THANK YOU (2)
A recent post on I Like alerted me to the documentary film The London Nobody Knows, in which James Mason guides us through some of the less regarded parts of 1960s London – abandoned theatres, street markets, pubs, vacant lots, public toilets (‘All men are equal in the eyes of a lavatory attendant’), Salvation Army hostels, and, finally, the dark corners occupied by the capital’s meths-drinking rough sleepers. It’s an evocative and moving film, which takes us on a journey, not just a geographical journey across London but also a journey from a warm nostalgia for old music halls to a hard-hitting account of life ‘down among the meths men’.Down Among The Meths Men is the title of one of the books by the writer and illustrator Geoffrey Fletcher on which the film is based. Geoffrey Fletcher (1923–2004) drew prolifically, training at the Slade and winning a scholarship of the British School in Rome. He illustrated many books written by other writers, wrote and illustrated a column in the Daily Telegraph through the 1960s and beyond, and gathered many of his drawings and descriptions into a series of books about neglected aspects of the capital. Books such as The London Nobody Knows, London’s River, Pearly Kingdom, London Overlooked and, most harrowingly, Down Among The Meths Men provide a unique view of bits of London – pubs, shops, markets, wharves, churchyards, catacombs – many of which are no longer there.
These books are all illustrated with Fletcher’s drawings, which look like rapid sketches done on the spot, but which manage to carry in their calligraphic scribbles and high-speed shading the essence of the people and places they portray. The books that contain these drawings form an absorbing guide to what has gone from the capital over the last 40 years. More than this, they are an exercise in how to see, in grubbing around in corners, in looking up, in exploring alleys, in gaining the confidence of knowledgeable locals, in walking, looking, and thinking at the same time.
What Fletcher thought about and drew included the small things – beer pumps, street lights, urinals, railings, gravestones - as well as the grand ones. He celebrated alleys and back streets and unfashionable areas of London. He saw that neglected or overlooked things are important, that buildings are interesting because of the people who built them and use them, and that the more you look the more you see. For continual revelations about London, thank you Geoffrey Fletcher.