There is a lot to enjoy about The Blue Lamp, the 1950 crime drama made by Ealing Studios. There’s the cast for one thing. The excellent Jack Warner plays PC George Dixon, a wise and respected veteran bobby. Although he is shot dead during the film, his character had such appeal to the British public that he was resurrected for the TV series Dixon of Dock Green Dixon of Dock Green which ran for 21 years.
As indicated, poor old PC Dixon is cruelly gunned down, when he happens upon a robbery at a local cinema. As you would expect, he tries to convince the villain to ‘come along quietly now lad’ but unfortunately he is up against a twitchy psychopath played by a young Dirk Bogarde. The Blue Lamp is supposed to be ‘social realism’ but its insights into the 1950s criminal underworld seem to have been provided by RADA’s cockney research department – ‘cor blimey guv’nor, and no mistake.’
What is very real, and the real star of the show, is west London circa 1950. Paddington Green, Edgware Road, Westbourne Park, Harrow Road, Little Venice, the obligatory shot of Piccadilly Circus at night – all of them feature and are fascinating to see.
There is a climactic car chase towards the end which finishes at the long demolished White City stadium but it largely takes place across North Kensington. When the cars – a Wolseley and a Humber, I reckon – come south over Ladbroke Grove bridge you see an unfamiliar street configuration. What I think you are looking at are the north ends of Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove which in those days connected with each other. The link was broken by the building of the Wornington Green Estate but over the next decade it will be restored as Catalyst Housing completes the reinvention of the estate as Portobello Square, a handsome new development of tenure-blind homes arranged along traditional streets.
The car chase continues down Ladbroke Grove before turning right where you catch glimpses of Portland Road, Penzance Place, Freston Road and Latimer Road. I daresay that behind all those sooty but handsome Victorian facades were warrens of tubercular-rented rooms and bedsits with cookers in hallways. Much of North Kensington and indeed west London were very slummy by 1950, thanks to the war and excessive rent controls, but from a purely streetscape point of view, west London seems to me to have been a much handsomer place before the estates went up – apart from the bombsites obviously.
Over the next few years, there could well be a transformative amount of development in North Ken, on the gas works site, at Barlby-Treverton and perhaps the Silchester area too.
Our ambition is to restore old street patterns, just as Catalyst is doing, and to build new homes on those new streets that are traditional in their overall form, but modern both in detail and fitting. We think that despite the design ruptures of the 1960s, the people still yearn for homes and streets that come from within the British tradition of domestic architecture. That’s what we mean to deliver. You can find out more about our schemes at www.rbkc.gov.uk/housing
Spoiler alert: I’m going to tell you the end of the film. Bogarde is trapped in White City as brave unarmed policemen converge, guided to him by bookies who use ‘tic-tac’ to identify his location. Bogarde is armed but the police do not flinch and it is the young PC and former lodger of PC Dixon that disarms him. The murderer is lead away gently without so much as a slap. Admirable restraint, or given this is 1950, do they all know he is going to be hanged by the neck until dead?