Exploring Fitzrovia’s darker side. Fitzroy Tavern, 1 July 2010

By Bohemian Wannabe I felt under-dressed in my t-shirt and jeans when I met my friends at Goodge Street tube station. Karen in her black chiffon ballet-style dress and stiletto heels, Jamie in his handmade blue herringbone hat, with blue fluff motif, tartan cut-offs, strolling along with his lacquered cane. Around thirty people gathered in a dimly-lit downstairs room of the Fitzroy Tavern to hear stories about Fitzrovia’s bohemian past, and ironically called Noho Noir. I had the feeling that Karen and Jamie would feel right at home. It was cosy and welcoming with beer, wine and snacks at one end of the room, and the authors’ books for sale at the other. The Fitzroy Tavern is itself steeped in history: past regulars include Dylan Thomas, George Orwell, Michael Bentine, George Bernard Shaw, Richard Attenborough, Tommy Cooper and Coco The Clown.

Authors’ Mike Pentelow, Marsha Rowe and Paul Willetts enthralled us with tales of notorious characters such as Julian MacLaren-Ross, Nancy Cunard and Aleister Crowley. It was interesting and exciting. The authors stood in the middle of the room and at times struggled to see what they were reading because of the lighting but nevertheless they were heard and everyone was thoroughly entertained. It was lively and there were many questions at the end of the session.

I enjoyed the authors’ passion and enthusiasm for some of their obvious “favourites”. Paul Willetts has written a biography of the author Julian Maclaren-Ross (Fear and Loathing in Fitzrovia) and he talked about how fascinated he was with the contrast between Maclaren-Ross’ public persona and his private life as an author. Marsha Rowe talked about some fantastically outrageous women of the time, which is always great to hear. And you can tell Mike Pentelow can’t help but love the murderous, bizarre and criminally-insane types.

My favourite story was the one about Sally Fiber, the grand-daughter of Fitzroy Tavern landlord Judah (Pop) Kleinfeld remembering lullabies being sung to her by a regular in the pub at the time; none other than your friendly neighbourhood hangman Albert Pierrepoint! Ah, how sweet… just shows you, “anything does for your work”.

We left around 9.00pm, Jamie purloining the posters of Aleister Crowley and Julian Maclaren-Ross before thinking better of it and leaving them at the door and saying “I don’t know why I always have to take things”.

Noho Noir was sponsored by Fletcher Priest Architects. Mike Pentelow and Marsha Rowe are authors of Characters of Fitzrovia. Paul Willetts new book about World War II espionage will be published in 2012.

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