Len Deighton's London Dossier, UK First Edition, 1967
An odd but nonetheless charming collection of personal guides to the hidden gems and sites of London by a range of writers and raconteurs, many of them Len Deighton’s friends. The book is edited by Deighton but he also writes the chapters called 'Basic London' and 'Quenching your thirst'.
Contributors include Godfrey Smith, Steve Race and Milton Shulman and their chapters cover an eclectic range of subjects including what makes a perfect Saturday night, London's underworld and the art of self-indulgence in London. It is styled as a 'dossier' to capitalise in part on Deighton's growing reputation at the time as a spy thriller writer, and also cashes in on his growing reputation as one of sixties London's 'names' and all-purpose man about town. This is the book which inspired the title of this website.
The book will tell you where to hire a barrel organ; where to buy snake steaks; where to find the nearest nudist colony; and how to handle taxi drivers. It's eclectic in the extreme, but a fantastic read where the mini skirts, cigarette smoke and smell of jellied eels leaps off the page.
Why it's interesting
It gives you a wonderful sense of what London in the swinging sixties was like, but from the perspective of the jazz generation: those over forty who enjoyed the good things the city had to offer.
The vividness of some of the descriptions of the more personal parts of the city really drag you back to Carnaby Street and the louche days of playboy London; the recommendations still have relevance, as is the case with the chapter discussing Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in Soho, which is still going strong.
'Pubs have doors marked 'public' where the furnishings are the simplest of wooden seats with sawdust on the floor. In the public bar the beer is at its cheapest. Other doors marked 'saloon' - or even posher 'lounge' - have soft chintzy decor and a penny or two on the prices. 'Jug and bottle' is a counter for selling bottled beer where they fill your jug with beer so there is no charge on the bottle.
'Off licence' is sometimes a part of a pub or sometimes a separate shop. In either case it's a place where alcohol can be bought but not consumed. It has a licence for alcohol to be sold for consumption off the premises.'
From the chapter by Deighton called 'Quenching your thirst'.
The book was the source of a legal challenge and the threat of a libel case. In the book, one chapter on housing referred to Rowton Houses (particularly the Mount Pleasant Hotel), suggesting they were places for drop-outs and the homeless only to stay. A court case determined that this comparison was unfair and ordered subsequent editions of the Dossier to remove the references to the Rowton Houses.