Piccadilly progress

This image of London’s Piccadilly Circus was made nine years after the one in my last post.

London's Piccadilly Circus from a vintage postcard of 1913, or 1914.

It is now 1913 and, again, theatre productions advertised on buses in the foreground – Diplomacy and Within The Law – confirm the date. Transport has become mostly motorised, although traffic rules are still confusing. The buses seem to be going around the ‘circus’, or circle, the wrong way according to modern laws. Pedestrians, obviously, have no rules at all.

The London Pavillion on the left was gradually changing its programme from variety shows to musicals around this time, and the Criterion at right has a small banner hanging from the awning to promote the afternoon matinee. The advertising industry had not yet discovered Piccadilly Circus.

Now move 90 degrees to the right, putting the Criterion at your back, and jump forward 50 years to 11.30 a.m. on a summer’s morning in 1963.

Piccadilly Circus, London, in 1963. Photo by Franz Lazi, from a post card.

To paraphrase Arthur Mee in my previous post, London in the grip of private interests has moved to its destiny. Advertising hoardings obliterate the architecture. The Pavillion, a cinema since 1934, is showing Tom Jones (the movie, not the singer) and the short-lived Circlorama Theatre experiment, which opened in May, has a narrow entrance off the Circus at left.

Sir Alfred Gilbert’s ‘Eros’ – the Shaftesbury memorial – has been moved more than once and the traffic layout has been changed from a circus to a junction. The legendary Routemaster buses dominate and jaywalking pedestrians have been corraled.

Fifty years is less than the average life span but the decades between these two images saw the Great Depression, two world wars (and many smaller ones) the Irish Rebellion and the Russian Revolution, the rise of communism, the Cold War and the development of the atom bomb. In contrast, advances in medicine, like antibiotics, helped prolong life instead of ending it.

Television was invented to distract the population and huge room-filling machines called computers began to crunch numbers. Bigger and faster passenger aircraft started to change the way people travelled, to the detriment of railway and shipping companies. Private cars became more plentiful and affordable, resulting in a network of roads over once open country that couldn’t have been imagined in 1913.

The post-war baby boom ushered in a youth culture that changed western society, rebelling through Rock n Roll and scaring the hell out of parents everywhere. In 1963 it was about to go into overdrive thanks to a new group from Liverpool called the Beatles. Their first movie, A Hard Day’s Night, would premiere at the Pavillion the following year.


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