20 great London YouTube clips

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To get a view of our city in all its spectacular, historical and often utterly barking glory, you have to see it by Tube. YouTube, that is. Peter Watts trawls the site for its most startling London snippets

  • Have you got a favourite London clip? Let us know

    1

    Paul McCartney on the Tube

    From the 1986 album ‘Press To Play’ came the video ‘Press’, in which Macca serenades terrified passengers on the Central Line. Mesmerising. 

    2

    Underground Thunderbirds

    A clip from ‘Vault of Death’, in which International Rescue descend on the Tube. Hope Brains remembered to pack their Oyster cards.tinyurl.com/tv21vault

    3

    How to catch a bus

    An incredibly patronising film from 1950 by the Colonial Film Unit showing newly arrived visitors from Africa and the Caribbean how to catch a London bus. ‘Try and catch a bus that is going to the place you want to reach.’ 

    4

    Joe Orton’s library books

    An excerpt from a BBC4 documentary revealing exactly what went on with those famous Islington library books. 

    5

    Southall v the skinheads

    Contemporary news coverage from July 1981, when Southall’s Asian community fought east London skinheads, burning down the pub where the Four Skins were performing.

    6

    The Crystal Palace burns down

    Stunning archive footage of something many assume was never filmed – the razing of the Crystal Palace in 1936. It’s a sad watch, all the more so when the newsreel shows the Palace in all its glory before the fire. ‘It can never be replaced,’ says the newsreader, and he was right.

    7

    Islington pre-gentrification

    In 1983 a sardonic Australian TV team descended on an Islington squat of pet-loving punks (including Bumbox, Alien, Scumbag and Animal): this was the result.

    8

    Soul II Soul

    Normski remembers when ‘Camden was happening’ and Soul II Soul were on their way up. Short and sweet.www.tinyurl.com/normski

    9

    Festival of Britain, 1951

    ‘Brief City’ was a film made by The Observer to document the buildings that appeared on the South Bank for the 1951 Festival of Britain. That dome looks very familiar.

    10

    AC/DC take on Covent Garden

    Cracking interview in Covent Garden with AC/DC in 1976. Worth watching mainly for Bon Scott’s tiny shorts. ‘Where did you get that banana?’www.tinyurl.com/angus76

    11

    Lucy in swinging London

    American comedian Lucille Ball recorded a TV special in London in 1966 and the theme tune features some of the finest couplets ever set to cod-Merseybeat: ‘With her miniskirt on she got in with the Mods/And she really became top gear’. Look out for guest appearances by Anthony Newley and Twiggy on the Kings Road.

    12

    ‘London Can Take It’

    The Blitz that is. Profoundly moving American film from 1941. Note the weary ‘here they come’ as the drone of approaching German bombers grows louder, and then ‘…that was a bomb.’

    13

    Orson Welles’s ‘Swinging London’

    Baffling short by Welles from the late 1960s, in which he plays seven characters in '60s London. Never released, it was restored in 1999 and is very odd indeed.

    14

    ‘Stuff This Life’

    When cults collide. ‘This Life’ was the epochal cult late-’90s drama about a household of smoking, shagging, snorting lawyers. Adam and Joe were a pair of comedians who made very funny parodies with stuffed toys and ‘Star Wars’ figures. ‘Stuff This Life’ was the inevitable result. No arguing who came out on top.

    15

    Snap, Crackle and Keef

    In 1963 the Rolling Stones, on the cusp of stardom, filed into the IBC recording studios on Portland Place, Marylebone, for their latest opus: a 30-second jingle for Rice Krispies. It could rank among their finest work.

    16

    Berkoff’s ‘West’

    A spellbinding clip from Steven Berkoff’s play ‘West’ about a vicious fight between north London gangsters.

    17

    Whoops apocalypse

    It’s 1982 and Cold War paranoia is at its height. So on ‘QED’, Mick ‘Threads’ Jackson decided to look at what would happen if a one-megaton nuclear bomb were to be dropped above St Paul’s Cathedral. It isn’t pretty.

    18

    Barrymore IS Barnes

    Michael Barrymore, in blackface no less, impersonates Watford’s John Barnes before the 1984 FA Cup final. Staggering.

    19

    The fog of London with Kermit the Frog

    A ‘Sesame Street’ classic in which Kermit heads to Westminster to track down the truth behind the fabled London fog. Or was that frog?

    20

    A cockney knees-up with Sir Michael and Sir Elton

    Elton John, minus his syrup, tinkles the ivories while Michael Caine belts out ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner’. Priceless. And the perfect place to end.Have you got a favourite London clip? Tell us below

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