Behind the scenes with No Time To Die – James Bond

As I mentioned in my No Time To Die film review post, I do a James Bond Tour in London and whilst I was meeting tourists for a Winston Churchill and War Rooms Walking Tour, I noticed that the street their hotel was in was closed off on Google Maps.

It’s a street I know very well and its in the very heart of Whitehall, Westminster and incidentally only about 20 feet from my existing James Bond Walk.

I was both very surprised and not at all surprised that when I arrived there, they were filming the new James Bond film, No Time To Die though it was impossible to get anyone there to admit it to be the case.

They did try dissuading me from taking photos on the street… but I know my rights 🙂 and if it wasn’t James Bond then no-one had anything to worry about. The fact that it was the new James Bond film became rather obvious when Daniel Craig appeared!

I didn’t take a photo of Mr. Craig as it seemed rather rude but he was just a few feet away. Security were keen for me to leave and they weren’t too happy when I took photos of an old Aston Martin with two burly men in side who I presumed to be henchmen in the film. As it turns out, I don’t think they were in the film at all and were likely drivers or other behind the scenes crew.

Fortunately for me, I was meeting my tourists inside the building right next to where they were filming outside and even security laughed when I took a photo or two through the hotel windows!

I didn’t want to post these photos before the film came out and I didn’t expect to be waiting 2 years to post some of them here.

The clip I saw being filmed is when James Bond comes to meet M and a minute section of it is on the trailer above between 53 and 55 seconds but you can see it is the car in my photos.

If you’re coming to London and like James Bond then perhaps you’d like to explore London on my special 007 themed tour. London James Bond Tour – Shaken Not Stirred

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No Time To Die – James Bond Movie Review

This review does contain some unusually massive spoilers for the new James Bond film, please consider yourselves warned or as Q would say…. pay attention 007!

It’s interesting that this is the first James Bond film where in the famous intro 007 shoots an assassin and there is no blood that covers up the sight, perhaps portending something ominous right from the start.

It’s been a long time since the last James Bond film, Spectre. In that time I’ve been running James Bond Tours in London and even been in 007’s actual apartment. Of course lots of things have changed recently and No Time To Die would have originally been released shortly after the arrival of Covid and as sometimes happens with 007, the plot for the film has more than hint of reality sadly as one of the threats facing Bond is a man-are virus that threatens to overrun the planet.

It’s a top secret project not in Wuhan but in the heart of London and goes by the name of Heracles. It is in effect made up of minute DNA-hijacking nanobots and whilst M had it created with apparent benign intent, when it is stolen by SPECTRE it becomes clear that something bad is afoot.

It falls to James Bond to retrieve it but only after an epic 23 minute prologue, full of thrills and suspense and then after the titles we jump five years into James’s retirement in Jamaica, where the CIA’s Felix Leiter stops by and asks him to round up the rogue scientist who was complicit in the leak.

No Time To Die follows the recent Bond films in mashing together a personal story amongst high global adventure but its one with many perhaps unexpectedly tender moments that tie all of the Daniel Craig era films together starting with when Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) encourages him to lay his grudge against Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd to rest and pay his respects to the woman who he both loved and was tricked by in Casino Royale.

The film has one of the very best Bond action sequences and has some tremendous choreography with detailed and foreboding glimpses of what may be about to happen. The perilous motorcycle jumps and multiple hair’s-breadth brushes with death are all suitably gasp-inducing, but on another level so is the shot of Seydoux’s face stricken with sincere terror as the gradual buckling of the reinforced windows of Bond’s Aston Martin as bullets from the surrounding Spectre agents fire endlessly at the trapped car.

One thing I liked is that it has quite a bit of humour in a way if not like Roger Moore’s films then certainly like some of the Sean Connery ones and in a very Bondlike and British style. There are also some rather cool gadgets that are supplied by Q including one that short circuits nearby electronic circuitry which is handy when you’re fighting a Spectre Agent with a bionic eye, the results being quite eye-popping if I say so myself!

The heroes drink quite a bit and not just James Bond but also Nomi who has taken over the 007 codename and is played by Lashana Lynch. They have a relationship that starts with rivalry but flourishes into mutual respect. I have to say that I found Nomi to be completely underwhelming and the weak link in the film, much was made about the fact that there would be a female and indeed black 007 but I thought the actress wasn’t really worthy of it although it must be hard to be 007 but playing second fiddle to ‘our’ James Bond.

