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Passport to Pimlico
Photograph: Ealing Studios

Passport to... Lambeth? How an Ealing classic ended up on the wrong side of the river

The classic British comedy didn’t set foot in Pimlico

Written by
Thomas Hobbs
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Ealing’s classic 1949 comedy ‘Passport to Pimlico’ tells the story of how a bombed-out, sleepy corner of Westminster discovers an ancestral secret that suddenly affords it independence from the rest of the country. In reality, the movie’s Pimlico was actually recreated across the river in Vauxhall, where the rubble of the Blitz was readily available as a backdrop.

The location: China Walk Estate, SE11 

The scene: An unexploded Luftwaffe bomb goes off and treasures are unearthed that prove Pimlico is actually territory of the House of Burgundy. After finally winning back their right to be British, the tight-knit but exhausted band of locals hold a street party to celebrate. Predictably, it rains. 

Then: Lambeth doubled up as Pimlico in this Ealing classic. Having been devastated by Nazi bombs and V2s during the war, this bombed-out stretch of Lambeth Road was awaiting redevelopment when Margaret Rutherford, Stanley Holloway and co descended to film in the summer of 1948.

Passport to Pimlico
Photograph: Jess Hand

Now: This stretch of the Lambeth Road hasn’t changed much, with a few of its Grade II listed Georgian townhouses still standing. ‘The film is about an embattled community united against the powers-that-be to preserve its neighbourhood,’ says architectural historian Edmund Bird. ‘Ironically, in the 20 years after its release, the area’s working-class communities were hugely affected by large-scale clearance and housing redevelopment schemes.’ China Walk, where ‘Passport to Pimlico’s street party was filmed, is one of the only post-war estates to endure. Nowadays, there’s a mix of the wealthy professionals and private residents in 1930s-’60s council flats.

Did you know you can visit the ‘Bridgerton’ mansion IRL?

For more of the city on screen, check out our list of the 30 best London movies.

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