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Essential London Histories -- The definitive and essential historical guide to the city is Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography (2000). The best historically minded travelogue is H. V. Morton's In Search of London (1951). Reading-age children will prefer the humorous, but scrupulously accurate take found in Terry Deary's Loathsome London (2005), part of the Horrible Histories series. For walking tours based around historical periods, pick up Leo Hollis' Historic London Walks (2005). Ed Glinert's The London Compendium (2004) is an invaluable source of lore and trivia organized by district and street.

Five Classic London Movies

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

Performance (1970)

The Long Good Friday (1980)

American Werewolf in London (1981)

Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)

Eight Modern London Novels

Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square (1941)

Colin MacInnes, Absolute Beginners (1959)

Peter Ackroyd, Hawksmoor (1985)

Martin Amis, London Fields (1989)

Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000)

Monica Ali, Brick Lane (2003)

Zoë Heller, Notes on a Scandal (2003)

Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question (2010)

A London Playlist

Albert Chevalier, Knocked 'Em in the Old Kent Road (1892)

Vera Lynn, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (1940)

Lord Kitchener, London is the Place for Me (1948)

Ella Fitzgerald, A Foggy Day in London Town (1956)

The Kinks, Waterloo Sunset (1967)

The Jam, Down in the Tube Station at Midnight (1978)

The Clash, London Calling (1979)

Flowered Up, Weekender (1992)

Pet Shop Boys, West End Girls (1985)

Lily Allen, LDN (2006)

Swinging Sixties

For a brief spell in the 1960s, it seemed as if London was -- once again -- at the center of the world. This time it wasn't a vast political empire taking its orders from home-base, however, but a global cultural phenomenon shaped and driven by the libertine mores and youthful fashions of Britain's capital.

It all started with the music. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones both recorded their most memorable work in London during the 1960s, notably the former's 1967 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the latter's Beggar's Banquet. (The zebra-crossing outside Abbey Road Studios -- where the Beatles recorded most of their 1960s' music -- remains a popular photo opportunity with fans.) London bands such as the Kinks, the Yardbirds, and the Who straddled the cutting edge and the top of the U.K. charts. Between 1968 and 1969, Jimi Hendrix lived in a flat on Brook Street, next door to the house occupied by composer Handel in 1723-59; it's now the administrative offices of the Handel House Museum. Venues such as the Marquee (now closed) and the 100 Club hosted gigs and parties that have become legendary. New psychedelic bands including Pink Floyd emerged as the decade drew to a close, and like many of the biggest names before them, graced the tiny stage on Eel Pie Island, an islet in the Thames close to Twickenham.

Clothing was an essential ingredient in the Sixties' mix. The mod fashions and miniskirts of designer Mary Quant (b. 1934) defined the era. Models Jean Shrimpton (b. 1942) and Twiggy (b. 1949) became the faces of Swinging London. Chelsea's King's Road was the boho-chic shopping street par excellence. The Kinks wrote "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" (1966) about Carnaby Street, then the epicenter of Soho's style merchants.

Set in Notting Hill, 1970's Performance -- starring Rolling Stones' lead singer Mick Jagger -- is the iconic film of bohemian London. The Beatles' comedy Hard Day's Night (1964) and Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup (1966) both capture the spirit of the era. Barry Miles' London Calling: A Countercultural History of London since 1945 (2010) provides an excellent account of the 1960s' and 1970s' scenes.

When it came to music and fashion, what London did, the world mimicked. But it wasn't all glitz and glamour. Part of the 1960s' mystique is wrapped up in the world of the gangster, among whom the Kray twins, Ronald (1933-95) and Reginald (1933-2000), stand out for both their brutality and their mainstream renown. Sharp-suited and dapper, "Ronnie" and "Reggie" were feted in London's East End but finally jailed for the murders of George Cornell (1966) and Jack "the Hat" McVitie (1967), respectively -- the former in Whitechapel's Blind Beggar pub.

 

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