Back in the 1950s when international air travel had hardly been invented, sea travel was the way young Australians went on their traditional “rite-of-passage” trip to London.
The Orient Line, P & O or Sitmar Line made frequent voyages to England, returning after having brought a shipload of “ten pound Pom” migrants to Australia and carrying back-packers to England.
One of the perks of sea travel was the stop for a day in Aden for duty-free shopping. My aim was to replace my very nice (and now a collector’s item) Kodak Retina with something a bit up-market and I went for an Exacta Varex SLR that had the top of the line f2.8 Tessar lens with a PRE-SET APERTURE. That was its major feature.
Kodachrome was the colour film of the day (35 mm colour negative film would not be available for some years yet) but Kodachrome then was very slow (at 10 ASA) and slightly contrasty.
Apart from the contrast, Kodachrome photographs sometimes had a slight unsharp appearance (although it was really a very sharp film) because its slow speed meant using slow shutter speeds, resulting with some camera shake or subject movement.
Bearing all that in mind here are ten of my impressions of London in 1958 as seen by a 19 years old backpacker.
1) The rally in Trafalgar Square at Easter 1958 before the first Aldermaston (“ban the bomb”) March. Without knowing it I had taken what would later be regarded as a very rare photograph. It is now part of the permanent collection of the Museum of London. It is rare because it is believed to be the only colour photograph taken of this event. (Left)
2) London Dancers – one of the groups that set off on the Aldermaston March. Conscientious and concerned no doubt, but judging by their choice of footwear, I would be surprised if they marched very far. (Right)
3) Ever popular, the crowd watching the Changing the Guard taken from the back of the crowd. Note to self: arrive early next time. (Left)
4) As for No 10 Downing Street, you might as well just rock up to the front door and ask to see the Prime Minister. Trivia buffs: it was Harold Macmillan, aka “SuperMac”. (Right)
5) The first of some street entertainments to be seen around town: buskers in Leicester Square, opposite a cinema showing June Allyson and David Niven starring in “My Man Godfrey” in glorious CINEMASCOPE! (Left)
6) A blind band of ex-servicemen in Petticoat Lane with drinks available for 4d. (Right)
7) Escapologist on Tower Hill. Did the victim ever get free? (Left)
8) And a pavement chalk artist. (Right)
9) A sign that baffled me at the time. I couldn’t think of any other way you could do it. Of course I wasn’t thinking of false teeth. (Left)
10) Coaled up and ready to go – the 10.00am service from Kings Cross to Edinburgh. I was on it. Train buffs, correct me if I am wrong: It is a Gresley A4 Pacific locomotive, named “Wild Swan”. (Right)