Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Down Memory Lane to Dolphin Square

Let me take you back to the time when 1970s brown-and-orange was about to give way to the brave electric-blue world of the 1980s.

Like most teenagers, I spent much of my time day-dreaming. Camped out in the spacious attic of my parents' rural bungalow with Radio 1 and a bag of sherbet lemons from the newsagent's shop, I eagerly devoured the Sunday papers and imagined life in the fast lane hundreds of miles away.
All things were grist to the mill, from reviews of films I would not see for years (our local flea-pit had by then reinvented itself as a bingo hall) and descriptions of up-market restaurants to avant-garde fashions which, had anyone ventured out in them in my local high street, would have rendered the townsfolk helpless with laughter.

In my mind's eye, far from my sagging corduroy beanbag in the loft, I happily trawled the bookshops of Charing Cross Road and listened to records in HMV, then headed for the South Bank for coffee or browsed the rails in Oxford Street, choosing an outfit for supper round the corner at the Wardour Street Pizza Express and a trip to the Screen on the Green for the latest must-see film.

Naturally, at the end of such a busy day, I would need a place to lay my head - a sophisticated city pad with all the amenities - and I had already chosen the address. Dolphin Square had it all; a central location, concierge service and historical significance, not to mention the reflected glory of the rich and famous then in residence.

It was, as far as it could be at such a distance, an informed choice; I knew the layout of the complex and had a good idea of what some of the flats looked like inside thanks to the newspaper's property section and a detailed article or two. Fascinated by the stern 1930's architecture and design, I could have described the entrance halls or the corridors with a fair degree of accuracy or drawn from memory the central fountain which appeared in every property advertisement.

That familiar image still catches my eye whenever I see it, although it is more likely now to appear in the News section. Research has shown that teenagers are capable of absorbing and retaining a phenomenal amount of information and some of it, at least, was still there thirty-five years later when Dolphin Square acquired its sudden public notoriety and tarnished my innocent juvenile aspirations.

I neither intend nor want to delve into other people's darker territory with this post but, in the context of certain allegations dating back to the 1970s, I think it worth pointing out that, to my certain knowledge, it was possible at the time for a fourteen-year-old who had never seen London to construct an imaginary life there in meticulous detail from nothing but the Sunday papers, television and a tattered AtoZ.

(Footnote: Reader, I did not pine in vain. I'd like (albeit belatedly) to thank my wonderful mother for my sixteenth birthday treat - a day in London, bookshops, coffee and all, culminating in a blissful spree in the Oxford Street TopShop.)


  1. Interesting comment and all too possible. Whatever you do don't start me off about the old Euston Station.

  2. I agree. If old memories are revisited too often they seem to change in subtle ways. If other people revisit them with you then changes can be much more pronounced. We've known it forever but too often we pretend it isn't so.

  3. Demetrius, I couldn't if I wanted to - I've never been there and, since I was nearer the East Coast, it never featured in my happy imaginings.

    AKH, it's interesting that, when I briefly moved to (outer) London for work, I was surprised at how accurate my remote visualisations had been. Naturally I had memories of the places I had visited with my mother and had seen locations in photographs, film and television (in moderation), but I had somehow managed to stitch these flimsy elements into a useful knowledge of selective parts of the capital.

    Now, as you say, it would be difficult to measure how much the speculation has been overlaid with real memories - at least in the places I actually visited - but I do worry that, if detailed knowledge of a place is taken as evidence of having been there in person, the result may one day be a miscarriage of justice.

  4. I can't get the other side of Dolphin Square out of the mind enough to appreciate its designed delights.

  5. JH, unless you are referring to some of the more notorious occupants such as Christine Keeler or the Oswald Mosleys - so handy for the overthrow of the British Government! - and, rather later, Lord Sewell, the word 'alleged' should perhaps be included. However, with 1,250 flats there, it seems harsh to write the rest of the place off.

    Though the it has had its share of colourful residents, the one that first attracted my attention was Princess Anne; I have written in the past of my childhood admiration for a woman who combined a rigorous working schedule for charity with a distinctly outspoken and down-to-earth approach - never mind the Disney malarkey; that's how a princess should be.


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