The street names and the landmarks are all there, though many have also now gone. The busy and diverse crowds are also livening up the streets but the colours have gone and everything has the drab greyness of post-war Britain and its ‘pea-soupers’. The smells are different too. Stronger and earthier. Everything you know seems there but somehow it's not quite the same.
"At once a history, a memorial and a love story", Up West by Pip Granger manages to be all of these things as it draws on the lives and testimonies of those who lived in the West End of London in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.
The book, with its amazing cast of characters - some famous, many unknown - covers all the various aspects of life in the West End, its material harshness and its human warmth, in 18 independent chapters. The very detailed index is helpful to get around a book whose scope goes beyond the confine of that relatively small area of the city. It eventually describes post-war London as a whole, with its social and existential turmoil in readjusting to everyday civvy life.
A real problem with the book however is its vagueness with locations (often places that have now disappeared). The map at the front is woefully sketchy for anyone who hasn't done the Knowledge. Details of what the various businesses and places mentioned have now become or been replaced with would have been very welcome too.
This informative book remains a highly enjoyable and nostalgic walk around one of London's most idiosyncratic villages. The best place to enjoy is it probably in a café in Soho or on the top of a bus where you often only have to take your eyes from the book to see the street you've just been reading about. So close and yet so different.
Up West by Pip Granger is out now from Corgi Books, RRP £6.99 (paperback).