Ain’t It Grand To Be Bloomin’ Well Dead – Cemetery on Film

‘Some people there were praying for me soul
I said, ‘It’s the first time I’ve been off the dole!’
Look at the mourners, bloomin’ well sozzled
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!’

One of the most striking things of ‘The London Nobody Knows’, one of the best films about London that has ever been made in my opinion, is that it mixes a worms eye view of a war battered city with the slow influence of the hedonism of 60’s free love, expertly directed by Norman Cohen.  You get the sense this is Victorian London on its uppers and it’s fate is sealed by the unstoppable juggernaut of progress. The best part for me is the clip shown above – this is Kensal Green Cemetery approaching the ruinous state that befell many of its sisters in the same decade.

Looking like a set to a gothic horror film, the segment follows a visit from host and actor James Mason to an undertakers in Islington (which is now a Barclay’s bank). Soundtracked to a mournful version of Leslie Sarony’s take on the traditional ‘Ain’t it Grand to be Bloomin’ Well Dead‘, a song where the deceased comes back from the hereafter and laments at how disrespectful his own funeral is, shots of the tomb of William Mulready RA, Naval Commander Charles Spencer Ricketts and Major General the Hon Sir William Casement (member of the Supreme Council of India) show a part of London as yet untouched by restoration, a need to preserve or any kind of affection, really.

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The cemetery is vast at 72 acres, with little space between graves

The film itself is based on a series of books and articles by Telegraph journalist Geoffrey Fletcher, which he also illustrated himself. An ardent sentimentalist (a characteristic I identify with completely), he sought to preserve the fabric of London, which he felt was under threat from the wrecking ball.

Mason, in the televisual version, deftly guides us through this cacophony of London life, its characters and quirks – never being reticent about his own opinions of the massive construction projects that were happening at the time (pointing to Faraday House with his umbrella, remarking that London had a remarkable opportunity to rebuild and then proclaiming ‘ICK’). The cemetery shot (and the film) has inspired not only myself but other people such as Tim DunnA Gentle Author, as well as more modern takes such as alternative dance band Saint Etienne, who kicked off their London film trilogy with Finisterre.

From the location in Kensal Green it’s clear the filmmakers probably spent about half an hour in the same spot – close to where the Willy Wonka of Bayswater is buried – and then probably toddled off to film the next bit. Later on, James Mason scares the bejesus out of the homeowner who owns the now long demolished house where Jack the Ripper victim number 2, Annie Chapman, was discovered.

‘Look at the neighbours, bloomin’ delighted
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!’

I sing a very decent version of ‘Ain’t it Grand…’ 🙂

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About SheldonKGoodman

I'm Sheldon, a City of Westminster guide who has a love of all things Cemetery! Co-founding the Cemetery Club in May 2014, it's my ambition to challenge the perception of Cemeteries are mournful places but to champion them as museums of people and libraries of the dead. I also co-lead the official Pride in London tour and do guided walks for Open Garden Square Weekend.
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