On the other side of the corner as the story takes us to Cuba to track down the rogue scientist we meet an apparently novice agent played by Craig’s Knives Out (a fantastic film by the way) co-star Ana de Armas. She brings a lot of pizzazz, flair and glamour and is everything one could hope for… perhaps they will find a way to bring her back next time.

Ana de Armas in Not Time To Die

Eventually Bond and Nomi are led to Lyutsifer Safin, a man with a suitably evil name and played by Rami Malek. He conceals his chemically burned face behind an eerie Japanese Noh mask. Safin has a secret history with Dr Madeleine Swann (Seydoux), Bond’s romantic partner as of the end of Spectre, which drives a wedge between the couple and ushers in the possibility of lasting heartbreak – as if Hans Zimmer’s score’s regular nods towards both We Have All the Time in the World and John Barry’s theme from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service weren’t enough of a hint.

Safin has no intricate motives: he’s simply a creepy psychopath of the old school, with nothing more complex than vengeance and world domination on his mind. Even his fortress is a throwback. A concrete castle on an island in the Sea of Okhotsk, it’s a classic villain’s lair in the tradition of the great 1960s and 70s Bond films with bulky diagonal columns, hidden trap doors, scuttling minions in hazmat suits, and stolen Monets on the walls.

As the story unfolds we find out the links between Dr Swann and Safin as well as a great scene with Blofeld who is now securely held in a facility that would make Hannibal Lecter proud. We find out James Bond is the father of Madeleine’s child and that despite the obvious reasons to think as Bond did, she was always faithful and loyal to him and that Blofeld, Spectre and Safin were to blame for everything.

James and Madeleine are in a tight spot!

As much as this is obviously a James Bond film, its also very much film about Madeleine, from the terrifying moment as a child she sees the masked Safin murder her mother through the motherhood storylines and the action sequences with 007. I think she is a great character and Léa Seydoux plays her wonderfully.

There are so many connections with older Bond films, not just the Daniel Craig era ones but going all the way back to the 60’s. I loved the melancholic Vespa musical interludes but the beautiful use of some of the older themes and prominent use of “All the time in the world” did give a sense of foreboding of what would come though it was unclear who might be the one who bites the bullet.

As it happens in his devotion to Madeleine and his daughter and his ardent pursuit of his duty to his country and indeed the world, James Bond is contaminated by some nanobots that have been targeted at the DNA of those two people he loves the most, meaning that he could never touch them again or indeed anyone who might every come near them. Having sent Safin to hell, James Bond himself decides that he doesn’t want to put them at risk and instead has one last radio conversation with Madeleine as he stoically awaits the missile strike he himself called in from HMS Dragon and within minutes they obliterate the virus producing factory and 007 along with it.

The film ends with M toasting drinks in his office to the worlds most famous secret agent before they all quickly get back to work just as Bond himself did so many times after his friends had died, including in this film Felix from the CIA. Then we see Madeleine and her daughter driving off on a coastal road in Bonds famous Aston Martin…. James Bond will return we are told.

I must say everyone I know who has seen the film and everyone in the auditorium that I was in was quite affected by the conclusion. I was all ready for various endings but I was a bit sad about this one as I really liked the story of the two characters and I wanted a happy ending. I can see why they did it this way especially given Daniel Craig was initially reluctant to make his final film but I know I’m not the only one who in this Covid world, thought it would be nice if 007 could save the world, have his family and not die in the process though to be fair I rather think he sacrificed himself. It did though tie up all the recent films in a very satisfying way but 4 days on, I’m still thinking about and also the people I used to watch James Bond with too.

It will be interesting what approach they take with introducing the next actor and indeed James Bond. It’s always been something of a fudged issue over how different actors take over the role and it would be physically impossible for it to be the same character in the 1960’s and in the 2020’s. Like many, I have always assumed there to be successive James Bonds with Sean Connery to Roger Moore being one, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan being another and finally Daniel Craig being a third given he was the only Bond shown fresh out of training.

I’ve been a fan of Daniel Craig well before he became the star he is today with James Bond and whilst others were sceptical of him in the role, to me I loved him from his very first scene in Casino Royale. I like the realism and more brutal traits he brings to the part. Unfashionable as it is, my favourite Bonds were Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby. It is said that Dalton in particular pioneered the approach that epitomises the recent films but perhaps the wider cinema audience wasn’t ready for it, especially after the wise-cracking Sir Roger Moore.

