Monday, 9 July 2012

A Film With a View

'The Ladykillers' (1955) is definitely near the top of my list of favourite films.  In fact, I might put it at second place, after 'Kind Hearts and Coronets'.   Like 'Kind Hearts', 'The Ladykillers' stars Alec Guinness, who displays his prodigious acting talent to the full alongside a top notch supporting cast.  Apparently this film was remade in recent years - I haven't seen it.  I felt disgusted that anyone thought they could come anywhere near the original.  How very, very dare they.  What's wrong with getting some new ideas anyway?  I'm sure there are many unknown screenwriters out there that would agree with that sentiment.

I do enjoy a black comedy, and the demise of Alec Guinness' character in this film is the supreme example of how funny this genre can be.  For me, it is a highlight of the story - the kind of development that takes you by surprise, makes you gasp and guffaw simultaneously.  But if that scene is the highlight of the storyline, the historical highlights are the views of St Pancras/Kings Cross stations.  Not only do we get railway scenes with freight movements; antique signalling equipment and blood and custard coloured coaches; we get street scenes with advertisements and shop fronts.  The scenes show a very different district to the one there now.  I have regularly walked from St Pancras to Bloomsbury and it is a different world.  This is why I'm so interested in 20th Century history.  It is an alternative world but it was really there, and within living memory. You can keep your sci-fi with its different planets and alternative universes, I've got one that really existed in 'The Ladykillers'.

On my most recent viewing of the film, one street scene stood out.  This took place outside a hotel called the Jesmond Dene.  An unusual name, I thought to myself.  But then I realised, Jesmond Dene is in Newcastle, a park built for pleasure and relaxation.  Whoever founded this hotel had a keen eye for marketing.  Homesick people arriving from Newcastle into Kings Cross would quite likely head for somewhere with a familiar name, a name which had connotations with serenity and promised a leisurely stay.  Looking at the hotel and its environs back then, I presume some residents were disappointed!

So, not such an unusual choice of name after all.  I wondered if this was a common occurrence - this naming of hotels after the London termini passenger sources.  I did a Google and found that the Jesmond Dene hotel still exists!  I feel quite delighted that a piece of 'The Ladykillers'  is still there and hope to do a little pilgrimage one day.  Other indications of the practice of naming hotels after relevant places include the Lancaster and Cheshire hotels near Euston and the Shaftesbury near Paddington.  In this age of big business and length chains, I have no doubt that many hotel names have disappeared in recent decades.  A trawl of a London Kelly's Directory from the railway age would surely highlight more geographically appropriate names.  Perhaps one day I'll have time to look.

Update October 2012

Well I finally got a look and here's a photograph. My pilgrimage down Argyle Street was interesting.  Some slight gentrification in places sitting alongside some the the edgyness that you might expect from King's Cross.  There are a lot of guest houses and hotels, but disappointingly these have boring generic names that I can't even recall a day later.  There is a Chester Hotel, but for Chester you would need to go a bit further down the road to Euston.  I was quite gratified to see that across the road from The Jesmond Dene is a conference centre called Derbyshire House - you need St Pancras for Derbyshire (and it's where the ironwork comes from) and perhaps it did start out life as a hotel.

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