The hidden star of Luther, Paddington, and so much more: London

London! Image: Wikipedia Commons.

Having just finis­hed the latest season of Luther, I can’t help but feel that one of its stars didn’t get the praise they deserved. In many ways, it was this star that really made the show; the perfect addition to every episode. They added to the mood in every scene. Yet they went uncredited. I’m talking, of course, about London.

While it would be a stretch to brand what is the work of a good TV location scout a character in its own right, Luther is one of a long line of shows and films that portrays the city with a personality.

Shown through the eyes of the fanatical DCI John Luther, London is an accomplice to the murderers who prowl its streets. Behind every service door and construction board is the lair of a serial killer. No one is safe. The city offers nothing in terms of protection for innocent victims; not on the buses, not on the residential streets and not even in their own bedrooms. London is a character to fear.

But like all good actors, the city is capable of playing completely different roles.

Consider the London of the Paddington films. Just as Luther’s London is foreboding, Paddington’s is a city that welcomes an immigrant bear with open arms; full of colourful streets and even more colourful characters. Paddington was even christened by the station he arrived at, how’s that for generosity?


Or how about gangster London? The city of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Eastern Promises and Layer Cake. A wild place where criminals reign. Where illegal boxing matches and dodgy deals seem to be happening upstairs at every pub with charming cockneys ready to pull a fast one on you.

So which is it? Which one is real?

There’s one we can rule out: the very white, very middle-class city seen in films such as those made by the production company Working Title - Notting Hill, Bridget Jones and Four Weddings. It’s often only the odd shot of Big Ben and Hackney Cabs in these that remind you they’re in London and not some boring dystopia populated only by Hugh Grants. This one is bleak – far too from the multi-cultural London we know and love.

Yet Richard Curtis films aside, it’s a shame the Oscars doesn’t have a category for Best Supporting Urban Area because London would win every time. The city steps up to everything it stars in, whatever the genre, and is the character it needs to be, from fun to terrifying, edgy or embracing.

It’s true that London at its on-screen best needs a bit of work – much like that of the poor cameramen tasked with making Tom Cruise or Kit Harrington look taller in films. Lazy angles such as those seen in London has Fallen hardly do the city justice. Nobody wants the tourist tour of a few central London locations punctuated by gratuitous Underground scenes.

So keep an eye on the city in the next film. See what it gets up to and hope it’s some of its best work. Because, in the right hands, London is undeniably a star. Yet in the wrong film it’s just one of those movies that every actor does, and every actor regrets.

 
 
 
 

Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.


What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.