I too like Sir Roger and whilst I don’t mind some Sean Connery films, they aren’t my favourite and I actually really dislike the Pierce Brosnan ones even though having recently met Pierce, he was every bit as charming as one might think. To me though Daniel Craig will always be the best bond with Casino Royale and Skyfall being his highpoints I think but No Time To Die is only a whisker behind.

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Coronavirus Diary 79 – I have Covid 19 :-(

Morning everyone, I hope all is well. I’ve been quiet but not away. Some of you may have noticed that my 9 year streak of posting at least twice a week has recently been broken. This won’t be my longest post ever which I am sure will be a relief to everyone.

After my close call in August with the emergency services for an ‘S’ type situation, I finally got the opportunity to get some medical tests done trying to get to the bottom of my weird food intollerances. It all snowballed out of control really and I ended up having about 50 tests including for cancer which I was worried about as my illness really is weird and has similar symptoms…. plus every single person in my family has died from it, many at a young age.

I got the all clear from all my blood and organ tests in a few days and am perfect in every way 🙂 but had to wait another week for the cancer results. In the meantime a very dear and witty Excluded friend organised for me to have my first night away from home since 2015 I think.

It was such a great thing to meet them and the next day their family. We had a bit of a VIP day and I felt happy for the first time since January 2020.Last Wednesday my cancer checks came back and if I read them right, I am totally in the clear… at least for tummy and beneath! What brilliant news that was at midday but then at 2pm I started getting really quite ill and after 2 or 3 days of testing on Friday morning I finally tested positive for Covid 19.

I’m actually writing this partly to say hi (and morbidly bye lol if it all goes belly-up) but also I am so exhausted, I can’t get off my home-office chair. I’ve had my 2 vaccines and still rarely go out and am about the last person who still wears a mask even outside in streets as I knew being a medically vulnerable and shielding type person I would get it bad and so it has turned out.

Today (Sunday ) is day 5 which is a bit of a key day especially for people with chronic chest issues. I’m feverish, shivery, achey and sore and have zero appetite which is handy as everything tastes yucky, even water. You can see my very messy bed and 4 pillows showing what a fight it is to breath and sleep even before I woke at 4am which I am sure will help on the exhaustion front.

Hopefully if it doesn’t all go wrong, I will be past the worst on Tuesday and clinically on the mend by thursday/friday. I know I never have things easy and after 2 weeks of cancer checks and worries to find out you have a bad case of Covid is a bit much so a little part of me is expecting to get diagnosed with Aids or some other ghastly illness by Friday tea-time.

Having shielded alone for 15 months and been Excluded without any help from the government since being pushed under that train in February 2020, I can safely say that if this is it, then it was in no way worth being pulled out again.

There is likely no way in the world I can reply to any comments straight away but I just wanted to say Hi. If I have anything to do with it, Boris and Rishi are going to need a bigger dose of Novichok to get rid of me!

It might be a little while before I can post regularly again, let’s hope this won’t be my last! As Elvis would say…. thank-you, you’ve been a wonderful audience.

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Marooned in an abandoned London Underground Station

Have you ever been marooned underground? I know I have as one time I was riding on the Paris Metro at 11am with only two other passengers on the train. The driver made a an abrupt announcement which didn’t make much sense before a few minutes later, the train stopped underground and the lights went out and a little while later we saw the driver walking off past our train in the tunnel. Apparently he’d just had enough of working and was having a break! He asked me if I didn’t hear the announcement and I said I did but I’m British and I thought I misunderstood it. I then asked the two French passengers nearby and they did understand the message but they just didn’t believe it!

Fortunately we were let out and after a bit of disruption were back on our way. Over a century ago however, someone in London wasn’t quite so fortunate.

If you have ever travelled on the London Underground then you sometimes catch a glimpse through the windows the shadowy remains of the platforms and signboards from London’s abandoned Tube stations. There are plenty of them around if you know where to look . Sometimes just by chance, a tube train might even stop by one and as some are used as storage depots or access points, a few of them are even lit up.

These days the train doors will only open when the driver presses the button but what would happen if by some freakish accident, you got off the train in a ghostly dark station and were unable to exit not just because you couldn’t see where you are going but because the exits were sealed off? It’s not hard to imagine a rather horrible protracted ending.

Such a horrific thing actually did happen in 1907 at an abandoned station called South Kentish Town which is in Camden, it was on a line then known as the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway.

