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Peter Cook arrived in London at the dawn of the Sixties and found himself drawn into a glittering social circle. But what was discussed at these Hampstead salons?
Hampstead was, and is, the ‘soft landing’ to London. It retains the undisturbed pattern of a village, and even when it sprawls downwards towards ‘Belsize Village’ I have come to realise that its role is as one of the very necessary ‘resort villages’ around London – Greenwich, Blackheath, Richmond, Highgate, Islington, Chiswick, Dulwich – that act as a draw for former provincials who feel the need at the weekend for something gentle but picturesque.
As I pushed myself harder to compete in the new, grand school, I became nervous, agoraphobic and claustrophobic – using the bus in preference to the Northern line with its creepy depth and frequent unexpected stops in the tunnel. Adding to that suffocating sense, the day-to-day reality in 1959 was London’s worst fog in 20 years. Even more did I need that walk on Hampstead Heath that still charms me in the winter or spring, especially with a mist through the trees.
Four of us students moved in 1959 to Aberdare Gardens in South Hampstead’s Swiss Cottage area, which was built around 1900 and where the various rail and tube lines shoot out of the hill below Hampstead proper, with a homogeneity in the red-brick colour of the streets and the considerable depth of the gardens.
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