Media: If you're in the know, you're in NoHo

The media industry's new home is in the wilds north of London's Oxford Street.
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The Independent Culture
IT IS an unfortunate fact of British business that whatever the efforts of cities such as Sheffield to attract media jobs, the industry is desperately stuck on London.

Rather than spread around the country, the industry spreads itself around London in ghettos such as Clerkenwell and Canary Wharf. The various media villages all compete with Soho, the original film and advertising ghetto, to be the media heartland, but so fast-growing are the electronic and advertising arts that Soho has for years needed its own annexe.

In the wilds north of Oxford Street, away from Soho, lies Noho, an area known in the Fifties as Fitzrovia, which is really just an extension of Marylebone.

Saatchi & Saatchi made its home in what is traditionally a garment trade district many years ago, but in the years since the early Nineties recession, television, radio, advertising, public relations and computer game businesses have all colonised the area.

And now there is the final confirmation that the media has taken the NoHo area to its heart: this month, it is getting its own private members' club.

The Media Club is in the basement of a specially designed building in Great Titchfield Street that houses companies such as Chris Evans's Ginger Productions, parts of Carlton Television and the computer games company Pure Entertainment.

This new club differs from the Soho media watering holes, and in this difference, the owner Chris Parry Davies, head of Rewind Productions, sees the change that the media in general is undergoing as a business.

The Media Club is wired for work. There are broadcast-ready plug sockets for cameras in every wall, more fibre-optic capacity enters the building than BT uses to link London and Birmingham, and, unlike Soho House and the Groucho Club, the club does not have a ban on mobile phones; they are almost obligatory.

Late-night drinking sessions are not expected, staff contracts have confidentiality clauses to prevent leaks to the tabloid press, and there are no suspicious marble-topped cisterns in the toilets. Instead the Media Club is meant to be a place for meetings, business lunches and working.

"Noho and the club are of a different generation from Soho," says Chris Parry Davies.

"Many of the businesses around here were set up during the recession - when it was cheap. It has made us anti-Thatcher's children. There is none of the Eighties' excess here; instead there are lots of small cable companies, radio production outfits, and facilities houses, which are on the front line of the media. It is a much more professional business now than it ever was."

Noho is home to a media industry that is typified by impermanence. Freelance producers renting editing suites to make programmes for independent production companies, as old as their latest commission, are the norm.

Lifelong jobs at the BBC - the original media inhabitant of Noho - is the old model.

Members' bars and clubs have popped up all over Soho, because the area is crowded out.

Members are now essentially paying a premium to get a seat in a bar. So becoming a member of something is becoming less elitist and more hip. In Noho, there are precious few amenities outside the pubs that once served George Orwell and Dylan Thomas.

Some people would like to keep it that way. Alex Games, a writer and long-time Noho resident, won't even countenance the name: "It's Marylebone.

"Noho is a name dreamt up by estate agents attempting to talk up gentrification.

"The local people and the ordinary shops are being pushed out by the yapping media trendies, supping their caffe latte and brandishing their Psion organisers in sandwich parlours," he says. "I don't object to a media club or whatever, but I would like to keep some shops."