WESTMINSTER PEOPLE: Memorabilia shop owner Paul Drummond
“It is a privilege to work with rare books, to learn from them, and handle them'
20 November, 2016 — By Alina Polianskaya
Paul Drummond (and Louis) in Pleasures of Past Times, about to chalk up its half-century
JUST round the corner from the hustle and bustle of Leicester Square is a little street where time has stood still.
Full of old books and various historic memorabilia, Cecil Court is filled with shopfronts that appear not to have changed in a century.
Among these is Pleasures of Past Times, with everything from War is Over posters to David Bowie goods and West End theatre papers in the window.
Paul Drummond took over the store five years ago from his father David Drummond who is now in his 80s. It all began when David, who was a RADA-trained an actor in the 1950s, began collecting theatre memorabilia from auction lots, which he sold from a stall in Portobello Road. A brief stint in a small, narrow shop in Notting Hill followed before he moved to the current store in the centre of London.
“I found a letter when I was cleaning up downstairs from around 1967 that said ‘you’re an idiot, it will never take off in the West End’,” Paul says. The store will celebrate its 50th anniversary in Cecil Court next summer, making it one of the oldest shops in the road.
A browse through the shelves reveals stock dating back up to 200 years. A Theatre Royal, Drury Lane play bill from 1836, a handbill for Yoko Ono’s 1967 performance of The Fog Machine at the Saville Theatre, an old toy theatre from Pollock’s toy museum that would have been made by a child in the 1830s.
“I got sucked into tidying up the basement, we had a stockroom just full of stuff,” Paul says. “I started clearing it out and gradually got more and more interested… it is kind of a unique way of researching London history and the theatre. You suddenly start recognising the names on programmes and you find pictures of them on postcards, all these Victorian actors, and suddenly it all starts meaning stuff to you.”
He doesn’t like to think of the store as “a reminiscence or nostalgia centre” but instead says, “if it was valid then it is valid now”. He aims to have a more curated display, portraying ideas through the ages, but still has “a bit of fun” with items such as Dr Who memorabilia.
He recalls: “When I was at school, Tom Baker who was the fourth doctor in the 1970s came in and signed a card for me that said ‘been to your dad’s shop, it’s like visiting another planet,’ which I quite liked.”
Not too long ago, the store joined forces with Intoxica Records – Paul spent many years browsing through rare music in their former premises, before inviting them to move into the back room.
Before taking on the store, Paul spent much of his life as a set designer, working on music tours, for Vogue magazine, and with celebrated photographer Annie Leibovitz.
But as he became more involved with advertising he became disillusioned and decided to follow another passion – music, particularly psychedelia.
“My theatre design degree was more about what bands I’d seen than how many plays I’d gone to,” he admits.
This led him to writing a book called Eye Mind on “the first ever psychedelic rock band,” The 13th Floor Elevators.
“I thought it was time to get on a plane to Texas to go and find these people who had started this back in 1965…
“The lead singer had been put in a mental hospital, [another] ended up living in a cave on Laguna beach… I knew there was a good story there,” he says.
“The band played many gigs on LSD. This was not for pleasure. They thought if they played on acid they could turn on the audience and make them high, which is similar to the Theatre of Cruelty where [Antonin] Artaud wanted to break the audience performer-barrier.
“There was a lot of research involved and I really enjoyed all the paper and the primary source material, as academics call it.
“So when I got stuck into this place five years ago, despite all the filth and dirt and 40 years of stuff, it was just interesting… I got really interested in the London history side of it with all the materials and posters, theatre, music.”
While Paul admits it is not what he had envisioned himself doing, running the store soon became a “labour of love”.
“It is a privilege to work with rare books, to learn from them, and handle them,” he says. “Here I am, five years later, I think I have got addicted to it. It is about keeping an old part of London that people value. More and more people come down to Cecil Court that seem to discover it for the first time.
“The integrity of this area has been kept by the landlord, Lord Salisbury, and good on him because it is becoming a unique part of London. When I go out I find Portobello Road is not the same, Camden’s not the same…
“Here we don’t really tread on each other’s toes. There is a map shop, someone else does children’s books, we have little areas of expertise and specialist subject matter.”
Inspired by much of what he has come across in the store, he has plans for another book on sub-cultures, focusing on London’s role in the changing world of the 1960s and how it influenced the culture of the day, from The Beatles to Pink Floyd.
“Changing attitudes, changing morals, changing drugs… people just said no. They had had enough,” Paul says.
“Young people did manage to take over and establish their own popular culture, taking over record companies, setting up their own independent fashion outlets.
“I think now that the corporate takeover of London is happening, now people are valuing and learning from that – that there is something to be gained from 50 years ago. I think people were having a lot more fun then than they are now.”