If asked to name the visionary behind the development of Canary Wharf, most people who know anything about it would come up with the late Michael von Clemm of the investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston, who spotted the potential for office developments while scouting for small industrial space on behalf of the Roux Brothers restaurant group in 1984.
But go back further, to 1980 and these words, ‘I believe that this is the decade in which London will become Europe’s capital, having cleared away the outdated. We’ve got mile after mile and acre after acre of land for our future prosperity. No other city in the world has got right in its centre such an opportunity for profitable progress. So it is important that the right people mastermind the new London — proven people with nerve, knowledge and expertise.’
The remarkably prophetic speaker was Harold Shand, the East End racketeer in the seminal British gangster film The Long Good Friday. Shand (played by Bob Hoskins) was addressing a group of corrupt politicians and policemen, American mafia bosses and henchmen from the deck of his yacht, as he cruised past the Isle of Dogs. He almost certainly provided the public at large with their first inkling that there might be grand plans for Docklands. But in bribing the IRA to let his building workers get on with the job, Shand falls foul of the terrorists, and this leads, after a suitably bloody war, to his inevitable doom. Thus he became the first victim of the Curse of Canary Wharf.
Von Clemm should probably have regarded this as a warning, but perhaps he didn’t see the film. Instead, inspired by waterside developments in Boston, he contacted Ware Travelstead, an American developer who in turn brought in Olympia & York, the Canadian property group controlled by the Reichmann brothers.