Tag Archives: 1950s

1959 ➤ When beans defined bohos and cappuccino tasted of coffee

The Look at Life tour starts at the 2I’s in Old Compton Street: click to run video in a new window

The Look at Life tour starts at the 2I’s in Old Compton Street: click to run video in a new window

➢ Tour the bohemian coffee bars of London on film

❚ FROM SMALL COFFEE BEANS a mighty fad exploded. The documentary film clip, above, immaculately preserved in rich Eastmancolor, takes us on a tour of Soho in 1959. The distinctly arch voice-over tells us: The coffee bar boom in Britain began in 1952 when the first espresso machine arrived from Italy and set up in London’s Soho. They reckoned that a cup costing tuppence to make could be sold for ninepence to 1s 6d [about £3 in today’s money], according to the trimmings. But for every three coffee bars that opened up, two closed down… / Continued at YouTube


With the arrival of ITV in the mid-50s, the UK’s two television channels competed to bring the day’s news into living rooms. In Britain’s cinemas the Rank Organisation responded in 1959 with the weekly magazine Look at Life, a series of light-hearted short films to precede the main feature on their Odeon and Gaumont circuit. This episode, titled Coffee Bar, takes us inside a few of Soho’s many haunts that took care to attract their own social segment: at the 2I’s in the basement of 59 Old Compton Street, live rock groups ensured a young clientele of jive cats, for example, while artists hung out at The French, intellectuals at the Macabre, politicos at Le Partisan, while writers and actors favoured Legrain.

Fifty years on, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish one Soho bar’s customers from another’s – rather like the vile burnt cinders they all sell in the name of “coffee”. One sad consequence is to see the genuinely delicious stuff being edged off our supermarket shelves, presumably driven out by tastebuds destroyed in the high-street branded coffee shops.


2010 ➤ What a tear-jerker! McLaren mashes up his own musical ‘Requiem to Myself’


Hitchcock , Vertigo, The Mekons,

Romance and anguish: James Stewart and Kim Novak in the psycho-drama Vertigo (top), and the post-punk Mekons

◼︎ TWO UNEXPECTED RECENT VIDEOS have acquired poignant new life in the wake of Malcolm McLaren’s death, Svengali of punk that he was. Few people could have guessed that the soundtrack to one of last month’s Paris ready-to-wear fashion shows [in the video above] would be McLaren’s final creative achievement.

It was completed after his diagnosis of cancer and possibly in acceptance of his own mortality.

What seduces the listener is the overwhelming melancholy McLaren evokes, in what suddenly amounts to a Requiem to Myself. It was commissioned by Dries Van Noten – to set a deliberately discomfiting mood for his runway show amid the gilded opulence of the Hôtel de Ville in Paris on March 3.

After McLaren’s funeral, his partner Young Kim described the piece to Shapers of the 80s as “quintessential Malcolm McLaren – an entirely original and powerful, elegant but punk collage”. She gave us permission to run the full 13-minute mash-up in clean mp3 format, featuring the Vertigo theme, Mekons, Roxy, Raincoats and Burundi Beat.

➢ CLICK HERE for the full McLaren/Dries Van Noten soundtrack and background report on its creation on our inside page

➢ The Raincoats perform The Raincoats for Don’t Look Back in London, May 20, 2010, at The Scala in London

➢ More at Shapersofthe80s: Svengali of Pistols and punk remembered by those who knew him


McLaren on how to fail brilliantly
in this ‘karaoke world’

◼︎ “THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN TODAY is no more than a karaoke world, an ersatz society, which provides us with only the opportunity to revel in our stupidity… A karaoke world is one in which life is lived by proxy.” So said Malcolm McLaren last October, only days before he discovered he was unwell. He was presenting a keynote speech to 1,000 delegates in London at the Handheld Learning Conference 2009 about the future of learning and education.

➢ Details from the Learning Conference also on our inside page