Camden Is: Derek Jarman

For Camden Is, local residents recall what is was like to grow up in Camden. #3: Derek Jarman. Born at University College Hospital, 1945. 


"I was born towards the end of the war and my dad was a baker, that was a reserved occupation, and mum was working in Bayham Place assembling radios for tanks. She also did firewatching at night, mainly from the roof of Camden School for Girls. I started school at five and went to Torriano primary, and it was there I discovered I had poor eyesight, and I was sent to Moorfields Eye Hospital for glasses.

Bomb sites were our playgrounds, especially the houses on Camden Road that were bombed, and around Cantelowes Gardens and Busby (CHECK) Place Rationing was still in force so rabbits and chickens were kept in the Anderson shelter in our back garden. I didn’t really see much of London until I was taken to the Festival of Britain in 1951 when I was six and discovered the existence of the River Thames; otherwise most of my time was spent in Kentish Town.

At school I joined the band and played the E-flat Euphonium. There were only eight or nine of us in the band, and the teacher was Mr Thomas who was a trumpeter in the BBC Symphony Orchestra. This was the start of my love of music. We played in the St Pancras Assembly Hall as part of the St Pancras music festival, and one piece I remember playing was Finlandia.

During the Coronation, my dad was working nights as a baker for the Co-op, and he used to finish at 4am and then get the newspapers ready for boys like me to deliver. And the owner of the shop in Brecknock Road lived above it, and we got invited to watch the Coronation on his television there. There was a Perspex screen over it which made the picture bigger, like a magnifying glass, since it was only about 10 or 12 inches.  We went afterwards to see all the processional route down Oxford Street and Regent Street.

Lucian Freud lived in the flat above us, which was used for the purposes of entertaining, and art. It had two big mirrors on the walls (We still have one in our living room, and the other went to Imelda Staunton and Jim Carter) and the wallpaper was just brown wrapping paper. There were a lot of women going up and down the stairs. We used the same staircase as the models.

I was a trainspotter, too. We used to go down to take down the numbers of the LNE trains at Kings Cross, Midland at St Pancras and at Euston the lines to Glasgow and North Wales.

At 15, I left school and went to work at the Van Heusen Shirt Company inCamden, but that lasted two days. Then I worked in Kendon Bodies up at Fortress Grove, all coach built furniture vans, open sided vans and and lorries for Fyffes Bananas.

We didn’t have a telephone for years, until I was elected a Camden Labour councilor and then I had to write to the Post Office to get a phone put in immediately, and I still remember the number from 1971, which began with GUL for GULLIVER. I got interested in politics and community activities during the Kennistoun House rent strike in 1960, when the Tories tried to double the rents and the residents protested. They were barricading themselves in and I took down nails and bolts in my pockets to help. The St Pancras rent riots were huge.

I’m a big music fan and I used to go down the old Ronnie Scotts in Chinatown. I’m a fan of Frank Sinatra and the Sinatra Music Society used to meet there. We also used to go to the BBC Playhouse where Kokos now is in Camden and they had a jazz club on Monday nights, and there was great music in the Tally Ho in Kentish Town.

I met my wife Irene in the Labour party. She is from Sunderland and we married in 1974 in a ten-minute town hall special when our son was seven years old – well it was Camden in the swinging sixties and seventies, although most of the swinging bit passed me by. We had the wedding party in the town hall when it was in recess and put a marriage notice from our son in the Camden New Journal: “Julian is pleased to announce his mother and father…” – and I think he still is!"

This story was originally printed as part of a heritage booklet for the 30th anniversary of Castlehaven in 2016. Download the full book hereWritten by Fiona Clague and Kate Muir.

About Castlehaven Community Association:

The Castlehaven Community Association was established in 1985 as a result of a group of local residents concerned about the lack of local facilities for children and older people. Since its inception the charity and company limited by guarantee has always been managed by a voluntary board of local residents. Castlehaven is a small but high profile, vibrant community association that continues to develop and respond to the needs of local residents.