The street-level building was built on the West side of Kentish Town Road, close to the junction of Castle Road.The station was originally meant to be known as Castle Road, but the railway company decided against it and eventually painted over these signs that had been created in the tunnels.

The station was never very busy, however, and when it closed during a strike at a nearby power station in 1924, it never reopened.

Shortly after this, a train was stopped by a signal in the tunnels next to the old station and a confused passenger apparently got off and stepped into the darkness by mistake, onto the old station platforms.

The spooky event was remembered in an article in the London Underground staff magazine, T.O.T.

It was immortalised in a poem called The Tale of Mr Brackett about a man who stepped off a train at an abandoned station because he was so engrossed in his newspaper.

First of all, it was so dark he thought he had gone blind. But eventually, he lit a match and it illuminated a station name board and he realised what had happened.

He desperately tried to flag down passing trains, but none of them stopped and the terrified man had to stay on the platform all night long.

In fact, he remained on the station all week, and like some latter-day Robinson Crusoe, he was only discovered after he tore some posters off the wall and set fire to them with his very last match.

Eventually, luckily for the man, a driver stopped his train and picked him up.

The horrifying story was illustrated with six illustrations by FH Stingemore – a man who was responsible for designing London Underground maps at the time.

The story was later made into a kind of horror story in a radio broadcast read out by Sir John Betjamin on the BBC. In this version of the story, the desperate passenger went as far as climbing the lift shaft to try to get out before he was eventually rescued by track workers.

The two platforms at South Kentish Town were eventually converted into an air-raid shelter in World War Two but were later removed and the hallmark ceramic tiles on the walls painted over.

Up above though, the street level building still remains intact and its semi-circular windows and distinctive red tiling give it away as a Tube station.

The ceramic tiles and first floor windows design are the only real evidence above ground that this is an abandoned Underground Station.

It’s been a tobacconist and a Cash Converters though recently it has been converted into an reality Escape Room game where Londoners can pretend they are lost passengers and have a time limit to get out of the abandoned station solving a series of puzzles and clues as they go. You can watch a teaser about it below. It seems that an unlucky passenger over a century ago has been the inspiration for a great business idea. I always like to see old buildings given a new lease of life.

I must admit I don’t have any posts about Robinson Crusoe but you might like to see the resting place of Daniel Defoe who wrote it

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The Sinking of the White Ship a 12th century disaster of Titanic proportions.

The sinking of the White Ship shaped not just a country but in some ways the world but due to its distant setting and the repercussions it caused, it’s largely unknown amongst the general public. Surprisingly though, we know quite a lot about what happened back on the 25th November 1120.

We know from contemporaneous accounts that the ship was white, or at least very light in colour. Perhaps she was lime-washed, rather than actually painted white. At that time, many boats were treated with dark pitch to make them watertight and so a lime-washed boat would have seemed especially bright. We also know that she was huge for the era. The Sutton Hoo ship which is the largest ancient longboat ever found in England only 26 oarsmen; the White Ship had 50… truly massive by comparison.

The White Ship was the fastest vessel of her day, captained by a man called FitzStephen. He had begged King Henry I to honour him with his presence on a trip across the Channel, from Barfleur in Normandy to Southampton. But the King made the fateful decision not to board, to the great frustration of Captain FitzStephen. Instead, Henry proposed that his son and his entourage might enjoy the journey in his place. It was a choice that would change the history of England for ever.

The young Prince William was still a teenager and surrounded by hangers got incredibly drunk. In fact, he was so drunk that he was persuaded that it would be a good idea to have the crew join him in their merriment. In fact they were so drunk that when some priests came to bless their voyage, they were jeered and chased off.

With her crew intoxicated, the White Ship was out of control from the moment she cast off from Barfleur. The oarsmen decided to go as fast as they could in an effort to overtake King Henry’s vessel, which had set off several hours earlier which would have been a crazy thought to anyone sober.

Both the Captain and helmsman both made major mistakes. The mainsail was dropped too soon, and the helmsman miscalculated the whereabouts of the hulking mass of the Quillebeuf Rock that lurked beneath the waves of Barfleur harbour. The White Ship struck the rock, and the Prince and all of his companions tumbled into the freezing water, ultimately dying of shock, hypothermia and drowning. The ghostly wail of the doomed passengers could be heard on the nearby French shore, where it was mistaken for the sound of rowdy revellers.

