Philip Warren, veteran cab driver and the taxi trade's unofficial historian, recalls one of his regular passengers from a career that has spanned 38 years on the streets of the capital. He is captured on video as part of the Museum of London's Taxi] exhibition, currently at the Ragged School Museum.
As well as videos the exhibition features cartoons and contemporary quotes tracing the forerunners to black cabs, from sedan chairs to hackney carriages. In addition there is footage of trainee London cabbies threading their way across town.
'The main reason for the exhibition,' says Javier Pes, who researched Taxi], 'is that taxis are a fundamental part of London. They're how people get around. We wanted to look at the drivers and get behind the wheel.' He also feels that the display is timely in view of the possible licensing of minicabs in the near future. As Pes says, 'This would change the whole trade. A driver who trains for almost three years will be undercut by someone far less skilled.'
Warren is unequivocal about deregulation. 'What annoys me is the continual reference to 'taxis' when they're not taxis. In reality it's either minicabs, which are a joke, or private hire cars.'
Warren's historical knowledge of taxi driving has given his job an added dimension. He hopes to publish a complete history of the trade in April to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the licensing of hackney carriages. He reflects fondly on examples of his research. 'Did you know, for example, that if you read Samuel Pepys's diaries it is clear that within a period of three months he hired hackney coaches on about 70 occasions?'
Despite his predilection for cab-driving past, he remains in touch with the realities of taxi-driving today. 'In 1956 there were 6,000 taxis, today there are 18,000. It's a rat race now. The traffic is a killer and that's why a lot of men work at night.'
He points to the halcyon days of the 1950s and 1960s when his passenger list read like a celebrity roll-call. Among those he glanced in the rear-view mirror: Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson, Bing Crosby, Muhammad Ali and David Frost.
Belligerent famous names were in the minority, according to Warren, but included Jeremy Thorpe, Peter Cook and one other whose name escapes him. He explains: 'Many years ago I picked up this crusty old gentleman from the RAC Club. He got into the cab and said 'Chelsea Cloisters, and none of your fancy right-hand turns'. So I turned down to the Park and along Buckingham Palace Road and then up to Kings Road. I went straight down until the man demanded, 'Where the hell are you taking me to?' I replied, 'I was trying to work out how I could get to Sloane Ave without turning right'. He went berserk, but I made my point.'
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