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Tuesday December 18th 2018

The Lavender Hill Mob | 1951

Mild-mannered bank clerk Holland (Alec Guinness) finds a perfect partner in souvenir manufacturer Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway) to mastermind a daring bullion robbery in this classic caper from the Ealing Studios.

As the plot involves smuggling gold disguised as Eiffel Tower souvenirs, there’s some filming around the Tower in the Champ de Mars in Paris, but most of the movie was shot around a Blitz-shattered post-war London.

One place you won’t see is Lavender Hill. The London district is real enough, south of Battersea, but seems to have been chosen as a setting for the ‘Balmoral Private Hotel’, Holland’s seedy digs, purely for its faux-genteel connotations. In fact, the name is not an estate agent’s invention, but recalls a time when the fragrant shrub was commercially cultivated in the area.

Holland works in the City, the capital’s financial centre, where he’s seen exiting Bank Underground Station alongside two imposing bastions of British commerce, the Bank Of England on Threadneedle Street, EC2, and the classical pillared frontage of the Royal Exchange Building.

The site of the bullion van robbery is in front of the burned out shell of Sir Christopher Wren’s St Nicholas Cole Abbey on Queen Victoria Street, EC4, which runs south of St Paul’s Cathedral. The ravaged backdrops show the damage inflicted by German bombs during WWII, though the area is now jammed full of modern office blocks, and the spire of St Nicholas has been restored.

Holland escapes from the stolen police car by running off down Cheapside, past another damaged Wren church, St Mary-le-Bow.

The ensuing car chase ends over in West London, outside the old Bramley Arms, Freston Road at Bramley Road in Notting Hill, W11. The long-closed pub can be seen in cult rock movies Quadrophenia and Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy, as well as the 1983 film of Harold Pinter’s reverse-timescale drama Betrayal, with Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley.

The airport scene was originally scripted to be set at Victoria Station, but as it cost ten times as much to close down a major London terminus than to close a small Home Counties airfield, the scene was shot at Northolt Airport. Officially, RAF Northolt, it’s a Royal Air Force station in South Ruislip, west London. Handy for several film studios in the area, including Pinewood, the airfield has regularly appeared on screen – particularly in James Bond films, including Goldfinger, Thunderball and Octopussy.

The canopied statue seen during the opening credits stood atop the water fountain at Royal Exchange Buildings on Cornhill, location of the final snowy scene of Bridget Jones’s Diary. The fountain and canopy remain, but the nymph disappeared in the Eighties.