“The Blue Lamp”: West London Then & Now

This post combines several of my favourite things – old black and white films, local history, social history, and photography. The 1949 Ealing Studios film The Blue Lamp (the film that invented Dixon of Dock Green) recently played out on the TV, and having never seen it before I was excited when I noticed many of the locations were just down the Harrow Road from my home.

Doing some research, it quickly became clear that nearly all of the exterior scenes were filmed in in the area, from the Edgeware Road in the East to Wood Lane in the West. Whilst some of the streets were instantly recognisable other scenes were only identifiable by one or two surviving buildings, so I thought it might be fun to go out and take some comparison shots.

A little further research was needed first, and the National Library of Scotland’s 1947-1967 map of London was indispensable in working out how drastically some of the city had changed since the filmmakers took to the streets in 1949.

It’s taken me almost five months and three trips out to complete this project, but here are all comparisons, presented in narrative order – spoilers kept to a minimum(ish)…

The film opens on Bishops Bridge Road, looking south-west towards Bayswater. The original bridge, looking much like Westbourne Bridge, has since been replaced by a much wider structure. The warehouse on the right of the image is the obvious survivor here, currently used by the DDB advertising agency but previously a railway parcels office.

On the right here stood Paddington Green police station. The entire area was obliterated to make space for the Westway. Harrow Road is the main street on the left in the film, but as part of the overpass works it was diverted through where the old station buildings stood, and the original course of the road survives as a stub called Dudley Street. Behind the plastic sheeting and scaffolding the last remnants of the original scene, the houses and the Dudley Arms pub, are being demolished.

A pedestrian underpass very nearby the spot of the old police station has a tiled wall with local imagery, including this still from the film, which we will come to later.

I’ve cheated a little with the night shots and taken the modern day comparisons in the daytime – what can I say, I’m a fair-weather photographer.

Here we’re at Westbourne Park Road Bridge, which leads over the Grand Union canal. Not too may changes to spot here, though I suppose the canals are in a much better condition now than they were when the film was made.

Just looking across to the other side of the same bridge, the scene looks broadly the same, though the bridge is no longer cobbled and the canal house seems to have sprouted another roof.

BL Shot 6 comp

On the corner of Bloomfield Road and Warwick Place, this house is in very much better condition today than it was in 1949. The little extension to the side has been rebuilt too, being set further back with a window now. Interestingly the houses on this street seem to have been renumbered, the old OS map suggests this used to be number 38.

BL Shot 7 comp

On Edgware Road now, the view is considerably different thanks to roadworks once again. The shops south of the Bakerloo line station have all been demolished to allow space for the Marylebone Flyover. To the left the modern day Paddington Green police station sits on the spot the Metropolitan Theatre of Varieties, a key location in the film, once stood.

A little further south down Edgware Road, by the junction with Chapel Street. The Marylebone Flyover now cuts through the scene, and there is very little to find in common between the two views other than the telephone junction box in the middle of the shot. In the film you can see a small Police Telephone Box stands next to this.

BL Shot 10 comp

Up close on the Edgware Road Bakerloo line station, the canopy is the only thing to find in common between the two eras, and even that is not the same one featured in the film.

This shot is taken from Harrow Road, looking up Marylands Road. Apart from all the excess modern road markings, the view is extremely similar – though the pub on the left is now sadly shuttered up for redevelopment.

Coliseum_edited-1

Here is the scene previewed earlier on the tiled wall of the underpass. It’s the scene of the crime, the Coliseum Cinema, on Harrow Road right next to the Grand Union canal. It opened in the early 20’s and closed in 1956, being demolished and replaced by this now slightly dilapidated looking block.

BL Shot 14 comp

Back on Edgware Road, outside the Metropolitan Theatre of Varieties. Paddington Green station and the Hilton Metropole dominate the modern day scene.

BL Shot 17a comp_edited-1

Edgware Road again, a little further to the north. TfL or a predecessor body, has installed a bus stop, but other than that everything is pretty recognisable.

BL Shot 17b comp

This is the same location as the previous shot, just looking more directly across the road. The Police Telephone Box a technology long passed, and the public payphone in the background of the present day version is just about as obsolete.

BL Shot 18 comp

The children are playing in a bombsite just around the corner from the last picture, roughly at the bottom of Adpar Street. A block of flats built on this site makes a precise recreation impossible, but the gable end of Paddington Green Children’s Hospital is recognisable in both scenes.

Canal 2_edited-1

The semi bombed out terrace of houses of Brindley Road backing onto the canal. This is taken where Harrow Road crosses the Grand Union, right opposite the site of the Coliseum. Blocks of flats replace the long-demolished houses and the canal is now full of moored leisure and residential craft making it tricky to recreate the shot precisely.

Canal_edited-1

Another view of the canal, taken from the footbridge which connects Formosa Street to Delaware Terrace. Only the waterway itself and a few chimney pots peeping over from Amberley Road in the distance remain from the original scene, houses and warehouses replaced with a park on the south side and flats on the north.

