This is the fourth video I shot with Dad about being a London black taxi driver in the 1960's...
I like the bit about the account work for the eccentric heir to the Huntley & Palmer biscuit fortune.
When I tweeted this out last year, lots of cabbies blew in with updates on the legend. Like this one:
"I’ve heard the old stories about the Eccentric Heir from some of the old timers...he used to insist that the Taxi wait at the Station; he’d be gone for days and would mark the tyres with chalk to make sure it didn’t move til he came back.
Drivers would change over the Cab and go home on the bus or train and leave the meter running!"
Plus - this is the first I'd heard of Johnny Onions in Camden Town.
How to be a 1960s London Taxi Driver Part 4 | Chats with my Dad oral history
(feel free to turn the speed up and whack the subtitles on...)
Ian talks about working on a London taxi radio circuit in the 1960s, account work,
1:00 Eccentric customers (including the heir to the Huntley & Palmers biscuit fortune,
3:30 the doctor who'd go to the Phene Arms pub every day of the year)
5:55 In Camden: The Good Mixer, Johnny Onions, Arlington House,
8:10 Ian's first ever fare, which you never charge for
9:00 The benefits of taxi ranks
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And then account work came in, so that someone could book through the circuit. And then what, you'd get a statement at the end of the month? Back then?
Yeah. When you do a job, say Agar Grove to Euston, it was on a bit of paper. At the end of the evening, you blew in what was on the meter. We had so much work, I mean you could fill this room with the bits of paper. Of course they'd get lost and misplaced.
What and you'd take these bits of paper into the office?
No you had a book, where you'd put every job you did, and then say, once a fortnight, they'd pay up - you went to Maida Vale where the office was and they'd give you a cheque, for the work you'd done.
What were your favourite ones?
There was supposed to be - it was true, though I never did him - a Mister, I don't know if it was Mr Huntley or Mr Palmer - he was, you know going to this... he was connected to Huntley and Palmer Biscuits (yeah?) and they've just given him a few bob just to get him out of the way, because he was bit [loopy]. And there was this story that he goes into this hotel in Swiss Cottage, and they wouldn't give him a room. So he went back next day and he bought the hotel and gave all of the staff the sack! But I think that's a bit of a story.
But he used to book - take a taxi on a Friday night to go to Southend or... it was either from Charing Cross or Fenchurch Street, and you had to wait for him. And they used to change over - he used to come back, like Sunday night. But the driver would do 12 hours (waiting), and change over and another cab would do 12 hours, and another cab 12... And he used to pay it. You know you'd get paid because he had an A1 account with Coutts (Bank)!
Or he would go out jogging at 3 o'clock, no, 2 o'clock in the morning... then he would go down to Fleet Street there was an open - a cafe that was open all the time - Johnnies. And he'd used to fill a vacuum flask with mashed potato or something and eat it in the back of the cab. And then you'd take him back to the hotel.
And that was one of Huntley or Palmer?
Yes, I heard about it and it was true.
Where was Johnnies?
In Fleet Street. I used to eat there with me and my pals after the pub on a Friday night.
Because they worked at the print works? Was it those mates?
No, it was before that!
Were these other cab driver mates?
No, no, they were just fellas I knew from the pub.
I wonder what's at Johnnies now? It's probably a Tesco Express or something.
No, I think it's a McDonalds.
Oh I know it, yeah yeah.
It's just somewhere there. And we used to get a doctor - a retired doctor - who lived just over Battersea Bridge, and he used to go to the Phene Arms. Where (George) Best used to go. And he used to use it 364 days, yeah 364 days a year. And there was one day missing, it was Christmas Day and he didn't go then because the pub was shut.
And we used to call it "You-know-who-going-to-you-know-where".
What on the radio?
Yeah, because everybody knew it!
And who was it?
A retired doctor.
And what he'd just always get a cab...
Of a morning... what time would it be about... half one, and then you'd take him back at three o'clock. Then he used to go down at half seven, till closing time. And they used to do that every day of the week.
Oh my - Where did they pick him up from?
Oh I can't think of it. It was a road off of Prince Of Wales Drive.
