Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for September 30th, 2018

Soho in the Eighties ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th September, 2018

Soho in the EightiesIt is widely acknowledged that Soho bohemia had its heyday in the 20-odd years following the Second World War. My old friend Dan Farson (charming when sober, poisonous when drunk) wrote a successful book called Soho in the Fifties that captured the revels of the age, and in the 1990s, at the request of the National Portrait Gallery, I put together a little volume Soho in the Fifties and Sixties, lavishly illustrated with portraits from the gallery’s collection. Now Christopher Howse, the bearded deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, has taken the story forward a generation, in his new book Soho in the Eighties (Bloomsbury Continuum, £20), which is mainly a collection of stories and reminiscences from his own Soho days and nights during that period. The main venues where the action (or more properly, perhaps, inaction) takes place will be familiar to connoisseurs of Soho’s past, notably the Colony Room, the French pub and the Coach and Horses. In fact, the last-mentioned public house (presided over by the self-proclaimed Rudest Landlord in London, Norman Balon) figures particularly prominently, as Christopher Howse’s favourite drinking-hole. There’s even a convenient sketch map of the Coach’s interior, showing where the regulars often sat. Some of those regulars had been around for decades, leftovers with hangovers from the past, like Jeffrey Bernard, the Spectator‘s “Low Life” columnist, but other characters Howse mentions were new to me. The twin artistic peaks of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud are still visible on the Soho landscape, though the YBA Damien Hirst and his fellows were starting to take over the Colony Room. Howse’s stories are largely the Soho stable of drink, bitchiness and occasional true wit, but it is telling that many of those he recounts actually date from the earlier, heyday, period, when Muriel Belcher still sat perched on her stool in the Colony Room, ready to pounce on any hapless newcomer, and where people still remembered Dylan Thomas. So although there are some amusing passages in Howse’s book, anecdotes scattered like confetti to mixed effect, overall it comes over as a Requiem for bohemian times past.

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