There is a bit of a twist in this typically medieval tragic-comedy with Prince William might actually having been able to survive. When the vessel first began to take on water, he was placed in a small boat rowed by his bodyguards. However, when he heard his half-sister Matilda, Countess of Perche, screaming for him to save her, William ordered the boat to turn around. This decision was as disastrous as it was compassionate: the boat was hauled beneath the waves by the weight of drowning courtiers attempting to clamber aboard.

The sole survivor of the disaster, clinging to wreckage, was a butcher from Rouen – a man called Berold and it is from him that we owe our detailed knowledge of the story. He had gone on board to collect money owed by passengers, avoided getting drunk, and so became the lone witness to one of the most momentous events of his age.

When Henry I was informed of the catastrophic loss of his children, and of many of greatest subjects, he collapsed, screaming. They say he never smiled again, during the remaining 15 years of his life. Whether or not he ever produced another smile, he certainly never produced another heir. The result of the shipwreck was civil war as a nephew of Henry I, Stephen of Blois excused himself from the ship shortly before it set sail, it is thought suffering from sickness and diarrhoea by having drunk far too much!

No one saw it at the time, but it was a seismic turning point, perhaps among the most decisive in English history. The young royal house of Normandy went into the waves along with William, and England set sail on a different course, soon descending into a civil war that ravaged the country for two decades as the weak and ineffective King Stephen manoeuvred himself onto the throne which the formidable Matilda battled for in long drawn out period known as the Anarchy. Things became so bleak that one monk lamented in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that “Christ and his saints slept”.

Most obviously, if the White Ship had made it safely across the Channel, a lot of England’s history would never have happened or would at least have occurred differently. Thomas Becket would not have been martyred and become one of the most venerated saints in Christendom. There may have been no Magna Carta, as John would not have had all the lands in France to lose, and Richard III would not have murdered the uncrowned child king and his brother in the Tower. The obscure Henry Tudor would never have taken the crown at Bosworth. And no-one would have heard of the ruthless, scholarly Henry VIII or the chaos of his marriage bed. Indeed, there may have been no break from Rome. King James VI would never have ridden down from Scotland, and his son Charles I would not have been beheaded for England to briefly become a republic.

But the wreck also heralded a more profound change in England’s political culture. In the century before the catastrophe of the White Ship, the country had seen a carousel of Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian and Norman rulers, with stability only emerging after 1066. Had the captain of the White Ship been less drunk, England’s history may have been that of a cross-Channel empire centred on Normandy.

Instead, the arrival of the Plantagenet chancers under Matilda’s son Henry II brought a grander vision, via their control of Anjou and Acquitaine, and they eventually saw themselves as rulers of England and France. Although England lost, the Hundred Years War was a crucible that defined the country as separate from France, with the old language of the Anglo-Saxons becoming its defining expression.

If the Ætheling had lived, the subtle progression of events that saw medieval Britain turn into Early Modern Britain would have been guided by very different hands. With no Tudors or Stuarts, perhaps even the settlements in the 13 colonies of what became the United States would not have happened as they did. The Anglosphere empire itself may never have emerged.

In the last year or two a series of expeditions has been run to track down the stricken White Ship. Almost within minutes, divers believed to have found the remains, helped largely by the fact that the rock it struck hasn’t really moved at all in the last 900 years! Further dives are planned to verify the discovery with the hopes that some objects will be retrieved for display.

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The Englishman who invented an American fast-food icon

Everyone loves a hotdog don’t they? I know I used to eat a lot of them though I’ve not had any for about 20 years, partly that’s because it is hard to get gluten free hotdog bread rolls and partly as I prefer actual sausages in bread rolls. Nevertheless, hotdogs can be a fast and tasty way to banish hunger pans

Hotdogs though are credited as being invented by Harry M. Stevens from London though spent much of his childhood in the city of Derby. In 1871, aged 14, he was working as a puddler, an arduous and often dangerous occupation converting molten pig iron into wrought iron. Five years later he married Mary Wragg and in 1881 the couple were living at 21, Russell Street and Harry had changed jobs and worked as a potato vendor.

Around 1882 the family emigrated to the USA, settling in Niles, Ohio where Harry found work as a smelter in a local steelworks. But when a strike closed the works, he was forced to find alternative employment. Among the many jobs he undertook took to make ends meet was the one that would take him all over the north-eastern United States and would eventually lead him to New York.

