British filmmakers of the 1960s began to see a different capital to their predecessors. Instead of the melancholy gloom of the immediate postwar period, vibrancy and colour took precedence. A new permissiveness emerged, embodied in particular by the culturally rich square mile of Soho in all of its seedy glory. Youth films became a phenomenon, and dozens of social dramas featuring hip high-flyers and cool daddios graced the screen. The capital and its culture started to swing.

On the flipside, another London emerged – a more foreboding one that only became apparent after dark. Cobbled streets exuded an eerie menace under the sodium light of streetlamps. Naive youths travelled to the capital only to get duped into the sex industry, while their richer counterparts became nihilistic beatniks, drinking coffee in basement dives to avoid the reality opened up by moody existentialism.

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In short, London cinema became a melting pot of different stories, and the capital never looked better than when shot in the crisp light of the early 1960s. Handpicked by Edgar Wright as inspirations for his upcoming 60s-set Last Night in Soho, the films in BFI Southbank’s new London After Dark season are precious time capsules of that era. Here are six locations from some of the featured films, showing how the city has changed since those heady days.


Edgar Wright’s London After Dark is a season of London films curated by Wright to accompany the release of his new film Last Night in Soho. It runs at BFI Southbank from October to November 2021.

Last Night in Soho is in cinemas from 29 October 2021.


The house from Passport to Shame (1958)

Sometimes known as Room 43, Alvin Rakoff’s Passport to Shame was an incredibly hard-hitting drama for its period. Focusing on a human trafficking scheme, where young new arrivals to London are tricked and coerced into prostitution, Rakoff paints an unforgiving portrait of the capital, filled with sleazy menace. 

The film’s drama takes place in two conjoined houses – one legitimate, one illegitimate – which are connected by a secret door. The main house was at 36 Courtfield Gardens in Kensington. We first see the road when Nick (Herbert Lom), who runs the racket, arrives.

Passport to Shame (1958)
Location for Passport to Shame (1958) in the present day

He enters the building via the legitimate entrance. Today, the road is cleaned up and prestigious, with the gothic darkness of the neighbouring houses’ black pillars all repainted a fresh, saintly white.

Passport to Shame (1958)
Location for Passport to Shame (1958) in the present day

The final shot of Beat Girl (1960)

Edmond T. Gréville’s Beat Girl is one of the most celebrated of the beat films trend that emerged in London in the postwar years. Filled with deliciously dated hip lingo and a vast cast of notable performers, including Gillian Hills, Adam Faith, Oliver Reed and Christopher Lee, the film is a half-imagined time-capsule of postwar British youth. Set in a Soho of coffee bar dives, strip joints and clubs under the streets, it’s surprising to discover that much of the film was actually shot in the studio. However, its final shot is certainly real, showing the famous Old Compton Street. The street from this angle is only marginally changed, with the corner of The Three Greyhounds pub seen on the left and the Prince Edward Theatre on the right. Coffee prices, however, have certainly gone up since.

Beat Girl (1960)
Location for Beat Girl (1960) in the present day

The alleyway from Peeping Tom (1960)

Few portraits of London are as damning and nihilistic as Michael Powell’s controversial yet beautiful Peeping Tom. Following a troubled, murderous young filmmaker, Mark (Carl Boehm), the film pushed too many buttons for its age, resulting in the near destruction of Powell’s career. Powell opens his film with a revolutionary first-person screen murder, shot in a dreamy studio recreation. However, the aftermath of the murder is shot on a real road, Rathbone Street in Fitzrovia. We first see it through Mark’s 16mm footage. The road is surprisingly well-preserved today, considering the developments around it.

Peeping Tom (1960)
Location for Peeping Tom (1960) in the present day

The alleyway that Powell recreated in the studio was based on a real one, Newman Passage, next to The Newman Arms pub. The alleyway still exists, though the grim black bricks and mortar seen in Peeping Tom have since been painted.

Peeping Tom (1960)
Location for Peeping Tom (1960) in the present day

The flat from The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963) 

Soho has never looked better on screen than in Ken Hughes’ The Small World of Sammy Lee. Following striptease compère Sammy (Anthony Newley), who has five hours to pay a bad gambling debt before he gets more than just the frighteners from the local heavies, the film has a huge array of draws, from Newley’s electric central performance to its moody jazz score by Kenny Graham.

Yet it is living, breathing Soho that steals the show, even when the film is centred around Sammy’s lowlife flat. Heading back there after trying to scrape some money from selling his watch, we see Sammy wander mournfully to his down-and-out digs. 

The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963)
Location for The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963) in the present day

The flat is on Frith Street, and its entranceway near Soho Square is still standing today. Next door even has the exact same door knocker.

The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963)
Location for The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963) in the present day

The house from The Pleasure Girls (1965)

The narrative of hopeful youth coming to the capital and dealing with its harsher reality is a common trope of 1960s London cinema. Gerry O’Hara’s The Pleasure Girls is one of the lighter treatments of this theme. Following Sally (Francesca Annis) as she faces the challenges of moving to the big city, The Pleasure Girls is a drama filled with beautiful London location shoots. After Sally arrives in the city at Victoria Station, we see her get a taxi to the main house of the drama. The house is 48 Lexham Gardens in Kensington and is little changed besides its transformation into a range of offices.

The Pleasure Girls (1965)
Location for The Pleasure Girls (1965) in the present day

Sally has the keys thrown down to her by Angela (Anneke Wills), providing a closer shot of the house’s entrance. It’s almost exactly as it was.

The Pleasure Girls (1965)
Location for The Pleasure Girls (1965) in the present day

Several of the film’s other locations create a slight mishmash of Kensington streets. A good example is just behind the main house in Cornwall Gardens Walk, which is used for Sally and Keith’s (Ian McShane) early morning walk back from a party. We see the arch that leads to Cornwall Gardens itself first.

The Pleasure Girls (1965)
Location for The Pleasure Girls (1965) in the present day

Keith stops to buy some milk from the milkman, looking along the cobbled walk. It may be more upmarket today but the general architecture is the same.

The Pleasure Girls (1965)
Location for The Pleasure Girls (1965) in the present day

Finally, O’Hara cuts back to the other entrance of Cornwall Gardens Walk, situated at the end of the street. Cornwall Gardens has had a surprisingly prolific screen history, being used as a setting in everything from Doctor Who (specifically 1966’s The War Machines and 1971’s The Mind of Evil) to Michael Winner’s The Jokers (1967). Sadly, a road accident has clearly damaged the railings of the walkway in the years since.

The Pleasure Girls (1965)
Location for The Pleasure Girls (1965) in the present day

The flat from Darling (1965)

John Schlesinger’s biting social satire features a wealth of upper-crust London locations. Following its array of middle-class movers and shakers, in particular Diana (Julie Christie), Robert (Dirk Bogarde) and Miles (Laurence Harvey), the film is visually sumptuous, yet emotionally brutal too. Befitting its jet-setter class of characters, the film is globe-trotting at times, but its most interesting locations are undoubtedly in London, whether shooting in Hampstead or Marylebone. Miles’s flat is a good example of the luxury on show. By chance, Diana parks nearby on Wimpole Street early on. The road is still busy today.

Darling (1965)
Location for Darling (1965) in the present day

Miles lives at the lavish 40 and 41 Wimpole Street. We see it from the outside briefly before following Miles and Diana out. The entranceway, and the even the typography on the door, is still exactly as it was.

Darling (1965)
Location for Darling (1965) in the present day

References