LondonTown.com | Nelsons Column | July | Holmes sweet Holmes
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Holmes sweet Holmes 26th July 2010
London's looking good thanks to the BBC and our licence fee
Recent BBC police dramas are really doing a service to London, making our city look dark and foreboding on the one hand, but stylish, imposing and slick on the other. Although viewers won't be hailing down a black cab in a hurry, that's for sure.

This July saw the arrival on our small screens of Sherlock, the three-part BBC1 drama which throws Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's pipe-smoking Victorian sleuth firmly into the 21st century.

Having seen the first episode - A Study in Pink - I can say that it's both highly enjoyable and extremely well acted; just the kind of success you'd expect from Steven Moffat, the man behind the latest Doctor Who reworking.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freedman are excellently cast as Holmes and Dr Watson - known simply as Sherlock and John in a nod to the times we live in - but the third big character of the production is London itself.

Following an intro which shows the ubiquitous (yet alluring) image of the flashing lights of Piccadilly Circus, Sherlock's title sequence is that familiar (yet always breathtaking) view of Waterloo Bridge, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster and Big Ben, with Battersea Power Station in the background. A speeding-up of the lens has red buses and vehicles zip across the Thames from both sides as if they were a colony of ants.

It's a good beginning - and while what comes next will do little to dispel the myth that anyone who works in the City must have a view overlooking St Paul's Cathedral, it makes you proud to be a Londoner.

"We have tried to fetishise the modern era," co-writer Mark Gatiss told The Guardian. "There are ways of shooting even the most familiar place that refreshes everything about it."

Other landmarks during the hour and a half episode include Berkeley Square, where John has an awkward coffee with an old friend; Soho, over the roofs and through the backstreets of which our heroes conduct a night-time chase; an unnamed further education centre, and myriad red phone boxes and black cabs (a integral part of the story, in the latter's case).

And of course, there's 221B Baker Street. Although it has to be said that scenes outside Holmes' old haunt were actually shot outside 185 North Gower Street at nearby Euston. Go look for yourself - you'll recognise the red awning of Speedy's Sandwich Bar and Café next door.

This switch is hardly surprising given the changes Baker Street has undergone through the ages. One suspects that logistical reasons came into play too - which is precisely why, despite the show being seemingly steeped in all things London, a lot of filming actually took place in Cardiff and Swansea.

Still, even as a façade, London's frenetic energy is captured beautifully by Sherlock - just as it was in the BBC's six-part police drama Luther earlier in the spring.

Like Sherlock, Luther profited from two superb central performances, in this case Idris Elba (of The Wire fame) and Ruth Wilson. But even more than Sherlock, Luther used its London setting to a truly mesmerising effect.

The tactics were the same - using familiar locations while enhancing their appeal by injecting a certain freshness - with the net result that London became, arguably, the star of the show.

Luther took place all over the city, with some scenes shot down by the docks in the East End and the concluding cliff-hanger playing out on the old Eurostar platform at Waterloo (nice to see it being used for something). But the main focus was the area around the Barbican and Farringdon.

Wilson's slightly psychotic character had one of the 70s-style flats in one of the three famous Barbican towers; St Paul's, the Millennium Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge and the Thames were frequent backdrops; the police station was somewhere in nearby Farrington while the pubs frequented by Luther were the kind of places that used to be brimming with hacks from The Guardian before they switches offices to Kings Cross.

Luther's estranged wife Zoe lived in just the kind of swanky terraced house in Islington you'd expect her high-powered solicitor to own, and the gritty streets of London were delved into with aplomb every time our maverick detective jumped into his old school Saab and went for a drive.

Going for a drive - or more precisely, getting a lift - was what unites both BBC shows, whose respective writers clearly hadn't passed notes by one another prior to filming.

The opening Sherlock episode focused on a clever yet disgruntled cabbie with a deadly aneurism who forced random people into playing Russian roulette with deadly pills - remarkably similar, then, to one of Luther's cases, which centred on a serial killing cabbie who steals his victims' necklaces.