Yeah, and he used to go to what the same pub - did you say as George Best?
Yes it was the Phene Arms, that's gone now I think... P-h-e-n-e I know where it is, I can't think of the name of the street just now. It was just over Chelsea Bridge, Battersea Bridge.
And as I say, they did it for so long that they said "You-know-who-going-to-you-know-where" and everybody knew him.
Oh and then we used to have a night dispatcher called Johnny, I can't think of his full name, erm... he used to live in another posh area, off of Cross Street, and we used to take him to Maida Vale. And he used to have a right gruff voice. And he was a little fella with a dodgy leg - and they used to say "go pick him up", "Yeah, what's he got? He's got a bowler hat... he's got an umbrella stuck on his right arm, and underneath the other arm he's got the Jewish Chronicle."
I remember you telling me that The Good Mixer (in Camden) was called The Good Mixer because... for a reason...
Yeah, there was a cement (mixer) - one of those things that made cement where you turned the wheel. And they'd come out, they did some renovations in the pub and they couldn't get this thing out! So they just left it in there!
In the basement?
And then they called the pub, The Good Mixer?
When was that, can you remember?
About, this was 1966.
Oh right, because it's quite a famous pub now.
Yeah, if it's still there.
Oh, Johnny Onions.
Yeah, that wasn't his second name, it was 'cuz it was where the cinema was, not - there used to be a Cinema in Chalk Farm Road - as you come over from Camden High Street - it might be Camden High Street - there used to be a cinema on the left, and the local fellas just used to - the stallholders - gave him a couple of sacks of onions to sell.
So Johnny Onions would just sell...
Onions! He lived in Arlington House, and he was quite happy there. I often used to drink with him and a few fellas from there and they were petrified of all these do-gooders from Camden Council wanting to give them flats. And they said, "you know, we're happy as we are... we don't have to worry about gas bills, electric bills, or anything like that. I wish they'd leave us alone!"
Because Arlington House was the house for down-and-outs wasn't it?
They probably didn't call it that.
But they had sort of the posh bits where they had their own locker. And their own bed.
Right, and they were quite happy with that.
Yeah quite happy with it.
And can you remember when you passed your test, your taxi licence test, can you remember what your first job was?
Yes, 'cause the first job you don't charge them. Because it's supposed to be unlucky.
Oh okay, that's just like a tradition?
Yes. It was- I was on the Camden Town (cab) rank and I went to Elthorne Road.
Yeah where Mum worked!
That was a coincidence?
Yes it is!
She worked actually in that street?
Oh, just trying to think - we used to call ranks by the pubs.
Because often, another good way of calling work (over the radio), you used to call them to the nearest cab rank. So if you were on the cab rank, you automatically got the job.
Because it saved a lot of messing about and a lot of time.
What, if someone hails you at the rank, or phones?
No, they used to call the rank (over the radio). Like the George rank up in Hampstead, by the Royal Free.
What they'd have like a telephone there?
No, the fellas- you used to rank up there, and they'd say call (over the radio) the George rank to Kings Cross. And then you'd just blow in and say yeah I'm first, second or third.
And if you were a radio taxi on there you got the job.
Were there many ranks round London back then.
Yes. It just made the job easier as we got more busier and busier. Oh this is driving me nuts, the Camden Town (rank). You didn't call the Camden rank. There used to be a pub on the left hand side and its a phone shop now, well it changes every couple of months - oh I can't think of the name of it!
And what's this, this is a rank in Camden Town?
In the High Street. Where the toilets are. In the middle of the road there.
Yeah, I remember, what actually in Camden High Street?
They're still there? It's still got a rank there?
Yes, it's got busier again. Not many people ranked up there, but now we're not so busy there's always about 3 or 4 taxis on there.
So if someone phoned in wanting to be picked up from Camden High Street, they'd just radio the rank?
No, what happens, say you wanted a cab, well to St. Paul's Crescent, they used to call like if there's a taxi on Camden Town rank and give it (the job) to them. And away you went. It was just a lot easier.
Right, because they knew there'd be a cab there.
Or, it'd be more likely...
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