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A guest post by London Historians Member, Alan Fortune.

Review: A-Z of Ealing: Places – People – History by Andy Bull.

az ealingAbout six months back I reviewed Lang & Oates ‘Secret Ealing’, from the same publishing house, for this newsletter.  This new publication is somewhat different as it is not organised around a selection of themes but as a compendium with an alphabetical list of entries spanning a wide range of Ealing-based themes and locations. There are entries about all the Borough of Ealing’s seven towns – Acton, Ealing, Greenford, Hanwell, Northolt, Perivale and Southall – and together they provide ample support for the author’s claim that “Ealing is a great deal more interesting than its cosy suburban image suggests”.

This is a poignant time to focus on Ealing as the advent of the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) has given rise to an enormous amount of building and development, some controversial, close to the stations which serve the new line. Now that the line has finally (partially) opened, the journey time into the West End and the City has been reduced to just 20 minutes, and the local population is increasing significantly.  This book should be interesting reading for those new to the borough as well as to current residents wishing to learn more about their local environment.

To give you a sense of what the book covers, I shall identify just a few of the recurrent themes. The places or people in bold print have their own entries in the book.

Film and Drama

Ask people who have never been to Ealing what they associate with the place and the answer is likely to be the Ealing Comedies (The Lavender Hill Mob, Passport to Pimlico etc.), filmed at Ealing Studios during its golden age, the twenty or so years following Sir Michael Balcon’s taking over the studios in 1938. Many of the Carry On films which featured the South African-born comic actor Sid James, were filmed at the studios.  He lived in Ealing when he was at the height of his popularity through his appearances in the Carry On films and in Hancock’s Half Hour with Tony Hancock. Often accompanied by Sir Alec Guinness, Sid was a regular bar propper at the Red Lion pub on St. Mary’s Road, close to the studios.

Artist and film director Steve McQueen attended secondary school in Hanwell before studying art at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College. The much garlanded McQueen won the Turner Prize for art in 1999 and his Twelve Years a Slave won Best Picture Oscar in 2014.  He was knighted in 2020.

It was pleasing to find an entry for The Questors Theatre, which Bull refers to as “the most professional of amateur theatre companies” (p. 69). The theatre has no less a figure than Dame Judi Dench as its president, and its claims to fame include staging as a one-act play the first UK public performance of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.


In my review of ‘Secret Ealing’ I lamented the omission “of Ealing’s huge contribution to the world of rock and roll”. No such criticism can be made of Bull, whose entries include The Ealing Club, where Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies helped a new generation of British blues artists find their feet.  The role of the club in rock and roll history cannot be underestimated.  The likes of Eric Burdon, Eric Clapton, Manfred Mann and local boy Pete Townshend all performed there.  And not only did The Rolling Stones perform at the club 22 times, but it was there in 1962 that original members Charlie Watts and Brian Jones met for the first time.

Dusty Springfield, nee Mary O’Brien, attended St. Joseph’s Convent (now Ealing Fields High School) in my home area of Northfields. Dusty, with her trademark beehive hairstyle was a 60s music icon in the UK, first with The Springfields and then as a solo artist.  She later forged a successful career in the USA, where she became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. It was heartening to see due recognition given to Jim Marshall, a pioneer who created Marshall amplifiers, now a permanent part of any rock concert the world over, at his music shop in Hanwell. Jazz singer Cleo Laine grew up in Southall.  Her parents were poor but partly because of the sacrifices they made to pay for her singing lessons, Cleo later went on to achieve fame in her partner Johnny Dankworth’s jazz group and a damehood.

The Bradford-born classical composer Frederick Delius has an Ealing connection.  Aged 30, he lodged with a young poet, Richard Le Galliene, and his wife in Hanwell. During this time the two men collaborated on a mini-opera based on the story of Endymion, a youth from Greek mythology who slept all the time. The opera came to nothing, but Delius’s Hanwell stay certainly did not. When in London, he was introduced to important literary figures such as Oscar Wilde,  who inspired some of his future work.

Food and drink

There are some quirky entries on food and drink.  The first restaurant of the Nando’s fried chicken chain opened (and remains) close to Ealing Common in 1992.  There are now 900 across the globe. No doubt many readers do their shopping at Waitrose.  I certainly had no idea that the original branch of Waitrose, opened in 1904 and named Waite, Rose and Taylor, was located on Acton High Street. After opening several local branches, the company left Acton in 1925. The book contains a lovely picture of the Acton Lane branch early in the last century.


Ex-footballer, podcaster and TV pundit Peter Crouch, like Steve McQueen, is an alumnus of North Ealing Primary School and Drayton Manor High School in Hanwell. Crouch, on visiting Prince William at Kensington Palace to conduct an interview for his podcast, was amazed to discover that the Prince had ordered a surprise take-away from Crouch’s favourite Indian restaurant, the Samrat in Pitzhanger Lane, Ealing.

No doubt many younger wearers of the Fred Perry clothing brand have no idea that Perry was once a Wimbledon men’s singles champion (winning three consecutive titles, 1934-36); indeed, he was the last British champion before Andy Murray won his first title in 2013. Perry’s family lived for a while in Brentham Garden Suburb, in Ealing, and he learned to play tennis at the Brentham Club in Meadvale Road.  He went to school at Ealing Grammar School, now a further education college on Ealing Green.

Miscellaneous entries

I will mention just a couple of entries which were of particular personal interest. I was delighted to see an entry on Ealing’s Polish Community, the largest Polish community in the UK, comprising just over 6% of the population of Ealing. The community dates back to World War 2. Many of the first arrivals served in the expatriate Polish Air Force which played a major key role in the Battle of Britain, and are commemorated by the Polish War Memorial at what was Northolt Aerodrome close to the A40.

I loved the stories about the former deputy ambassador at the North Korean Embassy (on Gunnersbury Avenue, near Ealing Common). Among Thae Yong-ho’s tasks in his ambassadorial role were to escort Kim Jong-un’s (North Korean president) brother to an Eric Clapton concert, and to ask (unsuccessfully) a local barber to remove a picture of the president it had installed in the front window under the caption ‘Bad Hair Day?’. In 2016, Thae Yong-ho and his family defected to South Korea after a decade in Ealing, where he had made many friends.

Unlike ‘Secret Ealing’, Bull’s well-illustrated compendium is clearly written in a lively style, is adequately edited, and provides a useful bibliography. It also contains not just mainstream facts and figures about the borough, but also some rather quirky, more left field, entries.  There are entertaining stories which would be of great interest to tour guides as well as to the general reader.

A-Z of Ealing: Places – People – History (96pp) by Andy Bull is published in paperback by Amberley Press.

Alan Fortune is a qualified London guide, long-standing member of London Historians and founder member of the Ealing and West London Tour Guides

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