Camera obscura….

On reflection, I have spent a lot of my life in camera obscura. A computer screen is my main illumination on this grey and rainy Sunday morning. This is where I work on my pictures and where I write. Darkened rooms are where I have done the majority of my work. There was a period of my life when I rarely saw daylight throughout the winter months. I would arrive in the dark of the early morning at my studio, which was situated in a basement under the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, and leave in the dark of the evening. It must be said that I was known to venture out for a drink or five at the Globe, a famous pub that was fortuitously placed opposite to the studio entrance. Alfred Hitchcock shot many sequences for his film “Frenzy” in the pub and that frenzied spirit remained long after the cameras left. Frenzy and madness walked hand in hand in that establishment. Mick and Anne, the landlord and landlady were the stuff of legend. At that time Covent Garden was the main vegetable and flower market for London which meant that it was a hive of activity throughout the early hours of the morning. The market porters were fond of a drink and , even though England was cursed with rigid licencing laws, the pub would be full of raucous “out of hours” drinkers. This was in strong contrast to the smart clientèle of the evening trade who were often in full evening dress sipping champagne rather than downing pints of brown and mild. The reason for this radical change in custom was due to The Globe having the singular privilege of the interval bell of the Royal Opera House sounding in the bar to warn customers to return to their seats at the Opera House. However, the landlord and landlady were constant in their treatment of all customers. They were unfailingly rude on a seismic scale. There was a seminal moment when a toff had the temerity to mention to Anne, the landlady, that his pint of beer was cloudy to which she replied – “What do you expect for half a crown, thunder and fucking lightening”. And the bell rang signalling the end of fun.

About Food,Photography & France

Photographer and film maker living in France. After a long career in London, my wife and I have settled in the Vendee, where we run residential digital photography courses with a strong gastronomic flavour.
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27 Responses to Camera obscura….

  1. I remember the film, but not the pub. Time for a re-viewing.

  2. Dick Polak says:

    Your pictures are great but you writing is superb – publish a selection of the best and I buy it !

  3. spree says:

    In one short (rather genius) paragraph you created such a vibrant depiction of the pub, it’s diverse patrons and its “unfailingly rude” Landlady that you have me believing I was “there”…(and I think I might have even had a bit too much to drink.) Beautiful!

  4. Andy Szpuk says:

    A wonderful piece of history, Roger, and it’s interesting how certain environments can prompt particular memories.

  5. I’ll have to take a turn through that area again, the next time I’m in London. I always enjoy seeing a place through the eyes of someone who’s spent lots of time there.

    • The studios have gone now, or to be more accurate, the basement space has been taken over by the Royal Opera scenery department, I think. If you face the steps of the Royal Opera House, the entrance to Bow Street Studios used to be just to the left of the steps. I think the Globe has been gentrified, along with the whole area, and Anne and Mick are long gone. Still, Covent Garden is always worth a visit.

  6. ChgoJohn says:

    Another great post, Roger. You make me want to both visit that pub and avoid it at all costs. Maybe I’ll go and order something other than a pint. 🙂

  7. Hmm…sounds like I’ll be avoiding it.

  8. Eha says:

    Being a creature of light, would not have liked the ‘dark hours’, but envy you the position under ‘Covent Garden’ – OK, here stands a life-long opera freak! First taken at six in Tallinn, Estonia to see ‘Madame Butterfly’: I believe I steadfastly refused to go home after the performance! ‘MORE!’ Loved ‘Carmen’ the next week [and not since 🙂 !] Etc all life long!!!! In turn virtually brought up my two in the Royal Circle at the Garden besides any place worldwide which said ‘Opera House’! : OK, we did not go to the ‘Globe’ when we had ’em with us! But, otherwise: what huge interval fun 🙂 !

  9. Brilliant – why is it we Brits can laugh at outstanding rudeness….I think it´s great sometimes when it´s like that!

  10. Now I’m going to have to go and see it, Roger. Fabulous recollections. They made me chuckle.

    • You’ll find Covent Garden very gentrified now. In the late 70’s it was much grittier with wonderful characters. There was an old bloke, called the Colonel, who sold Biros and Durex with the immortal street cry of “Biros for your pools, johnnies for your tools” The Globe is apparently still there but, by all accounts, a very touristy establishment.

  11. Karen says:

    After spending so much time in the darkness, the pub sounds like just the place to be. It must have been a fun experience to sit and watch while having a bit of something to drink.

  12. Mad Dog says:

    Ha ha – they sound just like Norman at the Coach and Horses!
    I believe the brewery are trying to wrestle the pub (C&H) back from the current landlord (who’s selling good beer and food, unlike Norman), in order to modernise it and I suppose turn it into a gay bar. In the meantime, there’s a production company looking for stories in order to do a documentary on Norman and the pub.
    For anyone unfamiliar with the Coach and Horses, it’s the pub in the excellent play, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell.

  13. I’m rather thirsty now, but my mind is still back at the beginning where you wrote daily in a darkened studio. That sound magical to me.. or am I a bit odd…

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