Barry Humphries

London Notebook

Barry Humphries on life in the capital

Only the most venerable and knowledgeable London cab driver has heard of Belsize Circus, a roundabout near the slums of Kilburn Heights where I have my lodgings. During the second world war many bombs fell nearby but, as was the case with most of London, the worst damage by far was wrought after the war by local councils and town-planners. This morning I saw a massive new building arising on the site of an innocuous petrol station. It is already so transcendentally hideous it could only have been enthusiastically approved by Camden Council. It claims to have been put up by something called the Notting Hill Housing Association and is emblazoned in huge rainbow letters with ejaculations like ‘Hello! Affordable! Smile! Unusual and curious!’ Unusual probably just means uncomfortable and badly designed. John Betjeman used to say that modern British architects should have large photographs of themselves, in their beards and duffel coats, posted outside their buildings, as though they were criminals, which they are. This morning I heard an admiring interview on the wireless with a blind British artist, who paints by smell and touch. He was treated as if he were a unique phenomenon; yet for decades, blind British architects have plied their trade with rarely a word of praise.

I am still getting over my ‘tap on the shoulder’. This was peritonitis at Christmas time. Luckily it happened in Sydney and not on stage in America, where I was planning soon to be. In 1958 I invented a character called Sandy Stone. Originally intended to put the boredom threshold of an audience to the supreme test, Sandy was a feeble old man in a dressing-gown, clutching a hot-water bottle. In January this year, I came to in hospital finding that I had turned into Sandy, at least temporarily.

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