London Walks guides know things about London other people don’t know. Two London Walks guides – David and Justin (Justin’s the London Walks James Bond expert) – were out “scouting locations” in Mayfair on December 11 with filmmaker Jon Klein. Twenty-fours later Justin was doing a James Bond walk that was going to have along a couple of former Bond girls and Daniel Craig’s double. So, naturally, that walk got filmed. And on a certain little-known but very special Mayfair street David and Justin started swapping stories about what they know about that street. This podcast is the result.
Must be ten, maybe 15 years ago now. And I can’t remember who the guide was Mary was talking about. But I remember what she said.
“He knows things about London other people don’t know.”
She said it about a specific London Walks guide. But in fact, it’s applicable to every single London Walks guide.
And that brings me to last night. And the title of this podcast.
Two London Walks guides and a filmmaker were out walking last night. In Mayfair, as it happens.
The two London Walks guides were me, David, and Justin. Justin’s our James Bond expert.
The filmmaker was Jon Klein. Interesting guy, wonderful guy, Jon. Thirty years ago he was the guitarist for Siouxsie and the Banshees. Over the last decade or so he’s reinvented himself as a filmmaker. My daughter Katy knew Jon. She introduced him to us. And one thing led to another. Result: he’s made probably about two dozen of the thirty or so London Walks video trailers.
We’ve been very lucky with all of that. Jon came along at the right time. Or I suppose you could say we hooked up with him at the right time. He was just starting out as a filmmaker and that meant that, really, we could afford him. Were we to come along now, he’d be out of our price range.
But in the way of these things, a friendship developed, Jon became part of the London Walks family, part of the London Walks team. One of the few “civilians” – that word’s in inverted commas – to ever gain access to the inner sanctum. The inner sanctum is “the guides’ party.” We hold them twice a year – a Christmas party and a midsummer party. The reason for those parties is that guiding isn’t like most jobs. When I was a journalist we all worked in the newsroom – unless we were on an assignment out in the field, either in the UK or overseas. So we rubbed elbows with our colleagues in that newsroom every single day when we worked. Guiding isn’t like that. A guide is a lone wolf. You don’t see your colleagues. Very much anyway. So we hold those biannual parties to get everybody together. At least a couple of times a year. Yeah, let’s use the cliched phrase: amongst other things those two parties are team building occasions.
But the point is they’re very much “restricted access” occasions. Exclusive’s the word. They’re for London Walks guides and only London Walks guides. You can count on the fingers of one hand the “civilians” – inverted commas again – who’ve received a rare and coveted invitation to a London Walks party. Coveted because – a lot of the guides being thesps, being actors – they do “turns”. Toward the end of the evening the party turns into a variety show. Shaughan, for example, always writes and performs monologues that are an absolute hoot, Simon does his wicked and gobsmackingly perfect Dame Edna Everage impersonation – he did one for Mary’s birthday weekend – this is that weekend. That most recent impersonation, it’s hot out of the oven, will go up here on this podcast one of these days.
So you don’t need to take it from me, you’ll hear for yourself how pitch-perfect Simon’s Dame Edna is.
Adam does some of his stuff with his guitar and that rich singing voice of his.
Andrew is a professional standup comic. So we get a comic routine. Well, you get the idea.
The bottom line is a London Walks guides party is a good time. There’s a lot of talent there. As I said, the evening turns into a pretty special variety show.
But – bears repeating – the guides’ parties are “in-house”, as it were. Outsiders don’t get in. Well, four or five “civilians” have been invited, have got into that magic circle over the years. And it’s a real honour. And Jon Klein, our English filmmaker, is one of them. That’s how family Jon is, how much we rate him.
Don’t know if you noticed that adjective that just floated by. Our English filmmaker. That’s because we’ve also got a gifted American filmmaker. A wonderful guy from Mississippi named Jim Albritton. Jim’s made getting on for a dozen London Walks trailers. And how we wish he lived in London. We only get him when he’s over here. More’s the pity. Very much looking forward to Jim’s next trip to London. May it be sooner rather than later.
Anyway, if you get a chance, take a look at their stuff on www.walks.com.
I joke about Jon that there’s something uncanny about him and that camera of his. He turns out with that camera, stuff happens.
The single best example is the film he made of the distinguished crime historian Donald Rumbelow’s Jack the Ripper Walk. Donald is, as The A to Z of Jack the Ripper puts it, “internationally recognised as the leading authority on Jack the Ripper.” And Don’s a London Walks guide. So for sure, we made a film of Don’s Ripper walk. A film shot by Jon Klein.
Anyway, London Walks has conducted that Jack the Ripper walk thousands of times. But we’ve only filmed it twice. The first time it featured Don. (Steve Noonan, the Royal Shakespeare Company actor, featured in our second Ripper film.)
Anyway, the night Jon was filming Don’s Ripper walk – that night – I mean, you can’t make this up – there was a six-foot five-inch punk with a pink mohawk on the walk.
The only time we’ve ever had a six-foot-five-inch punk with a pink mohawk on the walk turns out to be the night Jon Klein is out there with his camera.
It’s uncanny. It’s become a thing. We talk about it here. Jon turns out with that camera stuff happens.
