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"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
To Hollywood in many cases, Britain Is Only London. How they portray the place is generally split into two approaches:
Where The Streets Are Paved With Gold
A place full of rich people, fancy society balls, posh accents and general happiness.
- Notting Hill
- Mary Poppins
- The Bridget Jones movies
- What a Girl Wants (but with stuffiness in place of happiness)
Where The Streets Are Paved With Excrement
- Anything involving Jack the Ripper.
- The Lily Allen song "LDN". (A Crap Saccharine World take on London as a nice place unless you look closer.)
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (see quotes page)
Where The Streets Are Paved With Both
- People associate excrement with Oliver Twist, but both sides are featured.
- Sherlock Holmes also features both in the stories.
In real life, London is very much a combination of the two and there's very much a sliding scale. London does have a rather notoriously high cost of living, so it tend to be like a lot of cities, full of both people who can comfortably afford it, and people who can't but have to live where the jobs are. On one end, you've got ludicrously posh places in the west central part of the city. In places like Holland Park, Belgravia, and Mayfair, the richest people in the world conspicuously consume like it's going out of style. At the other end, you'll find some of the most deprived places in the nation, known as "sink estates", in areas like Peckham, Hackney, and Harlesden. (The really poor places — as seen in Oliver Twist — went with slum clearance.) The important thing to note however is that most neighbourhoods are very mixed income. Council estates can be found in the wealthiest boroughs and million pound properties in the poorest.
Various areas of London (we're using the Greater London Authority area, although people in a number of those areas don't always consider themselves Londoners) have their own stereotypes:
- The Docklands: Home of the former Port of London. Until that closed down, it had the same tropes as the East End, retaining many of them until the 1980s. With massive urban redevelopment, most notably of the Canary Wharf area, it is now perceived as an area of business and yuppie-owned flats.
- A good portion of Layer Cake is set in and around the Docklands and Canary Wharf and implies that Michael Gambon's character, a powerful gangster-turned-respected businessman, had a major role in gentrifying the area (this is meant as a Shout-Out to The Long Good Friday where a Bob Hoskins character expresses this same plan).
- The East End: The precise boundaries of this area vary depending on whom you ask. We'll be using the largest definition, the entirety of the "E" postcode area. Was heavily bombed during The Blitz — the most hard-hit area of London in fact. The amount of fiction set here is massive. You've got a lot of Music Hall, opium dens, many a British-set gangster film is set here. The place being the home of the London Gangster: the locale has a long history of poverty-driven working class crime and is associated with the famous Kray twins. A number of works involving the UK's South Asian community are also set here.
- East of the East End: The areas of Greater London that were formerly part of Essex before 1965 and still identify with the latter. There's Barking ("One stop after East Ham" and its variants are a British way of saying "crazy", referencing Barking station, on the District and c2c railway lines), but most notably Romford. The setting of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, it's become a UK synonym for "chav" — the UK equivalent of "white trash".
- And 'Dagenham', two stops further out on the District Line, is even crazier being 'beyond Barking'.
- Soho: Home of Chinatown and London's (now quite small) "red-light district". Expect to see this more in the 1970s. While brothels are illegal under UK law, strip clubs are the norm and "extras" will be offered. Now an area full of nightclubs and bars, and not really at all seedy unless you know exactly who to talk to, much to the disappointment of tourists.
- South London ("Saarf London"): Home of The Yardies, but the two most famous things set there are Only Fools and Horses and the new Doctor Who, where it's the home of Rose Tyler.
- The Square Mile: The area of the City of London, a distinct area from Greater London. Centre of Britain plc.
- The West End. Home of a lot of London's famous shopping streets and its theatres. The West End is of course the UK's equivalent of Broadway and a number of musicals do both of them.
- Whitehall- Home of the British Government.
- North London: Islington, Shoreditch, Hoxton and so on. Trendy, "artistic", lefty sorts of areas often shown as being full of pretentious tossers. Islington is relatively wealthy and "nicer" than the others - here you'll find the "chattering classes". Hotblack Desiato from The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy is famously named after a firm of Islington estate agents.
- Camden: Also an arty, trendy area famous for its markets. Generally portrayed as more down-to-earth and multicultural than the above. Lots of drug subculture - usually soft drugs rather than Trainspotting-style squalor. The main characters in Withnail and I live in Camden. Modern day Camden is generally full of students and other limited income types, and at the weekend it's overrun with 'goth' or 'alternative' stereotypes who think it's trendy.
The Famous Streets of London
London has many famous streets. Some are best known from the UK version of Monopoly:
- Abbey Road — The Beatles, on the cover of their album of the same name, featured the band walking across what is consequently the most famous zebra crossing in the world. Numerous tourists traverse it in a similar manner.
- Harley Street — Home of many private medical facilities, but not on the board.
- Old Kent Road — the first spot past GO on the board, this road starts in Walworth and heads South East.
- Baker Street — Home of Sherlock Holmes (also Basil of Baker Street and Danger Mouse),and the title of Gerry Rafferty's infuriatingly catchy song.
