The Today in London History Bulletin (December 26)

The Sex Pistols launch the Today in London History Bulletin (it’s December 26, 1976)


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

A year ago – December 26th, 2021 – I faced off here with a blank piece of paper. Had this little spark of an idea, an urge. Or, if you prefer, a question. It’s Boxing Day. In history, what happened in London on Boxing Day? Fished those waters for a while. And ended up writing about a wedding on December 26, 1767. The wedding took place at St James’ Church, Piccadilly. I remember being delighted at the bride’s maiden name: Mary Monday. Lovely name, Mary, the Jewish carpenter’s wife, with her brand new infant son. But also – and completely related of course – merry as in God rest ye merry Gentlemen and Merry Christmas and making merry and, well, I didn’t know it at the time, but we were on our merry way with the Today in London History podcast. And of course marry as in marry, tie the knot, wed. Pity that December 26th in 1767 wasn’t a Monday. 

How very merry a day that would have been. Beyond perfect. Wasn’t to be, though, December 26th, 1776 was a Thursday. But never mind. And yes, we’re almost there – just need the bridegroom’s name. It was Charles Fortnum. Yes, of Fortnum and Mason’s.

Anyway, I told the story. And we had a podcast. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d just launched a ship. A ship headed off on a year-long cruise. A cruise that was a Today in London History podcast for every day of the year. That cruise was completed yesterday, December 25th. 

We dropped anchor, docked, tied up. 

So here we are on December 26th a year later. It’s another launch. On the Christmas Day podcast I speculated a bit about where we might be next with the London Walks podcast. I said I’ve got a diary full of Today in London History entries. And it seems a shame to keep them under wraps. But I stressed that what I can’t do is spend five hours a day for another year – or more than one year – giving each of those events a full-scale treatment. Said what I envisioned was perhaps a daily Today in London History bulletin. Sometimes just a line or two. Sometimes the old original fuller treatment. And added that not confining myself and the project so narrowly would make it possible to range further afield with the London Walks podcast output.

So here we are. Setting out afresh. Once again, on Boxing Day. And if this is a launch, well, I see it as launching one of those little paper lanterns – in the spirit of that beautiful Japanese festival of Toro Nagashi – literally floating lanterns.

So here we go – for our first Today in London History bulletin, we have an event that took place on December 26th, 1976. It took place in a converted church hall in Highbury New Park. And it gets the nod because of the almost seamless transition from the subject of the Christmas Day Today in London History podcast – yesterday’s, the one that wound up our year-long cruise. That podcast was about the Queen’s first-ever Christmas Day broadcast. How appropriate then, that this first ever Today in London History bulletin should be the headline: On December 26th, 1976, in London the Sex Pistols recorded “God Save the Queen.” 

Two centuries and a decade and a year after Mary Monday married Charles Fortnum. 

Merry old London, you gotta love it. It’s got a sense of occasion. And sometimes pretty good timing.

But don’t go away. There’s more. An instance or two of that aforementioned ranging further afield. I’m looking out the window at a little robin giving his all. And that’s brought to mind that wonderful Douglas Gibson poem.

Goes like this:

The snow has melted now,

Uncovered on the lawn

The holly that we threw

Out when the year was done.

The crimson berries glow

Brilliant against the green,

And on a sculptured bough

Hard, black as ebony,

A robin-redbreast flings

Into the winter sky

His little sparks of song

Like promises of Spring.

How’s that for a send-off? How’s that for getting our little floating lantern on its way?

You’ve been listening to the Today in London History bulletin. 

You’ve been listening to the Today in London History 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: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won 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 Londoning one and all. Nothing to add except… Welcome back! You were sorely missed. See ya tomorrow.

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