Have you ever watched Alfred Hitchcock’s last great film (well, last great film worth watching anyway)? Frenzy is a masterpiece both of film-making and nostalgia. Watch it and see the London of a different place. That opening shot flying down the Thames over a really scruffy looking Tower Bridge, all the way to the former Greater London Authority (before a body washing up, of course!) is a reminder that London used to be a far more tumbledown place than it is now. Look at all that soot, enough to make a mother cry!
Where’s this leading to, you ask? Well, featured strongly in Frenzy is a Covent Garden you have probably only heard of, a Covent Garden of fruit and veg, and flowers. Made in 1972, it must’ve been just before the market was sent to the outta reaches of the never-never, just before it became the tourist mecca it is today, that oddly uncomfortable playground combining twee entertainment, silver-painted muscle men, an opera house and, you got it, an array of boutiques.
Covent Garden proudly shows its heritage (which is beautiful, by the way). Apple market? If only. A sad mess of awful art, bags and luggage line this area now.
In fact, high-end boutiques have followed Apple’s lead and invaded the former market shops, Bond Street extending its reach over Zone 1 London. And what dull little stores these are. Like concessions in airports, these stores display the greatest hits of their collections, sparkling like diamonds to passers-by, mostly bored tourists who must yearn for the Covent Garden of old, the one they read about – or saw in movies like Mary Poppins (OK – I know that one was a set).
Every city has undergone this change. You can travel to Copenhagen, Hong Kong and probably the smallest village in Siberia, and see the influences of the big, powerful chains. Once, we travelled for difference. Now there isn’t any. And it is ironic – don’t you think? – that our major landmarks are mimicking that grim area beyond passport control, an area where your Visa card knows no limit.