The Blue Door in Notting Hill
Sad though it may be, much of my knowledge of England’s history, geography and social dynamics comes from popular culture.
From `The Goodies’ and `Fawlty Towers’ in the seventies to `Yes, Minister’ and `Mr Bean’ in the eighties to `The Office’ in more recent times, my image of Britain has been shaped by the likes of Basil Fawlty, Sir Humphrey Appleby and David Brent.
Which is not to downplay the profound influence of British movies from `Chariots of Fire’, which first inspired me as wee lad, to `Bend it like Beckham’, which I first enjoyed as a child-like adult.
However, there is one name which has dominated my image of modern day England: Richard Curtis.
Richard Curtis is the author and inspiration of three of our favourite movies, `Four Weddings and a Funeral’, `Notting Hill’ and `Love Actually’.
I am happy to pause at this point whilst some of my readers yell, `CHICK FLICKS’, at the top of their lungs and start flinging abuse at their computer screens. Even after that moment has passed, however, the fact will remain that Huckleberry B and I both love these movies and that, my friends, is that!
After all, who does not chuckle at the following exchange in `Four Weddings’:
Charles: Hi, I’m Charles
Grumpy Old Man: Don’t be ridiculous, Charles died over 20 years ago.
Charles: Must be a different Charles, I think…
GOM: Are you saying I don’t know my own brother?!?!
And who doesn’t get misty eyed in `Notting Hill` when a love struck Anna Scott puts her fame in perspective in the following entreaty to Hugh Grant’s William Thacker:
And don’t forget; I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.
It gets me every time. Must be a romantic, after all. Which, perhaps, also explains why I always cheer for little Sam in `Love Actually’ as he races through Heathrow Airport in hot pursuit of his first love before she returns to America.
And so it was that Huck B and I engaged the services of a local tour guide to take us to some of the famous sites around London which Richard Curtis used to shoot scenes from these classic movies.
Again, I shall allow a brief interlude to allow some of you to ruefully shake your heads and mutter scornfully, `Why waste a beautiful day in London on such tripe?’
In my defence, however, it proved – as I expected – to be a useful vehicle for seeing some lovely parts of London which are off the very well worn path from Westminster Abbey to the Houses of Parliament to the Tower of London and on to St Paul’s Cathedral. Once again, B and I were in search of the path less pummeled by weary tourists.
We started off, early in the morning, by heading up to Notting Hill which lies in the north-west corner of London. Here we saw the famous blue door where Hugh Grants’ character in `Notting Hill’ lived with his slovenly Welsh flatmate, Spike. Perhaps more notably, Richard Curtis, himself, used to live behind the very same blue door.
The blue door has now been replaced by a black door, the original having been sold to an American – who obviously shares our love for Rom Coms – for 5000 pounds. However, the door’s notoriety has not been lost. As I filmed the commonplace entrance from across the surprisingly narrow road, a passerby chuckled and said it was the most photographed door in London. The stranger’s commentary has now been saved for posterity on my video camera.
Next, our tour guide took us past the actual `Travel Bookshop’ which inspired the store which Hugh Grant’s character operated in `Notting Hill’. The store used in the movie is around the corner – and is not actually a travel bookshop – however, such a store does exist. Why a vendor of books would limit himself to travel books, we remain unsure. But there it was.
Our next stop was a lovely street which featured a row of white Georgian terrace houses. Those familiar with `Notting Hill’, will recall that it was here that William Thacker’s friends, Bella and Max, lived. They hosted a birthday party for William’s little sister.
Perhaps the highlight of our visit to Notting Hill was being permitted to enter one of the private gardens which sits between rows of terrace houses and which can only be used by the residents of the adjoining dwellings. The garden we visited was not the same as the one used in the movie. However, it was similar – and truly beautiful – nonetheless. It was the kind of garden where you’d love to sit and read a book or stroll around, arm-in-arm, with your beloved.
We left the garden by the conventional means; through the cast iron gate, not over it. However, we did both mutter `whoopsie daisies’ as we went.
Next we drove past the recording studio used by Bill Nigh’s character in `Love Actually’ – aging rocker Billy Mack – to record `Christmas Is All Around’. As we passed, I sang softly the immortal lyrics: `C’mon and let it snow!’
