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Review. Swingin’ London: A Field Guide by Mark Worden and Alfredo Marziano.  A guest post by Claudia Elliott.
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9781398106833_1_2“England Swings like a pendulum do…” sang country star Roger Miller in 1965, most likely the inspiration for the cover line of Time magazine’s celebrated April 1966 edition, ‘London: The Swinging City’. Unlike Mr Miller’s hit record, however, the Time correspondent was less concerned with traditional images of bobbies on bicycles and Westminster Abbey. Readers of the international publication were curious for descriptions of the most fashionable clubs, boutiques and restaurants, as well as the lifestyle of the new aristocracy – pop groups, fashion designers, actors and gallery owners – that made up the ever-shifting scene. According to popular imagination, the mid-Sixties was when the smog-filled greyness of the post-war years lifted to reveal a liberated, youthful city open to influences from the US, Continental Europe and the mysterious privileged values of an older Britain.

Thousands of young people agreed with calypso singer Lord Kitchener’s sentiment, “London is the place for me”, and descended on the capital in the hope of partaking in a piece of the action. Swingin’ London: A Field Guide, compiled by two Milan-based authors (both Pink Floyd and Beatles fans), aims to take readers on a tour of the places where the in-crowd could be found, arranged by postcode.

They begin right at the centre, the Post Office Tower in W1, a symbol of the modern capital with its revolving restaurant. Accompanying details are drawn from contemporary guides, such as Len Deighton’s London Dossier and the aforementioned article in Time magazine by Piri Halasz.

This particular section of 20th-century pop history is somewhat over-documented, so it was gratifying to find interviews with counter-cultural figures such as Barry Fantoni (Private Eye cartoonist and TV presenter), the late Anita Pallenberg (Rolling Stones socialite) and Mick Farren (musician and rock writer). The entries proceed rather like a tour guide, usually starting with details from a commemorative plaque and then attaching relevant snippets of information.

The dizzying succession of anecdotes is rather like being at a party and picking up snatches of conversation from all sides. By the middle of the decade, members of the Rolling Stones and Beatles were already deserting the fray and moving further afield to Surrey and Sussex.

Slightly unusual entries include HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs and the memorial to the 1966 Shepherds Bush murders. The guide also covers numerous scenes of student protest, as the hedonism of ‘swinging’ gave way to more worldly concerns. Incidentally, the shallowness of Swinging London and its endless parade of beautiful people and parties was mocked by The Kinks in their hit record Dedicated Follower of Fashion, released in February 1966, two months before the American magazine article.

The guide’s format encourages dipping in, rather than reading from cover to cover, and it could come in handy if planning a visit to relevant sites within a certain area of the capital.

Our authors have done a grand job of researching related films and books, so those interested can add to their knowledge, even if little of the history remains to be seen on the streets. The former premises of Apple Tailoring/Dandie Fashions (once financed by the Beatles) is now a shop fittingly named Bye Bye London.
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Swinging London: a Field Guide (128pp) by Mark Worden and Alfredo Marziano is published in paperback by Amberley with a cover price of £16.99 but available for less.
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Claudia Elliott is a journalist who specialises in writing about the 1960s. For more on Swinging London, visit the exhibition Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counter-Culture, at the Fashion and Textile Museum, Bermondsey Street, London SE1, until 13 March 2022.

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