Harry M Stevens

He became a travelling bookseller. From the Complete Works of Shakespeare, through the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant to a biography of General Custer, Harry Stevens walked from door-to-door peddling the latest page-turners. But, as good a salesman as Harry was, this was never going to set him on the road to a fortune. It was while taking time out from a heavy day’s selling to watch some sport that Harry came upon an idea that would.

Much like myself, Harry was an Englishmen who had fallen in love with baseball but the complex scorecards sold to spectators frustrated him. He decided he could do better and created a simple-to-follow version that made it easy for spectators to identify each player. It proved so popular that it became the model for the scorecards that, to this day, are sold in ballparks right across the USA.

Harry began to sell his idea to more and more ballparks, eventually acquiring the rights for scorecard and refreshment concessions at several Major League ballparks, including the famous Polo Grounds, variously home to the New York Yankees, Mets, and the NFL’s Giants.

It was here that Harry happened upon his second great idea. He noticed that some fans would become frustrated as they missed important moments of action on the field when taking a drink from their bottle. His idea is another that we still use today selling his bottles of soft drinks with drinking straws!

All of this though was just small fry compared to his third invention which is what really cemented Harry’s name in baseball history. Although his usual fare of hard-boiled eggs and ice creams were popular during the warmer months, Harry realised that what was really needed on those colder days at the start and end of the season was a hot snack. So he sent out his vendors to purchase as many of the local “dachshund” sausages as they could find.

They were immediately popular: tasty, warming and convenient, thanks to Harry’s unique selling point – serving them wrapped up in small bread rolls. They were a rip-roaring success, so much so that before long Harry’s carts were set up on street corners across New York. Others sought to copy him and soon local versions of the snack where being sold right across the nation.

All manner of local names were given to them from “frankfurters” to “red hots”, “wieners” to “wurst”, but for the origin of the “hotdog” we have to go back to Harry Stevens and his “dachshunds”. Looking for something quirky to illustrate a day at the ballpark, Tad Dorgan, cartoonist for the New York Sun, was inspired to draw a cartoon of a dachshund dog smeared in mustard and wrapped in a bun. Whether he was simply unable to spell “dachshund” or judged it too long a word, Dorgan’s caption read simply: “Get your hot dogs here!” Thus an American icon was named.

Because he had a knack of recognising what each crowd wanted at which time of year, Stevens’ empire grew quickly. Harry told one reporter: “Baseball crowds are great consumers of hot dogs, peanuts and bottled drinks. Heavier food is popular at racetracks. Prizefight crowds go in for mineral waters, near-beer (low-alcohol beer) and hot dogs. A boxing crowd is also a great cigar-consuming crowd. Chocolate goes well in spring and fall, but the hot dog is the all-year-round best seller.”

His knack paid off. When he died in 1934, Harry Stevens was a millionaire and then some. His family business became an enormous catering empire and “Harry M. Stevens” was one of the most recognisable names at American sporting venues. He even featured on his own cigarette card. He had offices at three of New York’s biggest sporting venues, and a suite at the Waldorf Hotel. His life ended in an apartment at the Murray Hill Hotel. His funeral was a star-studded affair – it was reckoned that some 500 major sporting stars were in attendance.

Some years after his death an auction of his memorabilia were held. Among the items was a photograph of Babe Ruth, the greatest baseball player of all time. Written in the Babe’s own hand was a simple, heartfelt, message: “To my second dad, Harry M. Stevens. From Babe Ruth. December 25 1927.”

Harry M. Stevens as depicted on a cigarette card (remember those!!)

Harry Stevens may have rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, but he kept in contact with his old hometown and made several trips back to Derby, putting his newfound American wealth to good use. In May 1928, Thomas Coleman of Litchurch Wesleyan Chapel told revellers at the chapel’s Sunday School Anniversary: “Harry M. Stevens of New York still retains great interest in the work at Litchurch, and yearly sends a gift of £15 to help on the work in the Sunday School.”

Meanwhile, he made a sizable donation to help construct a new Wesleyan chapel on Davenport Road. During the Second World War, his surviving family made a donation to the British Red Cross to purchase an ambulance in Harry’s name.

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Following a fox around St Pauls Cathedral

I’ve written several times in recent years on the green nature of London and even how it is the worlds first National Park City. I have a best-selling book in the shape of Secret Gardens of the City of London as well as various tours on those same gardens, canals, rivers and woods.

