London is the city of imagination. Some of the greatest characters of all time call our city home: James Bond, Mary Poppins, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter (sort of)... the list goes on. Occasionally, fictional London intrudes upon the streets and buildings of actual London. We find statues to people who never existed, merchandise for teams who never played, and enter whole rooms drawn from the pages of storybooks. There's even a plaque in Brockley to someone who hasn't been born yet.
Here, then, are 10 times that fictional London has strayed into our own universe...
1. The statues in Leicester Square
A good place to start is Leicester Square. The tourist beacon has long been associated with the movies. It got its first filmic statue in 1981, when a likeness of Charlie Chaplin's tramp character was unveiled. Since 2020, the fictional population has multiplied, with a rash of fibreglass replicas. The likes of Mary Poppins, Bugs Bunny, Wonder Woman, Batman, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Mr Bean now decorate the square — supposedly on a temporary basis, though we have a hunch they'll stick around for a while yet.
2. Ted Lasso in Richmond
Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso follows the fortunes of the players and staff of AFC Richmond, a fictional Premier League football team. Titular Ted is a regular down the Crown and Anchor, a handsome pub at the corner of Richmond Green. Anyone who knows the area will immediately realise that this is the Prince's Head. If you were to visit the pub (and you should, it's lovely), you'll find it decorated with AFC Richmond scarves. That's if you can get to the bar. The show's huge international appeal means that the place is regularly packed out.
3. The curious case of Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous creation has always had a life of his own. The erratic detective pops up all over town. There's the statue outside Baker Street tube, of course, and the themed tiles within. He's got a whole museum round the corner, and the cafe from Sherlock is a short walk away. You'll find a plaque at Bart's marking the spot where he first met Doctor Watson, and a phone box at the hospital became an impromptu shrine, when the character apparently fell to his death during the Sherlock TV series.
BUT, the most curious instance of Sherlockian manifestation can be found off Northumberland Avenue. The Sherlock Holmes pub is, of itself, a good addition to the list, but head upstairs. Here you'll find a recreation of the detective's study, complete with chemistry set, violin and other Holmesian appurtenances. It was created for the 1951 Festival of Britain, and later installed within the pub. I've always thought the waxwork of Holmes looks an awful lot like Vladimir Putin — albeit with a bullet hole in the forehead (a nod to The Adventure of the Empty House) .
4. Platform 9¾ at King's Cross
Perhaps the most famous case of fiction intruding upon the muggle realm can be found at King's Cross, where smiling fans queue to board the Hogwart's Express. The not-at-all-tacky mock-up of Platform 9¾ has apparated around the station over the years, but has now settled in the main concourse next to... the Harry Potter shop.
5. Dickens's dream
The merging of reality and fiction has long been a part of London life. As Lee Jackson explores in his new book Dickensland, the Victorians were obsessed with tracking down and celebrating the locations from Charles Dickens's novels. (That obsession has not entirely died out. A few years ago, I personally read all the Dickens novels and mapped every single London location onto one map. I won't be doing that again.) Walk around town with your eyes open and you'll spot dozens of streets named after Dickens characters. Holborn has its Old Curiosity Shop; Borough its Little Dorrit Park. Have a drink in the Betsey Trotwood pub, or the Artful Dodger, or the Nicholas Nickleby. But the best representation of Dickens's imagination made tangible can be found on Marylebone Road. Here, at the site of one of Dickens's many addresses, can be found this superb relief, showing the author dreaming up some of his best known characters.
6. That's no moon
Head downstairs to the toilets at the Marquis of Cornwallis pub in Bloomsbury, and you'll encounter this possibly apocryphal representation of the 1777 Battle of Princeton. I'm no expert on the American Revolutionary War, but I'm pretty certain that neither side had access to light sabres and a death Death Star.
7. To boldly go... to Brockley
Star Wars isn't the only sci-fi franchise to materialise in London. Star Trek is also represented by a curious plaque on Marnock Road, Brockley. If we're to believe its claims, Amanda Grayson will be born here in the year 2210. As any fan will tell you, Grayson was (or will be?) the human mother of Spock, the much-decorated Vulcan officer and ambassador. More on that space oddity here.
8. The Earl's Court TARDIS
And to round off a trio of science fiction locations, we have to include the much-celebrated police call box outside Earl's Court tube station. It's not an original box, but a modern replica fitted with CCTV. Nor is it intended as a direct homage to Doctor Who. That said, in 2013 the wannabe TARDIS was given its own console room... on Google Street View. The link seems to have vanished on the up-to-date site, but you can still access the interior on this link. The strange, cocoon-like structure beside the police box, by the way, is a magazine kiosk designed by Thomas Heatherwick, a few of which can be found across town.
9. This is an ex-parrot
And now for something completely different. A contender for London's most surreal sculpture is this dead parrot, located on the corner of Romney Road and King William Walk, Greenwich. The belated beakster, a painted bronze sculpture, stands as a feature of interest in the grounds of Devonport House hotel. It was created in 2009 by artist John Reardon, presumably as an homage to the famous Monty Python sketch. It is simply titled 'Monument for a Dead Parrot' — though it appears to represent a sulphur-crested cockatoo rather than the 'Norwegian blue' from the sketch.
10. Paddington, and other fictional statues
And finally, we must doff our hats to the famous statue of Paddington at (obviously) Paddington station. The loveable ursine represents a small class of London statues to be based on fictional characters (not including gods and mythical creatures, which are legion). We've already mentioned Sherlock Holmes and the characters dotted around Leicester Square, but you can also find two statues of Peter Pan — one in Kensington Gardens and another in Great Ormond Street hospital. A couple of sculptures of Winnie the Pooh are also to be found at London Zoo, although they represent the real bear that inspired AA Milne's character.
All images by the author unless otherwise stated. If you enjoy the blurring of fact and fiction, you might like the author's forthcoming book Atlas of Imagined Cities, which maps the homes and key locations of thousands of fictional characters.