James Innes-Smith

James Innes-Smith is the author of two books about old school entertainers, Life Is A Cabaret and Reach For The Big Time.

Why prog beat punk

Keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman once described progressive rock as the ‘porn of the music industry; you bought an album under the counter in a brown paper bag’. He was no doubt referring to the genre’s mid-1970s nadir when punk burst onto the scene and nicked all the cool kids, leaving the nerds to their embarrassing flares

Women will be disappointed by the Garrick Club

Perhaps it was the anachronistic use of the term ‘gentlemen’ that finally put paid to the idea of the gentlemen’s club. If only these illustrious institutions had thought to rename themselves ‘cis-male inner-city safe spaces’, we probably wouldn’t be looking on aghast as another centuries old tradition is summarily flushed down the memory hole. Strange

What happened to the good old fashioned Chinese restaurant?

In 1909, London’s first Chinese restaurant was opened by Mr Chang Choy off Piccadilly Circus. Named simply ‘The Chinese Restaurant’ – so exotic! – Choy specialised in what was described as ‘imperial banquet’ style cuisine which required at least half a day’s notice to prepare. Customers were then required to pay a hefty deposit in advance to

Frank Skinner: twilight of an insurgent comic

Watching Frank Skinner perform his latest one man show at the Gielgud Theatre reminded me of what it must have been like back in the dying days of variety. By the late 1970s and early 1980s cheeky jokesters and all-round entertainers such as Tarby, Brucie, Doddy and Manning were feeling the heat from a new

I’m an unlikely golf convert

Golf has always felt like the embarrassing uncle of the sporting world, from those garish check slacks and snobby clubhouse rules to the desperate middle-managers sucking up to the boss at the 18th hole. Like many non-golfers I could never understand the appeal. Surely only a masochist would find pleasure whacking tiny balls into tiny holes.

The sad decline of Piccadilly Circus

It’s always sad to see a beloved landmark lose its identity – but when the landmark in question is one of the most recognisable places on earth, it’s doubly troubling. In recent years, Piccadilly Circus, once described as ‘the hub of the world’, has descended into a shamefully hollowed out sideshow. Stately Edwardian buildings, once

Richard Curtis doesn’t owe fat people an apology

Nepo-narcissism has plunged new depths. Scarlett Curtis, the mauve-haired social justice activist and daughter of filmmaker Richard, has been grilling her hapless father about his wicked pre-cultural revolutionary past. During a creepy Soviet-style cross-examination in front of a crowd at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Scarlett harangued the creator of Blackadder for failing to include a

Dodgy developments deserve the wrecking ball

It used to be that an ‘artist’s impression’ of a proposed building development was just that; an architectural drawing designed to give planners an idea of what to expect. Then along came CGI and a new era of photorealistic visualisations. On the surface, these glossy new artist’s impressions are anything but impressionistic. Indeed the renderings are

A guide to London’s hotel restaurants

Hotel restaurants have come a long way since they were dingy add-ons geared towards a captive audience, once the preserve of holidaymakers too lazy to leave the lobby. London is in the midst of a literal feeding frenzy of swish new hotel restaurant openings. The whole ‘dining experience’ – what is dining if not an

I watched society collapse at Stansted Airport

As I gazed upon the first circle of hell, otherwise known as Stansted Airport, I felt as though I was witnessing a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong with our hapless nation. Thousands of desperate flyers were left stranded across the UK earlier this week after what appeared to be another air traffic control

Love architecture? Visit Vienna

When asked how his production of Goodnight Vienna was going down with audiences in Huddersfield, Noel Coward is reputed to have replied ‘about as well as Goodnight Huddersfield would be going down with audiences in Vienna.’  I cannot vouch for Huddersfield’s cultural riches but there has never been a better time to visit Austria’s ‘City of Dreams and Music’. Over

Who needs Hollywood actors anyway?

For the past week Hollywood’s film and television actors have been on strike, plunging Los Angeles’s most famous industry into chaos. Performers joined screenwriters (who have been striking since May) on the picket line after talks broke down in what has become the first simultaneous strike in more than 60 years. The strikes have attracted plenty

Do we still need Pride Month?

With Pride Month beginning tomorrow, how proud are you of your sexuality? As a white cis-gendered male, I am frankly a little embarrassed about mine. I mean, it’s not exactly cool to fancy the opposite sex these days, and many of us hetero-normies have become increasingly wary of appearing ‘inappropriate’ when making a move on someone we

In celebration of Gilbert and George

I’d always questioned the creative genius of self-confessed ‘living sculptures’ Gilbert and George. Their dogged determination to be seen as ‘different’ felt archly self-conscious and not particularly interesting. Like so many fly-by-night avant-gardists of the 1960s, the duo’s ‘originality’ tended to hang on hoary old controversies such as scatological imagery, sex and nudity – hardly revolutionary even back

Do London’s oldest restaurants still cut the mustard?

When George William Wilton opened his shellfish-mongers close to Haymarket in 1742, he could never have imagined that his business would still be thriving 280 years later. The place has outlived ten monarchs and is as old as Handel’s Messiah. Before visiting, I imagined a typically Hogarthian scene with portly gentlemen in dandruff-flecked suits feasting on potted shrimp and vintage

Diary of a digital nomad

As the pandemic gently recedes into history, many of us have been embracing the liberties that have followed. For anyone whose work relied on a desk, a chair and a computer, video-conferencing services such as Zoom left us questioning long-held assumptions about the need for those increasingly anachronistic offices to which we once trudged. The

The trials and triumphs of Jacqueline Gold

By all accounts, Jacqueline Gold, the executive chair of Ann Summers who has died aged 62, was a devoted family woman. This may come as a surprise to those who associate ‘the queen of sex’ purely with ‘willy warmers’ and frilly knickers.  Business-minded Gold managed to transform what had been a male-dominated, backstreet cottage industry into a glossy,

‘Exciting’ has lost its meaning

Wow, can I just begin by saying how incredibly excited I am to be given this opportunity to write about such an awesomely exciting subject. Don’t worry, this isn’t the start of some interminable Oscars-worthy speech. In truth, I’m not remotely ‘excited’ at the prospect of writing this article about the overuse of the word

The wacky world of immersive dining

The human desire to turn life’s mundanities into something altogether more agreeable never ceases to amaze and amuse. Take our homes, for instance. Once we were content to live in caves as long as they kept us dry and were reasonably warm. Then we decided it would be more appealing to build our own caves but

The tragedy of Fawlty Towers

The secret of any great sitcom is the delicate balance of sit and com. Mess the ‘sit’ bit up and you lose the ‘com’. Del Boy without Nelson Mandela House is as unthinkable as Alan Partridge without his ‘grief hole’ (aka the Linton Travel Tavern), which is why both of these characters eventually came unstuck. Sending