How London has changed since the day of Sid and Nancy

Compare the gritty, punk-era London captured in Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy with Google Street View shots of the exact same locations today.

Oliver Lunn
Updated:

Sid and Nancy (1986)

Sid and Nancy (1986)

It’s been 30 years since British filmmaker Alex Cox unleashed his transatlantic punk love story Sid and Nancy (1986), a bruising journey to the heart of the self-destructive relationship between the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious (a young Gary Oldman) and Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). The first half of the film frames the meeting of the lovers in London. Clad in leather, arms scarred by needles, the conspicuous couple leave a trail of mayhem in their wake as they hop from Soho to Bayswater, from Bayswater to Bermondsey.

Watching it now is like unearthing a time capsule of punk-era London. There in the background, behind Gary Oldman’s blistering performance, you see a city that no longer exists. A city where the Sex Pistols got arrested for playing ‘Anarchy in the UK’ on a boat on the Thames; where dyeing your hair and donning a leather jacket could turn heads on the King’s Road – before the King’s Road became the shiny backdrop to Made in Chelsea. Put simply, the film immortalised a lost London. And now, with the aid of Google Street View, we can see the effects of the city’s glossy makeover.

The Bramley Arms, W10

Then…

The Old Mahon pub in Sid and Nancy (1986)

The Old Mahon pub in Sid and Nancy (1986)

Now…

Bramley today

This old boozer – known as The Old Mahon in the film but as The Bramley Arms IRL – is the place where Sid sits outside, in the pouring rain, waiting for Nancy and the dope she owes him. It’s also the makeshift office of Malcolm McLaren and his publicity-hungry cohorts. Though it may look like your regular old man pub, it’s not. Its history is intertwined with British cinema, having appeared in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), Quadrophenia (1979), The Squeeze (1977), John Boorman’s Leo the Last (1970), the film version of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal (1983), and a whole host of 80s TV programmes. Alas, it is a pub no more. The building, a stone’s throw from Latimer Road Station, closed in the late 80s and now houses swanky offices.

Freston Road, W10

Then…

The site of Sid and Nancy’s first encounter

The site of Sid and Nancy’s first encounter

Now…

Bard Road today

Turn the corner and you’ll spot another seedy location from the film: a then-disused industrial building. This was the backdrop for Sid and Nancy’s first encounter alone, where Sid bashes his head against the wall that’s emblazoned with pro-abortion graffiti. Pluck this frame out of the movie and you might think it was shot on the Lower East Side in the 1980s, like an early Jim Jarmusch movie, back when NYC looked like a bombsite. You won’t be surprised to hear that this place, too, has turned into offices. And opposite it lies a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu centre. Hardly the edgy backdrop to the lives of London’s young punks in the late 70s.

The Spice of Life, W1D

Then…

Soho’s The Spice of Life pub as seen in Sid and Nancy

Soho’s The Spice of Life pub as seen in Sid and Nancy

Now…

The Spice of Life, Soho today

To today’s Londoners, one of the more curious watering holes seen in the film is The Spice of Life. Curious because, on the edge of Soho, surrounded by theatres, you’re more likely to see camera-wielding tourists looking for a bite than you are punks drinking the day away. Back then Soho was sleazier: less brogue-wearing media bigwigs; more punks, prostitutes and thrill-seekers. To watch Sid stroll down Berwick Street, with ‘anarchy’ scrawled on the walls behind him, is to be transported back to a London when bouncers wouldn’t demand you stand inside the yellow line when drinking your pint.

The Inverness Court Hotel, W2

Then…

The Inverness Court Hotel seen in Sid and Nancy

The Inverness Court Hotel seen in Sid and Nancy

Now…

Bayswater today

The location that’s changed the least is arguably The Inverness Court Hotel. It was posh then and it’s posh now. The marked difference: it’s now called the Grand Royale Hotel. Sid, Nancy and Johnny Rotten (Andrew Schofield) tumble through its doors like a gang of drunken bandits, much to the disgust of the snooty concierge. Later, when the couple break out onto the rooftop to fire their toy pistols, it’s not the view over Hyde Park it should be. That’s because the rooftop scene was shot at St Ermin’s Hotel in Victoria, which offers a completely different vista. But then, you probably didn’t notice. Such is the magic of montage.

Oakwood Court, W14

Then…

Sid rampaging outside Oakwood Court, Holland Park

Sid rampaging outside Oakwood Court, Holland Park

Now…

Oakwood Court today

The first time we set eyes on Sid in London is when he’s booting in the windshield of a Rolls-Royce in Holland Park. Behind him is Oakwood Court, home to the prostitute the punks meet in the subsequent scene. It’s where Johnny memorably devours a plate of baked beans and does what’s surely the best Dalek impersonation committed to celluloid. Granted, the location was considered swanky then, but house prices in the same area today have almost certainly skyrocketed, suggested by the Porsches and BMWs that line the pavement outside.

The Two Brewers, SE16

Then…

Sid and Nancy outside The Two Brewers pub in Bermondsey

Sid and Nancy outside The Two Brewers pub in Bermondsey

Now…

Bermondsey today

Heading south of the river, Sid and Nancy shack up in a tiny flat in Bermondsey. Outside is The Two Brewers – another of London’s many lost pubs – where Sid chases his girlfriend wearing only a leather jacket and a man-thong. It’s since been painted a questionable salmon pink, turned into offices, and the surrounding area has had a pricey facelift. You can’t really imagine Sid and Nancy, two rebellious and provocative punks, living in the swanky, yummy mummy Bermondsey of today, can you? But time marches forward, and for better or worse, so does the urban landscape of London.

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