Dylan Jones: 'In a wonderful evocation of the secret capital, we come across feral meths drinkers and shoeless children'

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The Independent Online

Think of the way in which London is portrayed on-screen and you might think of A Hard Day's Night, Alfie or Absolute Beginners (and that's before you even get to B). But for every iconic view of London, there is a flipside, for every Long Good Friday there is an Optimists of Nine Elms, for every Ealing comedy there is The London Nobody Knows.

The London Collection is a DVD boxed-set of film oddities – featuring The Pool of London (1951), The Yellow Balloon (1953), The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963), Sparrows Can't Sing (1963), Les Bicyclettes de Belsize (1965) and the aformentioned documentary, The London Nobody Knows (1967) – and it's a wonderful evocation of the secret capital. The London Nobody Knows shows James Mason walking around a city completely unaffected by anything remotely "swinging", instead coming across tired old buildings, feral meths drinkers, filthy shoeless children, pie shops and squalid Victoriana. The film is full of poignant vignettes, and even alights on Camden's Arlington House, the same hostel mentioned in "One Better Day" by Madness.

By contrast, if your memory of Les Bicyclettes de Belsize consists solely of Englebert Humberdink's sentimental Golden Oldie, the short film that inspired it (the song is a bad cover of the title track) is a wonderful piece of whimsy. It tells the story of a generic young Hairspray Bohemian cycling around Hampstead on a cute little Raleigh RSW16. After crashing into a billboard he falls in love with the fashion model depicted on it. There is almost no dialogue, and the soundtrack is virtually musical throughout. Oddly, for a film that was meant to epitomise Swinging London, viewed 40 years later it looks decidedly out of kilter.

These are the highlights of this collection, but there are other delights here, and all the films show parts of the city that are now unrecognisable (with dozens of charming and long-forgotten architectural idiosyncrasies). Not so much a journey back in time, The London Collection is a journey through a parallel world. And all the better for it.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'