On this day, 250 years ago, a certain James Boswell was enjoying a cuppa at number 6 Russell Street, Covent Garden when in walked Dr Samuel Johnson. This first meeting between two people who would become inextricably associated was not entirely filled with mutual warmth. Boswell, who that night recorded everything in his journal, apologised for being Scottish, with the not unreasonable defence that he “couldn’t help it”. “That I find is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help,” replied the anti-Caledonian quipster. But from those inauspicious beginnings, a friendship blossomed.
As a hub of great minds and talents, it’s no wonder that so many liaisons and partnerships have their genesis in London. To celebrate the anniversary of the Boswell-Johnson introduction, we’ve rounded up a collection of other important first meetings that took place in the capital.
The Krays meet the Mafia (Park Lane Hilton)
Although usually associated with the East End, the Kray brothers had international ambitions, and cultivated various arrangements with the Mafia. The first meeting supposedly occurred at the Park Lane Hilton in 1962, when the East End gangsters enjoyed a drink with Angelo Bruno, a top player in the Philadelphia crime family. The mobster made a deal with the brothers to help dispose of $2 million in stolen bonds, and offer protection to his London-based clients. It’s one to drop into conversation next time you’re trying to impress someone with a £15 cocktail at the hotel’s Galvin at Windows bar.
Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett (Haymarket)
And it’s hello from me… Perhaps Britain’s most famous double act, the Two Ronnies, first met at the Buckstone Club near Haymarket, where Corbett was serving drinks between acting jobs in 1963. The club was in a basement on Suffolk Street, near the stage door to the Theatre Royal. Barker’s first words to Corbett were reportedly “Same again, please”.
Gilbert and George (St Martin’s)
Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore have worked together for 45 years and remain among the UK’s most famous living artists. Their first encounter, perhaps unsurprisingly, was at St Martin’s School of Art, on 25 September 1967. According to Wikipedia, “they came together because George was the only person who could understand Gilbert’s rather poorly-spoken English”, but they’re also on record as declaring the meeting as love at first sight.
Mary Godwin (Shelley) and Percy Shelley (Somers Town/St Pancras churchyard)
The future author of Frankenstein and the great poet probably first clapped eyes on each other at the Somers Town home of Mary’s father, William Godwin, with whom Percy Shelley had formed an intellectual friendship. That’s only mildly interesting. Far more noteworthy is where Percy and Mary chose to do most of their secretive courting: at the grave of her equally famous mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, in Old St Pancras churchyard. The two declared their undying love for each other here on 26 June 1814 before eloping off to the continent (Shelley leaving behind his pregnant wife).
Dickens and Victoria (Buckingham Palace)
The mid-to-late 19th Century is often described as the Victorian or Dickensian era. But Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens only ever had one conversation. The pair met, on her summons, at Buckingham Palace in March 1870, just three months before Dickens died. After exchanging mutual admiration, Dickens promised to send the Queen a complete set of his works. His gift included the opening chapters of Edwin Drood, and a promise to send her further instalments if she “should ever be sufficiently interested in the tale to desire to know a little more of it in advance of her subjects”. Sadly, the Queen did not reply, and the intended ending of Dickens’ unfinished novel was never revealed.
Victoria and Albert (Kensington Palace)
The Empire’s greatest love story began in the halls of Kensington Palace. Kissin’ cousins Victoria and Albert had long been seen as a potential match by their relatives. Their first meeting was a promising start, with the young princess describing the German prince thus: “He was most amiable, natural, unaffected, and merry; full of interest in everything”. Today, you can stand at the spot on the staircase where Victoria first clapped eyes on her beau, and read the extract from her diary entry of that night. When you look up, there’s a projection of his face on the wall. It’s either London’s most romantic or most nauseous spot, depending on your outlook. Those of bluer curiosity for the joy of Saxe can see (what we childishly think must be) a depiction of Prince Albert’s penis at a nearby pub on Victoria Street/Victoria’s treat.
We’re sure there must be dozens of other examples, and we invite your comments below.