The actor, novelist, screenwriter and Sherlock’s big brother shares his view of the city
Where do you live in London?
‘Islington. I moved to London 26 years ago; I stayed on a friend’s floor in Liverpool Road, just a stone’s throw away, and became very fond of it. I’ve lived in different places, but always north London and mostly around here. It’s still a village in many ways. It’s a lovely old place; I like the sense of old London.’
What’s your favourite hidden gem?
‘There’s a marvellous place on Essex Road which used to be called Alfredo’s. It’s an art deco café. It was in “Quadrophenia” [the 1979 mod film], and it’s now a restaurant called Meat People, but they’ve kept everything as it was. It still says “cup of tea 4d” [four pence] in the window. It’s a beautiful thing.’
What’s your favourite memory of London?
‘The first time I came here was in 1972 to see the Tutankhamun exhibition. I have very fond memories of that trip: queueing for ever and ever and ever. I would have been six or seven, and I can see it now, the golden mask in the darkness. I was so excited by it. I can also remember very vividly how dirty London was. I went back to school and wrote about it in my jotter, using all the black crayon available. The Palace Theatre, Big Ben: they were absolutely filthy.’
What do you love about London?
‘How higgledy-piggledy it is. The tone of the place can change within 300 yards. You can find yourself in a rough area, turn a corner and suddenly it’s much more gentrified. Turn another and it’s quite poor, another one and it’s weirdly rural. It still follows the pattern of the medieval city, which I think gives it its charm.’
What’s it like to film a TV show on the streets of London?
‘It’s not easy and it’s got worse. It’s very difficult with crowd control. What we decided to do with “Sherlock” was to fetishise London as a very exciting modern city. We show the City, the bridges and the new architecture because it’s just so beautiful.’
WHERE WOULD YOU...
Go on a date? ‘Leighton House Museum in Kensington. Frederic Leighton, who was head of the Royal Academy and a great painter, built his house in an extraordinary style. It’s one of those places that you wouldn’t know about unless someone pointed it out, but it’s like nowhere else.’
Spend a tenner? ‘I would spend it on a theatre ticket. Lots of theatres now do £10 tickets. It’s really such a great, accessible way of getting people into the theatre. Many people in London can afford a tenner for something like that. It could be one of those shows that changes your life.’
Go for a drink? ‘Gordon’s Wine Bar. I think there’s been a pub there since the twelfth century. The Thames used to lap against the door before the Embankment arrived. The cellar hasn’t been cleaned since the war, so there are stalactites of grime. A glass of port there on Christmas Eve is probably the best experience known to man.’
Cure a hungover? ‘Hampstead Heath. It’s one of the wonders of London. It’s such an expanse of land. And I love that view. It sort of looks like a still from “Planet of the Apes’” or something, like the city’s gone wild.’
Go to be inspired? ‘The National Portrait Gallery. I love looking at people’s faces, more than landscapes or still life. You sometimes look at a picture painted three-and-a-half centuries ago and go, “But they look like they just stepped out of now.”
Buy books? ‘It would be Foyles. When I first moved here, I remember how incredibly eccentric it used to be. It’s almost a shame that it’s become an actually profitable business now because it was so Dickensian! Once there was a power cut and I just watched a man fill his raincoat with books and just walk out of the shop, because he could.’
Just a couple more... You’re starring in BBC1’s ‘Gunpowder’ at the moment. What do you do on Bonfire Night in London?
‘I haven't been to a fireworks display for a long time. The last time we actually bought some fireworks must be 15 years ago. We set them off in the garden and it was great. Then I put a Catherine Wheel on the shed door, and it set fire to it, so that was the end of that!’
You’re on set at the moment for ‘The League of Gentlemen’. What’s it like to be back?
‘Amazing! It genuinely feels like we just stopped last week. I thought it would take a bit more getting used to, but we've absolutely just slipped back into it. It feels like putting on an old pair of shoes.’
And you’re in the next episode of Doctor Who. How excited are you about being on telly on Christmas Day?
‘It’s a nice idea to be part of the schedule after the Queen, but to be in “Doctor Who” on Christmas Day is an absolute joy. It's Peter Capaldi's last day, Steven Moffat's last story. It's the end of an era in so many ways, and the beginning of a new one with Jodie Whittaker, so it's a fantastic privilege to be part of it. It's also a beautiful story. It's very moving, very funny, and I had an absolute ball making it.’
Mark Gatiss is in BBC1’s ‘Gunpowder’ on Sat Nov 4. He also stars in ‘The League of Gentlemen’ specials and Doctor Who‘s ‘Twice Upon a Time’, which will both air at Christmas.