diamond geezer

 Monday, May 18, 2020

As a child I had a number of I-SPY books, including the classics At the Seaside, The Sky and British Coins. Even though I didn't live in London at the time I also had this one, ideal for the infrequent times we hopped on the tube and came up to town.



The book lists 70 sights to look out for, a question to answer when you get there and a points value for each answer. I can tell I only took my I-SPY book up to London once because I've only written in three answers and scored a measly 60 points, whereas 1250 points were required for the Order of Merit LONDONER - Second Class.

I've tried to determine precisely how old my copy of the book is, and failed. The cover says it cost sixpence, which dates it to February 1971 or earlier, but also says it was published by the News Chronicle, a liberal-leaning broadsheet which ceased publication in October 1960. This edition can't be from any later in the 1960s otherwise it'd mention the Daily Mail instead, so my family's best guess is that it's a hand-me-down from my Dad and he bought it in the mid-1950s.



I-SPY The Sights of London is unusual in that you're not left to your own devices to track down each point-scoring item... a map has been provided. This takes up the entire centre spread and stretches from the Serpentine in the west to Tower Bridge in the east. All the sights are labelled and listed, and a set route weaves around central London from Nelson's Column (1) to Charing Cross (70). Not only does this make it easier for the average Redskin to follow, it also meant Big Chief I-SPY only had to walk round once to gather all his content.

Actually it's not a terribly efficient route. Trafalgar Square is visited three times, 18 (Eros) and 19 (Porter's Rest) would be better ticked off the other way round and a ridiculous hyperleap has been inserted between 60 (Tower Bridge) and 61 (Broadcasting House). I also note that all 70 of the chosen sights are north of the Thames with not a single example south of the river, so I can only assume Big Chief I-SPY wasn't overly impressed by the newly-built Royal Festival Hall.



Here's a typical double page spread from early in the book around Trafalgar Square. Number 3 asks you to find George IV's statue and, for 25 points, write down what's missing. Number 4 is St Martin-in-the-Fields, including the salacious fact that the crypt contains a whipping post, but the question's about the date in Roman numerals on the portico instead. Number 5 concerns the "One-man" Police Station facing the Strand, which back then was still being used as a lookout, and number 6 relates to the Standard Measures of Length embedded in the back wall. There are some proper psychogeographic titbits here.

I thought it would be interesting to scan through the book and see which of the 70 locations have disappeared since it was published in the 1950s. Let's see...
(17) Roosevelt Memorial: This hasn't moved, but the US Embassy has shifted so you'll no longer "see plenty of American cars".
(23) Statue of Charles I: This is still in Trafalgar Square, but good luck trying to answer the question "Which part of the statue was replaced a few years ago?"
(24) Bust of Charles I: The book claims this can be found "over the entrance to the United Services Museum", but we now know this as the Banqueting House.
(26) No 10 Downing Street: It's no longer possible to score 20 points by identifying the "useful article standing each side of the front door". Ah for the innocent days when the general public could mill around outside.
(31) Big Ben: The book correctly notes that this is the bell, not the tower, but scaffolding currently prevents us from identifying "something unusual about the face of Big Ben which is not usual on clocks".
(39) The Discovery: This is the first proper disappearance. Captain Scott's Discovery was an Embankment-side tourist attraction until 1979, and can now be visited in Dundee.
(43) No 17 Fleet Street: It is no longer possible to gain "free admission to a panelled room known as Prince Henry's Room" (but the question is still answerable).
(45) The News Chronicle Time Band: As previously mentioned, this newspaper closed 60 years ago. The idea that anyone can wander in off the street to stare at a clock in an entrance lobby died rather more recently.
(56) London Stone: At time of publication this Roman relic was "set in the wall of a church", but that was bombed in the war and demolished in 1962 so you can no longer score 20 points for naming the church.
(58) London Bridge: The sentence "The present bridge was opened in 1831" was only true until 1973, so counting the arches no longer gives the intended answer.
(60) Tower Bridge: For some mysterious reason the question is about the Royal Mint, not the bridge, and that moved to Wales in 1967.
(66) Covent Garden: Described here as "a great bustle of vegetables, flowers, fruit, and people", the famous market moved to Nine Elms in 1974 so is no longer on route.
I can't get to central London right now to test out the remainder of the book, and probably neither can you, but the advance of the internet means many of the I-SPY book's questions are now answerable without stepping out of your front door. To test out that theory, see if you can discover the answers to these 20-pointers using digital photos and/or a bit of research. comments
(9) St James's Park: At the Birdcage Walk entrance is a statue on a drinking fountain. What is there on the right hand side of the figure?
(10) Buckingham Palace: One of the large figures on the Victoria Memorial is a workman wearing a leather apron. What tool is in his belt?
(13) Albert Hall: What letter is to be seen above each of the lower windows?
(15) The Serpentine: How many arches in the Serpentine Bridge?
(19) Porter's Rest (Piccadilly): Which English town is mentioned on the Rest?
(28) Statue of Lincoln (Parliament Square): How many buttons can you see on his cuff?
(37) Cleopatra's Needle: What insect is shown on the base of the statue just above the inscription?
(42) The Law Courts: What is shown in the lower right-hand of the face of the clock?
(55) Mansion House: What weapon is shown in the lamp-post shields?
(59) Tower of London: What is on top of the four weather vanes?
(62) British Museum: What colour are the "Spearheads" in the great gates?
(67) Opera House: What two-wheeled vehicle is shown over the entrance?
(no more than one I-SPY answer each, thanks... in the special comments box above)


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