Registry Office_edited-1

Taken from Chippenham Road, the old Council offices here on Harrow Road remaining very recognisable from the original scene. The cars and crossing technology have moved on a little bit…

Windsor Castle_edited-1

Shut up and looking past its best, the Windsor Castle on Harrow Road, adjacent to the Council offices in the previous picture. There has been a pub with the name on the site since the 1820s. In the 1970s there were drag shows on Wednesdays and Sundays, and later it became a strip pub. Last orders were called in 2009 and the building is awaiting redevelopment.

Amberly Road_edited-1

This is the end of what was Amberley Road. Dirk Bogarde just exited the shambling Amberley Mews on the right of the picture, the site of which is now built over with flats. The far end of the road still exists in a form resembling the scene above, but this end was completely redeveloped in the 70s.

Halfpenny Bridge_edited-1

The footbridge over the Grand Union at the end of Formosa Street. The bridge as-was from the film has been replaced by a more wheel-friendly structure. Cars parked all down the road made it difficult to capture the low angle of the original shot.

Lord Hills Road_edited-1

On the other side of the bridge, Delaware Terrace and Lord Hills Road totally unrecognisable, the old terrace streetform replaced by blocks of flats and open green spaces.

St Mary Magdalene’s Church now almost standing alone, having once been surrounded by terraces of streets on all sides. Looking at the view now it’s hard to imagine the road layout as it once was. So much of this part of London used to consist of Victorian and Edwardian terraces, and so much has been lost. With current tastes for restoring and living in period properties, there are no doubt many who would have preferred that the Second World War and mid-20th Century planning trends hadn’t taken such a destructive toll.

This first shot from the film’s climatic car chase is located on the junction of Holland Park Avenue and Royal Crescent. The houses are in a pristine state compared to how they looked in 1949, and most of them appear to have had loft conversions too. Traffic has become one-way around the Crescent in the intervening years too.

Looking north here up Ladbroke Grove at the junction of Lansdowne Crescent. It’s difficult to make out many major changes, although a gasometer can be spied in the distance in the original shot – probably on the site of the present day Sainsbury’s at Kensal Town.

On Portland Road, this part of the exciting police chase is now totally impossible, with a pedestrianised traffic calming area completely splitting the road in two. The trees and street furniture make it extremely difficult to match the original view, but the 30s block of flats at the centre of the shot are still there behind the foliage.

This is the reverse from the previous scene, looking south down Penzance Place. Again the Victorian terraces are looking immaculate, though the houses on Pottery Lane have been replaced with flats.

The chase continues here up Latimer Road, or at least it was Latimer Road at the time of filming. The construction of the Westway cut the road in two, and this section is now Freston Way which doesn’t continue much beyond the railway viaduct. This leaves the oddity of Latimer Road station on the Hammersmith and City (and Circle) line, just to the east of the bridge here, actually being nowhere near Latimer Road. This rail bridge is also the point where a long demolished viaduct connected this line to the West London railway, you can see the last fragment of it if you look on a satellite image.

A change in the junction with Bramley Road means it’s not possible to accurately recapture the original scene, with trees and lamp posts once again blocking the way. I had to use a wider lens than the cinematographer did in order to get the houses on the right in shot, meaning the bridge appears further down the road. The buildings on that side of the road are all very much as originally featured.

The location work moves rather implausibly at this point up to where Hythe Road meets Scrubs Lane. The roadway under the railway bridge appears to have been lowered, which is no doubt helpful for getting the massive car transporters through to Car Giant behind.

Hythe Road on the other side of the railway bridge. The span nearest appears to have been removed from the bridge. I think this shot must have been taken from a crane or the top of a vehicle, as I couldn’t quite match its height.

Another reversal from the previous shot, the old Rolls Royce factory now the Car Giant headquarters. Modern(ish) cladding disguises most of the pre-war design of the building. This whole area is scheduled for massive redevelopment in the next decade, with a combined Crossrail/HS2 interchange being used as a catalyst to transform the whole Old Oak Common area in a similar way to how the Olympic Games in 2012 were used to regenerate the industrial lands at Stratford.

This is Sterne Street, just off of Shepherd’s Bush Green and very close to Westfield. The very high angle was impossible for me to recapture, but the two houses on the right are still the same.

Right at the end of the film the action moves to White City Dog Track, once the stadium for the 1908 Olympic Games. This is Dorando Close, and the offices on the right are a part of the office complex built for the BBC in the early 2000s. It’s still a tree lined street, although clearly these are younger trees than in the original scene.

So that’s the whole set! There were a few more shots I could have done, and a few more I might have been able to get with a large crane, but hopefully I’ve managed to capture the most important and interesting images from the film and given a modern day context. I’ve really enjoyed working on this bit of cinematic city archeology, I hope you have too!

Technical Note: I’ve used a Nikon DSLR with APS-C sized sensor to take these photographs, the dimensions of the sensor being very similar to those of the 35mm negative frames used to shoot the film. My hope was this would enable to me to capture the same perspectives and angles as the original cinematographer, though in reality it has been very difficult to manage this, just using a zoom lens and my feet to move around and try and work out the camera positions from the time! I don’t think I’ve been 100% successful but overall I’m still pretty pleased with the final results.

(THE BLUE LAMP IS THE PROPERTY OF STUDIOCANAL AND NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.)

 

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