inner London, you might see codes like E1 and WC3 on the street signs. These are the UK's equivalent to the first five digits of US zip codes, but are far more widely known in the UK, although they only appear on street signs in certain places.

Certain post codes are more desirable than others. E1, the heart of the East End, has now become pretty attractive.

British opposition politicians refer to "a postcode lottery" in terms of public services provision — with different areas having different levels. This is due to day-to-day running of schools and hospitals being devolved to special local authorities, such as an LEA (Local Education Authority).

These are sometimes rendered by their compass points, as in the name of the boy band East 17 (Walthamstow), later E-17. Note that except in the case of EC (1-4) and WC (1-2), the numbers following the compass points are arranged not in geographical order but in alphabetical order of the main borough covered by each number - except 1, which is always the nearest to central London.

There is no NE or S postal code in London - NE is the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in northeast England, S is the city of Sheffield. The codes are:

  • E1-18. The East End. The "East of the East End" area has the RM and IG codes.
  • E20 is used for Walford in EastEnders; this was a fictional code but is now taken for the "Stratford City" development.
  • EC1-4. The city of London.
  • W1-14. Actually two separate postal areas due to the sheer number of addresses in W1 (The West End), it covers inner West London.
  • WC1-2. Camden and Westminster.
  • SW1-20. SW1 is Whitehall. SW19 is Wimbledon. The postcode for Buckingham Palace is SW1A 1AA.
  • SE1-28. South East London. SE10 is Greenwich.SE18 is Woolwich.
  • N1-22. North London, partly going outside the GLA area.
  • NW1-11.

E98 is a code allocated for News International.

There are now sub-divisions for postal purposes, e.g. EC4Y for the Temple area in the city of London.

The London Postal District is far smaller than Greater London, so areas outside it use their traditional county names, such as "Barking, Essex" and the "Brentford, Middlesex" (abolished in 1965 as an administrative county), which is the name of a cricket club.

The entry points

London has six main airports (plus some smaller ones), all of which have featured in fiction at some point. Not all of these are inside the Greater London area.

  • Heathrow (LHR). Formerly London Airport, it's the second busiest international passenger airport in the world (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airport in Atlanta is the trophy holder). In 2008, when its fifth terminal opened, it had a spectacular failure of systems on the first day. It features in the Doctor Who serial "Time-Flight". It was also the departure point in several James Bond novels. It is connected to London via the Piccadilly Line and by the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station.
  • Gatwick (LGW). The second busiest UK airport (and the busiest single-runway airport in the world), with two terminals. It is connected to London via the Gatwick Express train (and marginally slower Southern Trains services) to Victoria Station. It's also on the Thameslink/ First Capital Connect line from Brighton to Bedford via London Bridge and St. Pancras. It features in the Doctor Who serial "The Faceless Ones".
  • Stansted (STN). Not actually in London, being situated near Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire, north east of London. Connected to London via Tottenham Hale and Liverpool Street stations.
  • Luton (LTN). Best known for the airline easyJet, featured in the Docu Soap Airline. Like Stansted above, not in London - Luton being a town in Bedfordshire - but it's only a few minutes away by train so close enough.
  • City Airport (LCY). In the London Docklands. Mostly used by posh businessmen. Notable for its relatively steep angle of approach on landing, which restricts the size of aircraft that can land there. Accessible via the DLR.
  • Biggin Hill (BQH). A private airport, formerly a famous RAF base. Still does an annual air show.

Airlines will often sell tickets to airports they claim to be "London" but are nothing of the sort. A certain Irish airline was fined a few years back for selling tickets from Sydney, Australia to London Prestwick, Prestwick being an airport on the outskirts of Glasgow, a seven hour train journey away. Arguably, Stansted and Luton were under this category for years, until the likes of easyJet started moaning about it.

London is also a major port. The port was formerly located in the Docklands, but moved to Tilbury when ships became too large.

London also has the Eurostar train service to mainland Europe. This used to run out of Waterloo (which features in the film of The Bourne Ultimatum), but has now moved to St. Pancras as of 2007, which frankly needed some love - the only thing that went from there was the Midland Mainline service. It might also have something to do with the fact that someone high up eventually realised that forcing French travellers to arrive at a station named after one of their most famous military defeats was, while funny, also less than tactful.

To get around London by car (going through it most people will tell you is pointless, given the traffic congestion and the congestion charge during weekdays) you'll need to navigate the M25 (AKA the world's largest car park, although not so much since they widened it. Although the way things are going, it'll end up like that again), the motorway which circles most of London (the only gap being the Dartford Crossing which is part of the M25 in all but name). A word to any inexperienced motorists who plan on attempting to use the M25 - don't, it will suck out your soul.

  • This is also because the M25 was made in the shape of the ancient sigil odegra, which translates to "All hail the Great Beast, Devourer of Worlds." It serves as a kind of prayer wheel of constant, low grade evil. Anyone who's spent any length of time on the motorway in question will be completely unsurprised by this.

Other Bits Of London in fiction

  • The red buses. Most notably, the Routemasters, with their open back entrance. The Routemasters were removed by the first Mayor, Ken Livingstone, but were slowly replaced in many routes by a twenty-first century version by his successor Boris Johnson.
    • When London's bus routes were tendered late 1980s, then privatised in the 1990s they began using their own company colours, until the Government realised that it would be bad for tourism if red buses became extinct.
    • TV and films set pre-1939 tend to drive bus enthusiasts crazy by using post-war vehicles. As far as "transport anachronisms" tropes are concerned, this one is almost unavoidable because very few pre-World War II London buses are still around and most of them are too rare and fragile to be used frequently for filming.
  • The London Underground.
  • The black taxis, also massively overused in establishing shots. The Austin FX4s and later Fairways familiar to foreign film and TV watchers are being gradually replaced by more modern-looking TX4 vehicles, TX all-electric cabs, and controversially by Mercedes minivans with four-wheel steering to achieve the legally-required tiny turning circle. Also, they aren't exclusively black: some eccentrics have always gone for other colours (usually maroon, grey or white), but many now carry all-over advertising. Only drivers who have passed the legendarily demanding The Knowledge test of London's geography are allowed to pick people up in the street. As well as their knowledge of London, cab drivers are stereotyped as rabid bigots who lecture passengers on their political views at the drop of a hat. This is no longer a case of Truth in Television (though it used to be), as London is now one of the most multicultural capitals in the Western world (indeed, the current Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is a Muslim whose father was an immigrant from Pakistan and worked as a bus driver). Indeed, most London Cabbies are now more likely to only make pleasant conversation in keeping with classic British reservedness. That said, they are very good to hit up for tourist information.
  • "Pea Soup". London used to have a smog problem due to the burning of soft coal. Following an exceptionally bad outbreak in winter 1952, the Clean Air Act 1956 banned the use of non-smokeless solid fuels, although it took another ten years for the problem to disappear. Nevertheless, it took a while for the message to get through to the makers of some foreign works.
  • Pearly Kings and Queens

See also:

Fun fact: Big Ben has a Twitter account. It's kind of monotonous, though.

Alternative Title(s): London Town