- Strand — commonly "The Strand", although officially the article is omitted. A cultural hub of 19th century London, which retains several West End attractions today.
- Fleet Street — a metonym for the British press, who were historically headquartered there. The Fleet used to be a dreadful open sewer, full of a stinking slurry of the most vile rubbish imaginable; any similarity to real persons living or dead is, of course, strictly unintentional.
- Oxford Street — the main shopping district, home to the flagship stores of many retail chains.
- Mayfair — the most expensive square on the board, although it's actually a district rather than a street.
- Bond Street — Technically two streets and a green square on there.
E Numbers - - The London Postal District system
When you're walking around inner London, you might see codes like E1 and WC3 on the street signs. These are the UK's equivalent to the first five digits of US zip codes, but are far more widely known in the UK, although they only appear on street signs in certain places.
Certain post codes are more desirable than others. E1, the heart of the East End, has now become pretty attractive.
British opposition politicians refer to "a postcode lottery" in terms of public services provision — with different areas having different levels. This is due to day-to-day running of schools and hospitals being devolved to special local authorities, such as an LEA (Local Education Authority).
These are sometimes rendered by their compass points, as in the name of the boy band East 17 (Walthamstow), later E-17. Note that except in the case of EC (1-4) and WC (1-2), the numbers following the compass points are arranged not in geographical order but in alphabetical order of the main borough covered by each number - except 1, which is always the nearest to central London.
There is no NE or S postal code in London - NE is the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in northeast England, S is the city of Sheffield. The codes are:
- E1-18. The East End. The "East of the East End" area has the RM and IG codes.
- EC1-4. The city of London.
- W1-14. Actually two separate postal areas due to the sheer number of addresses in W1 (The West End), it covers inner West London.
- WC1-2. Camden and Westminster.
- SW1-20. SW1 is Whitehall. SW19 is Wimbledon. The postcode for Buckingham Palace is SW1A 1AA.
- N1-22. North London, partly going outside the GLA area.
E98 is a code allocated for News International.
There are now sub-divisions for postal purposes, i.e EC4Y for the Temple area in the city of London.
The London Postal District is far smaller than Greater London, so areas outside it use their traditional county names, such as "Barking, Essex" and the "Brentford, Middlesex" (abolished in 1965 as an administrative county), which is the name of a cricket club.
The entry points
London has six main airports (plus some smaller ones), all of which have featured in fiction at some point. Not all of these are inside the Greater London area.
- Heathrow (LHR). Formerly London Airport, it's the busiest international passenger airport in the world. In 2008, when its fifth terminal opened, it had a spectacular failure of systems on the first day. It features in the Doctor Who serial Time-Flight. It was also the departure point in several James Bond novels. It is connected to London via the Picadilly Line and by the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station.
- Gatwick (LGW). The second busiest UK airport, with two terminals. It is connected to London via the Gatwick Express train (and marginally slower Southern Trains services) to Victoria Station. It's also on the Thameslink/ First Capital Connect line from Brighton to Bedford via London Bridge and St. Pancras.
- Stansted (STN). North east of London. Connected to London via Liverpool Street Station.
- Luton (LTN). Best known for the airline easyJet, featured in the Docu Soap Airline.
- City Airport (LCY). In the London Docklands.
- Biggin Hill (BQH). A private airport, formerly a famous RAF base. Still does an annual air show.
Airlines will often sell tickets to airports they claim to be "London" but are nothing of the sort. A certain Irish airline was fined a few years back for selling tickets from Sydney, Australia to London Prestwick, Prestwick being an airport on the outskirts of Glasgow, a good 12 hours train journey away. Arguably, Stansted and Luton were under this category for years, until the likes of easyJet started moaning about it.
London is also a major port. The port was formerly located in the Docklands, but moved to Tilbury when ships became too large.
London also has the Eurostar train service to mainland Europe. This used to run out of Waterloo (which features in the film of The Bourne Ultimatum), but has now moved to St. Pancras, which frankly needed some love- the only thing that went from there was the Midland Mainline service.
To get around London by car (going through it most people will tell you is pointless, given the traffic congestion and the congestion charge during weekdays) you'll need to navigate the M25 (AKA the world's largest car park, although not so much since they widened it. Although the way things are going, it'll end up like that again), the motorway which circles most of London (the only gap being the Dartford Crossing which is part of the M25 in all but name). A word to any inexperienced motorists who plan on attempting to use the M25 - don't, it will suck out your soul.
- According to Good Omens, this is because the M25 was made in the shape of the ancient sigil odegra, which translates to "All hail the Great Beast, Devourer of Worlds."
Other Bits Of London in fiction
- The red buses. Most notably, the Routemasters, with their open back entrance. The Routemasters were removed by the last Mayor, Ken Livingston, but are in the process of being replaced by a twenty-first century version by current mayor Boris Johnson.
- The London Underground.
- "Pea Soup". London used to have a smog problem due to the burning of soft coal. It's now gone.
- Pearly Kings and Queens
- One London Thirty Three Boroughs- a more detailed description of the GLA area.
- and/or The Blitz as it is more commonly known