Earlier this week there was a little surprise even for me. I was trying with no success to get into St Pauls Cathedral which was closed due to a total lack of visitors in London 😦 and at 11am, in broad daylight in August a fox appeared and it brazenly trotted across the front of St Pauls as if it owned the place which with no people around, it pretty much did.

It had something in its mouth, I stupidly thought for a moment it was some sort of ball or toy, forgetting the fox wasn’t a dog or any sort of pet but a wild animal. In fact it was carrying a chickens egg in its mouth so delicately it remained intact without cracking.

Foxes are of course supposed to be nocturnal animals and though they are now famous for living in the suburbs, we were miles from there. I decided to follow him to see what he was up to and 2 or 3 minutes away, he found a secluded spot and decided to eat his treasured egg.

I took a little video which you can see this unusual sight right in the very heart of the City of London.

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The Festival of Bells 2021

A few weekends ago, I was out early in London, practicing a walk along some of the ghostly lanes and secret passageways that make up the old Roman City and I didn’t know that my day would be hijacked but not this time by a ghost (for I have a photo of two I met last year) but almost the opposite of a ghost, the sound of Angels from across the City.

The day started at 9:20am with the ringing of Great Paul at St Paul’s Cathedral in the presence of the Lord Mayor and the Bishop of London. This is the largest swinging bell in the UK and has not been rung for over 10 years. Great Paul is the largest bell ever cast in the UK and the largest church bell in the British Isles. Its total weight is 16.7 tonnes.

You can see a video of the ringing here, this is actually not even St Pauls at its finest as later on in the day the great bell was supplemented by some of the other bells in the cathedral.

At 9:30am, the cries of Great Paul were answered by the ringing of the 12 Bow Bells at St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside and then one by one, other churches in the City.

Throughout the day 165 bells from the towers of 19 churches rang out. This included the Royal Jubilee Bells at St James Garlickhythe, the ancient 16th century bells at St Bartholomew the Great, and the Coronation Bells at St Olave, Hart Street. The day included full peals of over 5,000 changes lasting 3½ hours at St Magnus the Martyr and St Michael’s Cornhill, and 2 carillon recitals at All Hallows-by-the-Tower. Over 150 ringers came into London to take part in the day’s festival.

It’s not the first time that I have stumbled across the Festival of Bells without expecting it but this time was better as I wasn’t working and could stay and enjoy the bells and without cars or planes, in a similar way to how they must have sounded centuries ago.

Doing several unique tours in the City or Square Mile such as my Secret Gardens or Roman tours means I’ve become familiar with what all the church steeples look like from far off and even recognise the differing sounds of the peels of some of the church bells.

Of course Bow Bells are a little bit special as it is said that you can only be a true Cockney (Londoner) if you are born within earshot of the bells.

Anyway, I got well and truly diverted from my planned walk as I spent almost an hour, experience the full majesty of the most famous bells in the City of London. The funny thing is that when you listen to the bells in person for a extended period of time, they seem to take on a vocal like quality. I spoke to one or two others who agreed that it sounded like we were listening to Angels.

If you’d like a little look around this very old but virtually unvisited (by tourists at least) part of London, then click on my new free video below.

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My new video tour of London

Given the total lack of tourists still in London and my now approaching almost 19 months with no work or any form of government support, I’ve been busy working on my latest video tour.

This one is based on my original 3 hour walking tour and visits just about every famous sight in Westminster (London) though it turns out with no crowds or tourists, I do this tour in just under 2 hours on this video.

I filmed this tour back in November 2020 at the very height of lockdown and at a time when London usually looks quite beautiful, with the colourful autumnal leaves falling in the parks and the white stone buildings coming into their own as they do in the winter months.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

It’s all filmed on a 360 degree camera so you can scroll around in every direction as the tour proceeds, something that comes into its own on this tour when there is almost always multiple points of interest throughout the tour. Walking through the Royal Parks or Trafalgar Square with the fountains running on both sides of your is almost like being there.

On this tour we go from Westminster Bridge with its famous views over the River Thames to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square. Then to Whitehall home to The Cenotaph, Horseguards Parade and Downing Street amongst other things.

Maybe the best photo I’ve ever taken in Whitehall, London.

After that we leave the governmental part of Westminster and explore Trafalgar Square, Nelsons Column, Admiralty Arch, the National Gallery and those famous fountains and lions before heading up to Covent Garden. Then onwards through Leicester Square, home of film premiers and through China Town to Picadilly Circus. 