And as a matter of fact, that night was an embarrassment of riches. Because for good measure someone else on the walk brought along their Dalmatian, what used to be known as a fire engine dog. White dog black spots. They were visuals to die for – and it just landed in our lap, just happened. Something uncanny about Jon Klein. He turns up with that camera stuff happens.
So I’m really looking forward to talking to Justin tomorrow. And then to Jon. Because Jon was out filming Justin tonight. Which is why the three of us were out last night. We were scouting locations, so to speak.
There’s a big association of professionals – I’m not going to go into any more detail about who they are – who’ve booked Justin for a whole series of James Bond walks for their members.
Tonight was the second one in the series. I found out yesterday morning that a couple of former Bond girls – from Live & Let Die and Octopussy – were going to be on tonight’s walk. As was Daniel Craig’s double. And a saxophonist who did a number for us at a private club.
Well, you can imagine. I was salivating. I don’t care how flat broke we are – don’t care how much red ink we’ve hemorrhaged since last March – I said to myself, “Whoa! no way are we going to pass that one up.
Former Bond girls on Justin’s Ian Fleming – 007 walk – Daniel Craig’s double on Justin’s Bond walk – no way we’re not putting Jon Klein on the case.”
So that’s what we were doing last night. Out in Ian Fleming’s and James Bond’s London. Scouting locations. Justin showing Jon where he’d be standing, letting Jon get a feel for the light, etc.
Which brings me to the label I stuck on this podcast. Swapping Stories.
And put me in mind of Mary’s remarking about that London Walks guide all those years ago, “he knows things about London other people don’t know.”
We were near the end of our scouting locations jaunt – moving along a not particularly well known Mayfair street – and Justin and I started, well, swapping stories. Jon was bemused no end.
It must have been sort of like watching a long rally in a tennis match. As it turns out there are several good Ian Fleming-James Bond connections in that street. That’s why Justin took us there. I know that street fairly well. And I had no idea that all that James Bond stuff is there, oven-ready as it were.
But as it turns out, some of the stuff I know about that street was news to Justin.
Passing Number 15, I said, “well, I might have one for you Justin. Did you know that exactly a century ago – 1920 – Bruce Ismay, the fabulously wealthy shipowner, moved into this house.
And lived here until he died in 1937.
Bruce Ismay? Name ring a bell?
Let’s zero in: The White Star Line.
Let’s zero in even further: the Titanic.
Bruce Ismay of course was one of the survivors. Came in for a lot of stick because he got himself a place on Collapsible C, one of the Titanic’s four canvas life rafts.
Collapsible C was in fact the third to the last boat to leave the ship on the starboard side. Bruce Ismay got himself onto that life raft knowing full well that there were a lot of people, including women and children, remaining on the lower decks. 705 people survived. Bruce Ismay, the owner of the White Star Line, was one of the 705. Over 1500 people weren’t so fortunate. They went down with the Titanic.
Parting thought, According to family members, the Titanic was never mentioned in Ismay’s presence.
And then on the next corner, the house of the famous American actress Tallulah Bankhead. During the eight years, in the 1920s, that she was in London.
She was known as the Wham from Alabam.
Naughty girl. Had over 500 love affairs. With men and women. She once said, “Daddy – Daddy incidentally would go on to become the Speaker of the House of Representatives – anyway, Tallulah Bankhead said, “daddy warned me about men and alcohol, but he never warned me about women and cocaine.”
And it wasn’t just her sex life that was in the fast lane. This southern belle smoked over a hundred cigarettes and consumed two bottles of bourbon a day.
Marlene Dietrich, who did some pretty fast-living herself, called Tallulah Bankhead “the most immoral woman who ever lived.”
It just gets richer and riper, the Tallulah Bankhead story. Tallulah had her own lion. Not in London, in the States, but still.
Her own lion named, wait for it, Winston Churchill.
The lion ended up in the Bronx Zoo when, as Tallulah put it, he began biting people’s ankles.
But talk about the limelight, talk about being a 1920s superstar. Her fans were known as “the gallery girls.” And when the Wham Alabam made an entrance the gallery girls were ecstatic. They’d chant, Tallulah, Tallulah. Or sometimes, Tallulah, hallelujah.
Two final notes. Incredibly, this 1920s superstar was still glowing embers if not ablaze in a completely different, much more recent era. The 1960s. Her final public appearance was in 1963 on the Johnny Carson show with, wait for it, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
And finally – and this is probably the primitive, unreconstructed male in me, but I cannot walk by that house, look at that front door, without thinking about one of Tallulah Halleluah’s party tricks, which was to throw a party there, and when guests arrived and rang the doorbell, she’d answer the door, stark naked. Not always. But often enough to whet appetites, shall we say.
Well, I hope you can see why filmmaker Jon Klein was bemused when he walked along that Mayfair Street last night with two London Walks guides.
And Justin and I got in the London Walks guides’ equivalent of a long tennis rally. And no, I don’t know who won the rally – and whether the winner came at the net or was a passing shot from the baseline.
I do know that I like seeing London through the eyes of my colleagues.
That’s it for tonight.
Good night one and all.
All the very best to all of you.