Peter Ackroyd: interview

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London’s self-appointed chronicler, historian, poet, novelist, biographer and champion, who lives and breathes this city is one of Time Out’s 40th birthday London heroes

  • See all Time Out's 40th birthday London heroes

    Who are your London heroes?

    ‘Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Jack Sheppard, Dan Leno. None from the present. The last one would probably be the lady who did the “London A-Z”, Phyllis Pearsall.

    What’s the biggest thing that’s happened in your field in London in the past 40 years?

    ‘If my field is London, then it would be the cleaning up of the river. In the ’50s it was dead, and now it’s the cleanest metropolitan river in the world. There used to be no life there until the clean-up started in the ’70s. It was so polluted it couldn’t go on much longer, and now it’s changed the whole river; it’s a big highway again.’

    What’s your favourite place in London?

    ‘Clerkenwell. I’ve known it all my life and it’s the one part of London that has retained all its charm. It’s still got the old character: ancient, troubled, radical. Another area I like very much is the Temple, around Fountain Court and the Templars’ church. Another favourite place is Bunhill Fields, where the dissenters are buried – Defoe, Blake, Bunyan. It’s chaotic.’

    What’s the future for your field in London?

    ‘The future for London is very bright. I wouldn’t say I’m excited, but it’s very promising. The growth of the city down the river, the multiplicity of identities. The bigger the better, up and across, it makes no difference, there is no boundary.’

    What does Time Out mean to you?

    ‘It’s been an indispensable part of London culture for 40 years.’

    Complete the sentence: London is…

    ‘…a horror and a beauty.’
    See all Time Out's 40th birthday London heroes

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