We’ll travel up Regents Street and walk through one of the oldest and most stylish old shopping arcades in the world as we pass through Mayfair and then into St James and the Royal Parks.

Of course no visit to London is complete with seeing Buckingham Palace and we’ll visit there, St James Palace and see a few other Royal residences along the way before we make our way back to where we started under the shadow of Big Ben.

The tour lasts 1 hour 51 minutes and costs £16 to view from the comfort of your own home so you can see a little bit of London without getting on a plane and in the process, give me a little of income too 🙂

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Exploring some of the cute and colourful mews off Brompton Road

A few days ago I found myself at the Victoria & Albert Museum and afterwards with a bit of time to spare and still entirely without any tourists, I decided to take a stroll to properly explore some of the lanes and mews that are just off the busy Brompton Road where Harrods is.

Whilst Harrods and much of that part of Knightsbridge is often extremely busy and perhaps a little distastefully ostentatious to locals, just a few minutes walk away takes you to a very different area. Classy, understated, traditional and exactly where I would live if I had to live there which is why the streets were home to all manner of British actors as well as the occasional shy and retiring Hollywood star with screen heroines such as Ava Gardner.

The heathland village of Brompton was first recorded in 1294 and its name derives from Old English words meaning ‘farmstead where broom grows’. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s coat of arms is topped with a sprig of broom representing Brompton.

The marshy ground was drained in the 16th century and converted to fruit gardens. The Brompton Park nursery was established here in 1681 and has given its name to the Brompton stock: a large, usually red, biennial variety of the species Matthiola incana.

From around 1800 the area between Hyde Park and Brompton Road began to be developed in a piecemeal series of small streets and squares. The squares were and still are populated by grand buildings but nearby were the stables and modest homes of the servants who worked for their betters and as with other parts of London, over a few centuries they have become some of the most desirable places to live.

A year ago I wrote on the The (Deserted) Mews of Mayfair and it seems many parts of London are as deserted as ever but one gets the feeling that these particular mews are always quiet which I think exactly why the people who live there, love them so much.

Picturesque Mews

The blue terrace house above has obviously myself with blue and white decor and olive trees out side the front door. I’d guess their house is worth 10 times mine though. The house in the distance on the left was one of the homes of actor Sir Alec Guinness who of course starred in dozens if not towards a hundred films.

Me being artsy.

Of course if I were truly artsy then I might cut out the traffic cone on the edge of the photo! This corner was famous across Britain in the 1980’s and early 90’s as the setting for an iconic VW Golf car advert. Personally I’d think a VW around here would be more for the cleaning staff rather than residents!

Beautiful Mews

The view of this mews could be said to be out of this world which would be apt in someways as famed actor Sir Terrence Stamp used to live on the left. Of course he has played many roles but I always think of him as General Zod from the Planet Krypton who came so close to beating Superman 40 odd years ago. For some reason I often prefer the baddies in films. Darth Vader and General Zod were much more my people than Luke Skywalker or Superman.

Incidentally Sir Michael Caine lived further down the street when his career was just starting off and the pink building on the right which is about as long as a train carriage and no deeper than 3 feet and in places much shallower, recently sold for almost £1million so it gives a clue as to what the proper houses are worth.

From Russia With Love

The street above is another lovely Mews and in the distance you can see the spire of a Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

Going potty!

You’d never know you were in the heart of London would you?

Horrifyingly gorgeous!

This old mews has been on-screen a few times including one of my favourite 60’s shows, The Avengers, a crime-fighting show with often sophisticated villains and the even classier Emma Peel played by Dame Diana Rigg and John Steed who was played by Patrick Macnee.

Whilst just on the right was a location in the last great Alfred Hitchcock film, Frenzy!

Brompton Oratory

And then as I was just about finished, I caught a lovely glimpse of Brompton Oratory, a Roman Catholic Church. The photo also gives a glimpse or what many of the streets in this area are like. The house on the right was home to actor Jack Hawkins who appeared in countless films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Zulu, The Cruel Sea and The Bridge Over The River Kwai whilst one or two doors down was the home of Charles Gray who famously played Blofeld in James Bond.

Given the distinctive nature of the streets and my knowing all these house locations just from memory, it makes me wonder whether I have a new walking tour. There is so much more to London than the famous sights!

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