Directed by Norman Cohen and based on a book by Geoffrey Fletcher, The London Nobody Knows is a look at the underbelly of London in the late 1960s – part history lesson, part social commentary – seen through the eyes and narrated with the voice of veteran actor James Mason.
Mason takes us to a condemned music hall in Camden; Spitalfields – including the sites of Jack The Ripper’s murders; traditional markets; old-style cafes; Victorian public toilets and Salvation Army hostels.
It isn’t upbeat and it certainly isn’t “swinging”, although we do get snapshots of the cool kids out shopping as a stark contrast to ‘real’ London life. The film dwells on the real suffering and poverty in London – tramps drinking bottles of meths on street corners, the decaying housing (in the process of being replaced by high-rise tower blocks) and elderly people living out their final years in those Salvation Army hostels.
At first glance, veteran actor James Mason seems a strange choice as the frontman for this film, but he’s damn near perfect for the role. Never a man to pull his punches, he’s scathing at the world around him, in particular about the loss of London’s Victorian heritage and the lack of support for the vulnerable.
Not that it made much difference. Many (if not all) of the landmarks featured have long since disappeared, and poverty is still with us today.
But it’s an important social document and a fascinating glimpse into a world now lost to us, and a balance to the traditional view of late 60s London as a world of music, models, mini skirts and carefree attitudes.