1961 – 1964

A Hard Day's NightPost War Period IV: We Call It the Grove

According to the Kensington News, in 1961 ‘the Notting Hill district was being ripped apart by the jukebox parties, the pimps and the prostitutes who made life unbearable for the decent honest folk who had lived there all their lives. Portobello Road, Talbot Road, Ledbury Road, Powis Square, Colville Terrace, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, lined with expensive flashy cars, loud with the shouts and screams of the women and the arguments, and worse still the fights of the men.’

As re-enacted in Scandal by John Hurt, Stephen Ward took Christine Keeler on a slumming expedition with Lord d’Laslo, building Notting Hill up like it was a real American-style black ghetto. On finding their regular restaurant (Fiesta One) deserted, they moved on to ‘an even seedier-looking place’ where they were met by hostile indifference from the entirely black clientele. This was Frank Crichlow’s legendary El Rio café at 127 Westbourne Park Road (now incorporated into Tom Conran’s Lucky Seven restaurant). At the espresso coffee bar decorated with fishing nets hustlers like Michael de Freitas, Lucky Gordon and Darcus Howe co-habited with the likes of Colin MacInnes, Tara Browne, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and the jazz journalist Max Jones. As defined by Frank in the MacInnes biography Inside Outsider, the Rio was a “school or university” for hustlers, “it attracted people who were rebellious and a bit smart, those with street intelligence, those for whom the factory was not their speed.”

In Hollywood W11 the seedy exoticism of the Rachman slums was captured at the time in The L-Shaped Room, Bryan Forbes’ 1962 film of Lynne Reid-Banks’ play which features All Saints Road. The Notting Hill kitchen-sink classic, described as I am a Camera meets A Taste of Honey, stars Leslie Caron as a pregnant French girl sharing a house along Westbourne Park Road with a typically multicultural bunch of characters; a black jazz musician (down as ‘a maladjusted negro’ in the Monthly Film Bulletin), a lesbian actress, a couple of prostitutes in the basement, and a struggling writer on the top floor played by Tom Bell who Leslie Caron’s character falls for.

A year after the death of Stephen Ward, another participant in the Profumo affair died under suspicious circumstances and this time it was definitely murder. The local prostitute Margaret McGowan was ‘found naked and dead’ (as the first book about the case was entitled) on the site of the new Kensington Town Hall in Hornton Street; a victim of the latest local serial killer. During the course of what became known as ‘the Jack the Stripper’ murders, the glamorous conspiracy of the Profumo affair segued into the sleazy horror of 10 Rillington Place. The police investigation into the victims’ last known whereabouts encompassed the early 60s Notting Hill underworld haunts; the Rio café and Joe Cannon’s Jazz club on Westbourne Park.

The Portobello pop market was inaugurated by the Beatles in Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night. Ringo Starr first appears on St Luke’s Road photographing a milk bottle basket outside 2 Lancaster Road; to an instrumental version of ‘This Boy (is in love with you)’. From there he’s chased by 2 screaming girls down Lancaster to All Saints Road. Ringo founded All Saints as a pop site running round the Lancaster corner into the secondhand clothes shop at number 20. As he comes out in beatnik disguise and heads along All Saints towards Tavistock Road, a policeman eyes him up and a beatnik girl tells him to “Get out of it, Shorty.” In the early to mid 60s it’s not unusual to find Tom Jones in Notting Hill, when he was living at various addresses in the area; including a bedsit on Clydesdale Road, where he’s recalled in The Book of Notting Hill watching rugby on a neighbour’s TV across the garden wall.

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