Sex-crazed London, the Garrick Club exposé & the distinguished diplomat’s new walk

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


Good afternoon, London.

The pin for the day – the news story that gets the London Calling show on the road – it’s another first for London. A first for London and a first for England. It’s all over the newspapers that the first person in England to be jailed for cyber flashing was sent on his way to prison by a southeast London crown court. Cyber flashing became a criminal offence in England at the end of January and now one Nicholas Hawkes – he’s got previous, he’s a convicted sex offender – will be a guest of his Majesty for 66 weeks for sending unsolicited photos of his genitals to a teenage girl and a woman. And I expect the court took a dim view of the fact that Mr Hawke’s genitals were fully torqued. Or as a no-nonsense female acquaintance of mine says, witheringly, doing the Nazi salute. Forgive me, but I can’t help but wonder if the penalty was as stiff as it was because Mr Hawke was in a state of arousal. Pitching a tent as the saying goes.

Pretty tawdry, pretty sordid really. But that historic first becomes considerably more interesting when you fit it into some big-picture London history. Take a long view. It’s always the way isn’t it? Suddenly you’re picking your way through a minefield of double entendres. Anyway, yes, ever onward it continues to unfurl, the story of London and sex. From year dot London has been a fleshpot – sodom and gomorrah on the Thames. If it were a house, it’d be what the easily shocked and strait-laced would call a disorderly house. And – bears repeating – that’s from the get-go. I’m thinking of the archaeological dig a while back that unearthed a Roman model of a phallus in Coleman Street. Or the Roman architrave that depicted three prostitutes. We learn from E.J. Burford’s London: the Synfulle Citie that many London street corners were fitted up with a ‘herm.’ Ok, definition time. A ‘herm’ was a short stone pillar of Hermes with an erect penis and prepuce painted a brilliant red. Hermes was the messenger of the Gods in Greek mythology so he got around and his message – well, one of his messages – was pretty clear. But it’s a point that you make over and over again when you’re getting the measure of London. There’s nothing new under the sun here. Those Herms were the cyber flashers of two thousand years ago. It was utterly repugnant, what Mr Hawke did. And it’d be great if the law were able to put a stop to it. But you have to wonder – given London’s history – whether the little Dutch boy has enough fingers for the leaks the dike’s inevitably going to spring. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the episode is the severity of the prison sentence. 66 weeks behind bars. You know your London that jumps out at you because, in Peter Ackroyd’s words, “Londoners are characteristically lenient in matters of sexual impropriety. How can they be otherwise in a city where every form of vice and extravagance is continually available?”

Moving on, today’s Random. Has to be another newspaper story. Yesterday’s huge spread in the Guardian about the membership of the Garrick Club. The paper described said membership as a Who’s Who in a world closed off to women.

Be interesting to know how the Garrick Club dike sprang that huge leak – because its membership book has always been a closely guarded affair. A closed book. Well, it was until yesterday. Anyway, we learn that the Garrick’s 1500-strong membership list includes 150 king’s counsels, 40 lords, 10 MPs, a supreme court judge, five court of appeal judges, eight high court judges, to say nothing of heads of influential thinktanks, law firms, private equity companies, academics, rock stars, senior journalists and one London Walks guide. Nick Day, the prominent actor. Who, incidentally, is doing a Nick Day’s Theatreland Walk for us on the anniversary of the great actor David Garrick’s farewell performance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Garrick’s on Nick’s itinerary. You can ask him about the Guardian scoop.

And that, tidily, brings us to today’s Ongoing. This is the first London Calling podcast in a few days. I’ve gone to ground this past week. Getting the London Walks April newsletter teed up. And I’m going to be unashamed about this – the newsletter’s got well over 13,000 subscribers. We’re thrilled about that. Anyway, this coming issue – it’ll be out next week – is mostly about new walks. I’ve headlined it with Lisa Honan’s new walk, Empire in a Cup, the History of Tea, which will debut on April 1st. Lisa’s of course one of the brightest stars in the London Walks firmament. She’s the distinguished former diplomat. And I mean distinguished. A CBE, which puts her right up there in the British Order of Chivalry. If Lisa were a man she’d doubtless be a member of the Garrick Club. Anyway, many of you will have been on her ground-breaking East India Company Walk. And now she’s bringing out the perfect accompaniment to her EIC walk – this new Empire in a Cup History of Tea Walk. Cue Mick Jagger’s tea drinking habits. The great rock star and serial shagger got me some satisfaction with what he said about the great British beverage. I used it to introduce Lisa’s walk.

The Mick said, “I got nasty habits, I take tea at three.”

Get Mick Jagger in on the act you always get what you want.

I was away. I said, “Wipe that smirk off your face street fightin’ man. Tea has a dark and intriguing history and the global impact of this “innocent” brew is gob-smacking. Please allow Lisa to introduce tea. It’s been around a long long year and you didn’t know the nature of its game. Aww, yeah, the erstwhile Governor of St Helena – the distinguished former diplomat Lisa Honan – will set you straight.” Some Loving Cup. Tea became a national and global obsession and shaped the greatest Empire the world has ever known. It drove the East Company to become drug smugglers as well as, unknowingly, the catalyst for the American War of Independence. That history is hidden amongst the City’s streets and alleyways and Lisa’s going to Shine a Light on it. Now to tie all this together, Lisa’s Empire of Tea Walk and this sex-crazed city – and not forgetting the ever-present Royal Soap opera – let’s keep in mind that England’s most debauched royal, yes, Edward VII, was able to get away with no end of scandal – endless philandering, his harem of mistresses, a shocking divorce case, etc. – because of the British public’s inability to believe that adultery could take place at tea-time.

You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. Emanating from – home of London Walks,

London’s signature walking tour company.

London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company.

And as long as we’re at it,

London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.

That’s the key to everything.

It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for.

And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for.

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question:

Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world?

You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else.

Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing.

It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: By way of example, Stewart Purvis, the former Editor (and subsequently CEO) of Independent Television News.

And Lisa Honan, who had a distinguished career as a diplomat (Lisa was the Governor of St Helena, the island where Napoleon breathed his last and, some say, had his penis amputated – Napoleon didn’t feel a thing – if thing’s the mot juste – he was dead.)

Stewart and Lisa –both of them CBEs – are just a couple of our headline acts.

Or take our Ripper Walk. It’s the creation of the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, the author of the definitive book on the subject.  Britain’s most distinguished crime historian, Donald is, in the words of The Jack the Ripper A to Z,“internationally recognised as the leading authority on Jack the Ripper.” Donald’s emeritus now but he’s still the guiding light on our Ripper Walk. He curates the walk. He trains up and mentors our Ripper Walk guides. Fields any and all questions they throw at him.

The London Walks Aristocracy of Talent – its All-Star team of guides – includes a former London Mayor. It includes the former Chief Music Critic for the Evening Standard. It includes the Chair of the Association of Professional Tour Guides. And the former chair of the Guild of Guides.

It includes barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, a former Museum of London archaeologist, historians,

university professors (one of them a distinguished Cambridge University paleontologist); it includes criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the big one, the Guide of the Year Award)…well, you get the idea.

As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks.

And that’s by way of saying, Good walking and Good Londoning one and all. See ya next time.

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