Before I start this week’s post, which also falls on Christmas Day, can I wish you a very Happy Christmas, and thank you for reading and subscribing to my blog. I am almost at the end of Year 3 and have lots more to write about which I hope you will find of interest.
For a Christmas Day post, a comparison of London Christmas Lights from the rather gloomy late 1970s with those in 2016.
In 1954 Regent Street was the first of the central London shopping streets to have Christmas lights, Oxford Street followed five years later in 1959. There were a number of years in the 1970s when Oxford Street did not have any Christmas lights due to the recession of the middle years of the decade and the general financial climate, however they restarted again in 1978 with the unusual option of having laser lights shining up and down the street. I assume it was thought that these would be a rather novel form of lighting and much cheaper than large light decorations run across the street.
To mark the return of Christmas lights to Oxford Street and to record what was hopefully an impressive display, I took my first decent camera up to Oxford Street (a Canon AE1 recently purchased on HP – Hire Purchase before the days of Credit Cards) and without a tripod I attempted some photos using Kodak Kodacolor 400 film, faster than my normal film in the hope that I would not suffer too much with camera shake.
Arriving at Oxford Street as it got dark, the lasers did not really meet with expectations. A number of laser systems were mounted a various places along Oxford Street with a beam of light from each running the length of the street. There were not enough lights and a thin beam of blue, red or green light did not seem to have any relevance to Christmas. It was all rather strange and I can understand why it has not been repeated since.
Oxford Street in the mid 1970s was generally much darker than it is now. Shops did not have the same level of Christmas displays and window lights that they have today.
The following photos are a sample I took in 1978 and then for comparison I went for walk one evening in December 2016 to look at the lights across the main shopping streets of central London today. The 1978 photos also show some of the retail brands that have since disappeared.
One of the Oxford Street lasers. The Christmas tree is on the construction site for the new Bond Street station and the Jubilee Line. The large sign on the left reads “Work in progress for the Jubilee Line – Reconstruction of Bond Street Station”.
Looking up Oxford Street towards Marble Arch. Selfridges has a row of lights just above street level. A Take 6 store is on the right.
Blue and red lasers. The sign of the 100 Club is on the right – fortunately still there today.
Blue laser running down the street. Debenhams on the right, Dolcis shoe shop on the left.
A rather faint laser shines down a gloomy 1970s Oxford Street. The vertical lights are advertising the now defunct shoe shop Saxone.
Christmas trees along D.H. Evans, with a fan of blue and green lasers from just above the main entrance to the store. The D.H. Evans store disappeared in 2001 when it was re-branded as the House of Fraser.
Woolworth’s on the left, D.H,. Evans on the right. Just beneath the Berlitz sign (language school) is a sign for the Lady at Lord John fashion chain (click on the photo to enlarge) – one of the many high street brands that have disappeared in the last 40 years.
The best place to see the lasers seemed to be from directly underneath when they were at their brightest.
Regent Street kept to their more traditional Christmas lighting with displays running across the street and were more impressive than those at Oxford Street. Looking down Regent Street with a Take 6 store on the right.
Dickens and Jones.
So how does 1970s London compare with the Christmas lights of 2016? In the week before Christmas, I took a walk one evening starting at Monmouth Street, through Seven Dials and up to Oxford Street, then down Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus.
Starting in Monmouth Street with lights across the street and in the trees.
Seven Dials looking very festive.
Neal’s Yard just off the northern leg of Monmouth Street.
View down Monmouth Street.
Penguins decorating the front of Arthur Beale, London’s Yacht Chandler on Shaftesbury Avenue.
From Shaftesbury Avenue, it was along St. Giles High Street and into Denmark Street. Not known for Christmas lights, although the music shops look good after dark.
Regent Sound Studios with their take on Christmas window decorations.
Up now into Oxford Street and the lights of John Lewis.
Oxford Street’s 2016 Christmas lights.
House of Fraser.
Looking down New Bond Street from Oxford Street.
Oxford Street at Christmas. Pavements crowded with people and the street at times seems more like a car park for buses……
Back down into Regent Street who in most of the years I can remember since 1978 have more ambitious street lights than Oxford Street.
The length of Regent Street looking down towards Piccadilly Circus.
Carnaby Street from Regent Street with their own interpretation of Christmas lights.