"Who do you trust even if you don't know? Who passes unnoticed wherever they go? Who hunts in the middle of a crowd?" asks Sherlock.

"No one ever thinks about the cabbie. It's like you're invisible - just the back of a head. Proper advantage for a serial killer," affirms our crazed cabbie from behind the wheel.

The upshot is that while London has rarely looked so good TV, no tourist coming to the city will be too confident about taking one of our famed black cabs...
XXX Factor
Wannabes from the forthcoming series of X Factor hit the headlines after a rather risqué affair at Wembley's Premier Inn this month. According to the not-in-any-way-hyperbolic News of the World, police "in full riot gear" arrived at the hotel at 1.30am after 20 "frenzied" pop hopefuls, who had just made it through to the 'boot camp' stage of the contest, destroyed property, stripped naked in public and terrified guests after binging on a "lethal cocktail" of rose wine, vodka, whisky and cider. One "source" at the London hotel said the contestants "were like wild animals", adding: "Simon Cowell is not happy".
Not bad work if you can get it
Britain's most lucrative traffic camera has raked in almost £2 million in fines in just three months after catching out more than 16,000 drivers at a junction in Victoria. Confused motorists are picking up the £120 fines for making a wrong turn at a temporary diversion at road works and straying into a bus and taxi lane in Wilton Road. The fine is halved if paid within two weeks, but angry motoring groups are arguing that the sheer number temporary signs at the site is so baffling that only 10 per cent of the 16,123 "offending" drivers are deliberately making an offence.
Broadening food horizons in Belgravia
The neo-classical interior of a Belgrave Square property was transformed into an Alice in Wonderland-esque shrine to food for five days this July. The Complete History of Food was an interactive epicurean adventure brought to you by the infamous culinary experimentalists Bompas & Parr, the dynamic duo behind jelly experimentation and cocktails big enough to row a boat over. Highlights included sipping Lounge Bohemia's Courvoisier cocktails with fizzy grapes overlooking Belgravia's rooftops and chef Alexis Gauthier's divine foie gras, port reduction and caramelised almond take on the Ferrero Rocher. A flooded banqueting chamber and an indoor bouncy castle-style stomach were suitably strange, while the main event - a delicious duck confit from Dalston's Bistroteque - was even served in a giant dinosaur. That said, the 'black champagne sauce' did taste a bit like HP to us food philistines.
2009
29th December
Predictions for 2010
30th November
London 1 Paris 0
27th November
Mr Benn, The Wombles
26th October
Posties Strike a Chord
26th October
Frieze Still Pleases
26th September
A River Runs Through It
23rd September
Blogging is Best
26th August
When Saturday comes
22nd August
Bring on the Bikes
27th July
Against the Clock
20th July
View for a thrill
18th June
Let Them Eat Cake
16th June
Only Fools And Horses?
26th May
Come Rain Or Shine
18th May
Embarrassing Expenses
27th April
New Designs on Old Fossils
19th April
City Slickers
26th March
Woody Set for Rematch
10th March
Take a Bow, London
18th February
New Photography Laws
12th February
Glitz and the Pitts
27th January
Setting the Standard
21st January
Too Much for Posh Nosh?
2004
30th December
Party Pooper
23rd December
The Second Battle of Trafalgar
16th December
Sadie's Year
28th November
Ripper-Watch
21st November
Kinky Boots
14th November
Smoked out
22nd October
Yuppie Meal
15th October
Fines of Fury
8th October
No Twist in the Turner
17th September
Battleships, bloodsports and Batman
10th September
Clique Week
3rd September
Return of the Bard
20th August
Politics Takes Centre Stage
13th August
Crisis in Theatreland
6th August
Journey's End
23rd July
Healing Waters
16th July
Mandela Statue in Doubt
9th July
From Art to Ashes
2nd July
One Hurdle Nearer to Gold
 
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