King's Road, by Max Décharné

Entertaining tales of an iconic street for a drug-addled generation
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The Independent Culture

As they say, if you can remember the Sixties, you weren't there. Alternatively, you were there, forgot everything because of hallucinogenic substances - and then refreshed your memories by reading this highly enjoyable book. A few streets are like nation-states and the Hula Hoop: firmly fixed in a certain era, stuck in an iconic timewarp. They are hip until the flying fickle finger of fashion points elsewhere.

The King's Road through Chelsea began when the king in question, Charles II, created it as a personal thoroughfare so that he could avoid the traffic when driving between his palace in Whitehall and his second palace in Hampton Court. It was barred to anyone without a regal pass and remained a private street until 1830. To those of us living a short bus-ride away in Notting Hill during the mid-Sixties, the old regal route still seemed to operate an exclusion zone for citizens who failed the trendiness test.

Max Décharné uses the long spine of the road, and the ribs of adjoining streets, as a skeleton which he fleshes out with the artistic, musical and sartorial developments flourishing in these few squares of the London A-Z. Historically, the area was always good for a laugh, intentional or otherwise. Thomas Crapper produced water-closets at No 120 and Thomas Arne composed "Rule Britannia" at No 215. But it is the Sixties and Seventies on which this book concentrates.

In 1959, thanks to the groundbreaking Royal Court in Sloane Square at the eastern end of King's Road, Lindsay Anderson directed his first London play, The Long and the Short and the Tall, starring Peter O'Toole, with Michael Caine as an understudy. In 1960, the Granada studios down the road accidentally featured the first bare breasts on television when an African dancing troupe suddenly whipped off their tops during a live broadcast. Within a few years, see-through blouses brought that sort of thing on to the pavement. In the Seventies, Sex, the emporium of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren at No 430, was providing the eye-catching "Tits" T-shirts.

Décharné gives twice as much space to the Sixties as the Seventies, which is about right. My only complaint with this droll chronicle is the omission of a final chapter bringing us up to date. After all, the street is still there. Instead, the book merely ends with three dots which, as you'll agree, is always a bit of a let-down...

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