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Much of the story of Fitzrovia is of talent blighted, promise unfulfilled and premature death through drink

Fitzrovia: London's Bohemia - Michael Bakewell

Fitzrovia: London's Bohemia by Michael Bakewell is a compact, 63 page book, published by the (wonderful) National Portrait Gallery in London that uses images from the gallery's collection, and other sources, and contains a three page profile of various Fitzrovia luminaries.

Fitzrovia is a neighbourhood in central London, near London's West End. The area has bohemian associations and was once home to artists, poets and writers, most notably in the first half of the twentieth century. Tom Driberg named the area after The Fitzroy Tavern - the meeting place of the London bohemians. Customers included Albert Pierrepoint, Aleister Crowley, and Prince Monolulu.

This book contains short profiles of, amongst others, Nancy Cunard, Walter Sickert, the Sitwells, Betty May, Dylan Thomas, George Orwell, Tambimuttu, Julian Maclaren Ross, Aleister Crowley, Nina Hamnett, Percy Wyndham Lewis, James Meary, and Augustus John.

I bought the book to help illustrate a a walking tour of Fitzrovia. I wanted something portable to show the two friends who are less aware of the neighbourhood's illustrious and colourful past. The short profiles bring each character alive. For example, Nina Hamnett, Fitzrovia's most notorious inhabitant, who in later life misconstrued an affectionate radio portrait as a grotesque caricature, and subsequently threw herself, or drunkenly fell, off her balcony. Or writer Julian Maclaren-Ross, who only worked once the pubs had shut, and who was known, at The Wheatsheaf, amongst other watering holes as the most relentless of the Fitzrovian monologists.

The book contains a bibliography of further reading for readers who are curious to find out more. My own recommendation is Paul Willetts's biography of Julian Maclaren-Ross "Fear and Loathing in Fitzrovia".