Our final film location in Notting Hill was some mews which Richard Curtis used in `Love Actually’ for the scene where Andrew Lincoln’s character, Mark, delivered his message of unrequited love to Keira Knightley’s, Juliette. Remember the placards which culminated with the line: `To me you are perfect’?
And so our tour of Richard Curtis film locations drew to a close. It was an enjoyable way to spend the morning.
For anybody doubting Curtis’ genius, consider the song used in the opening scenes of `Four Weddings and a Funeral’. Remember the chorus, `where every happy plot ends with a marriage knot’? Now consider how the `happy plot’ in `Four Weddings’ ends with a `marriage not’.
Toffee Nosed Snootiness and Brit Rock History in St John’s Wood
After leaving Notting Hill, our tour guide took us for a rambling tour of north-west London, before entering famous St John’s Wood.
St John’s Wood is probably most notable for two things, both of which are close to my heart: Abbey Road Studies and Lord’s Cricket Ground. In fact you could walk from one to the other in under 10 minutes.
We visited Abbey Road first.
Even though 40 years have passed since John, Paul, George and Ringo posed for the iconic photograph which graces the cover of the album named after the thoroughfare, tourists still line up to take their turn to walk in the footsteps of the Beatles.
Many form groups of four and try to replicate the purposeful strides of their musical heroes. Huckleberry B and I were no different. I walked across the legendary crossing whilst B took my photograph!
It is very difficult, however, to obtain a photo with no cars in the background. Local traffic rules dictate that a car must stop at a pedestrian crossing even where the pedestrian is merely approaching the crossing. The moment you walk up, the cars stop for you. Indeed, there were typically three of four cars waiting to travel along Abbey Road at any given time. Clearly it is hell living there. It must be one of the most frequently “in use” uncontrolled pedestrian crossings in the world.
In any event, after ceasing to pretend we were two of the Beatles, we proceeded down the road to visit Lord’s.
We have rarely been subjected to such snootiness in all our lives!
We entered in order to make an inquiry about joining one of the tours. Our further purpose was to have a brief look around and to, perhaps, take advantage of the rest rooms. However, once it became apparent that we were not prepared to wait for the privilege of a guided tour, we were directed – very firmly and with generous lashings of English assumed superiority – that we were to “leave the ground immediately”. Given the tone we were subjected to, I half expected our toffee-nosed friend to add “…and don’t ever come back.”
And all this occurred in the parking area behind the Pavilion. It’s not as though we were sliding down the hallowed wooden floor boards of the Long Room in our underwear!
To quote Kevin Kline in “A Fish Called Wanda”: “Oh you English are sooooo superior!”
To which I’d add (borrowing from Kevin Kline):
“You stuck up, pompous, arrogant, pretentious, ostentatious, pretentious, rule Britania, `there will always be an England’, snobbish, English git”
Thunderbolt and Lightning, Very Very Frightening…!
To complete our day of British pop culture, we went to see the musical, “We Will Rock You” at the Dominion Theatre. We were fortunate to find that the theatre was a mere 10 minute stroll from our hotel room in Bloomsbury, which is located not far from Covent Garden and London’s famous West End theatres.
The story line of “We Will Rock You” – with all due (genuine) respect to the authors; Richard Curtis’ mate, Ben Elton, and Queen guitarist, Brian May – is contrived and ridiculous. Set in the future, when all music is generated by computers, and musical instruments are either forgotten or banned, the heroes of the story find their way to Wembley Stadium where the rock band, Queen – one of Britain’s truly great exports – has buried an electric guitar. The story line borrows from the legend of King Arthur with the electric guitar substituted for Excalibur and flamboyant Queen front man, Freddie Mercury, cast as the Lady of the Lake.
The genius of the production, however, is how iconic Queen songs are used to tell the story. They were all there: “Radio Ga Ga”, “I Want To Break Free”, “Killer Queen”, “Somebody to Love”, “Under Pressure”, “Hammer to Fall”,, “Who Wants to Live for Every”, “Seven Seas of Rye”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Another One Bites the Dust”.
The show culminated first with “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”, before reaching a crescendo with an inspired rendition of the greatest rock tune of all time: “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
It would only have been better if Freddie Mercury were still alive to perform it.