Lights continue down the southern end of Regent Street towards Waterloo Place.
An elevated platform had been built around the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain – or Eros as it is more commonly known. A choir huddled together against the cold and breeze of a December evening but sounding beautiful above the noise of traffic.
View from Piccadilly Circus towards Leicester Square.
My photos from 1978 probably do the lasers a slight injustice due to my lack of photographic experience at the time and the equipment in use, however London after dark at Christmas is now much brighter than it was in the 1970s. The crowds and traffic do seem much the same in the weeks running up to Christmas, but as ever I will take any excuse for a walk around London.
Thanks again for reading, and a very Happy Christmas.
Thanks once again,Admin,for a very colourful post today.
Please keep those blogs and photos coming.
Wishing you and yours a Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
Thanks Jo, and for all your comments over the past year. Really appreciated.
I love to read your posts – thank you !
Wishing you and your City a wonderful, magical Christmas !
And many thanks and a very Happy Christmas from me too.
Very glad to hear that you’ve got lots more to write about – that’s a nice Xmas present.
Your photos make me wish I were there! Thank you for sharing these lovely Christmas displays. I’m looking forward to reading your blog in 2017. Merry Christmas!
I would like to wish the author a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for all the fascinating posts in the last year and those to come in the new.
Happy Christmas and many thanks for your wonderful blog, your father’s photos and yours, and your always interesting writing!
May you and yours have a safe and happy holiday season and a good year in 2017.
Thank you for a wonderful series of photographs. I’ve never been to London for Christmas but how I wish I had had the occasion at some point. Your pictures are divine.
Hi, recent follower to the blog here – think it’s a tremendous find though and thoroughly enjoying your posts as someone who grew up in London in the 80s.
Talking of which, I have to pick up on your comment about Oxford St lasers not being repeated after their 1978 showing – not true sir! I recall hearing about them from my parents as a kid and regular West End visitor throughout the year, and so was tremendously excited when they made an appearance circa 1989-90 (I have no specific evidence for which year and going on pieced together recollections and a hunch). But appear they certainly did. Although after all the build up in my mind at the wowzer technical masterpiece I thought i’d witness, I too felt a bit let down by it and wondering what on earth it had to do with Christmas!!
If any readers can pinpoint the date of the reappearance I’m talking about I’d love to know.
Aside from that, keep up all the good work (and a belated Merry Christmas).
Ah, Christmas 1978, my first in London and this post brought back some memories. The laser lights were set up to perform patterns a bit like the laser show they ran for years at Madame Tussauds. Unfortunately, that meant they had to move about which meant they were shining directly into offices above the shops. Not surprisingly, they were banned from doing so. All that was left was a pointless set of beams.
My other memory is one that’ll never be repeated. Coming back to London by rail on 31st December 1978, snow hit the services and we switched to the Underground. I knew I could pick up a bus at the top of Regent Street. At 10am, I’m almost the only person on either Regent or Oxford street. The snow is thick on the ground and only a few buses are on the road. It was a Sunday so Britain was shut! Oh for a picture of that moment. A big city swathed in a white silence.
I look forward to more blogs in 2017. Always interesting and thought provoking.
I remember those lasers and how disappointing they were. I thought it might be a bit more like James Bond. In 1978 I used to live just round the corner and up the road in Marylebone: this is exactly how I remember it. And yes, you were right about it being darker.
Thank you for putting so much effort into making your blogs a pleasure to view. Happy New Year to you and yours, Claire
Great read, your blog as always good, lots of historic stuff too! Festival of Britain, South Bank, the City etc.
Oxford Street followed the laser display with high intensity computer controlled lights in 2004. These could be seen all over the skies! Rog
Great post as usual. Thanks for all your effort – always of interest to an ex-Londoner.
When I was about 8 years old me and my cousin stood on roof of block of flats he lived in on Camberwell Road and was amazed we could see a laser.
Must have been around 1980.
I’ve been searching for confirmation for years.
God thanks so much for this – I just googled the laser christmas lights as a feint memory from childhood.
All I remember was seeing a single pathetic green line that was just above a shop front – In my head it was Selfridges. We thought we were going to see some kind of Buck Rodgers shootout, and it didn’t quite work out like that. So thanks so much for backing up the memories!