For a man who achieved the not inconsiderable feat of whipping a rag-tag crew of rock’n’roll chancers into “the greatest band in the world” (that’s The Beatles, then), the unveiling of a commemorative blue plaque at the London workplace of Brian Epstein later this month is perhaps long overdue. But it’s a long game becoming the stuff of legend, getting your identity imprinted into the very fabric – or the walls, at least – of a city.
Epstein is set to join the line of London’s great and good whose names adorn doorways, street corners and otherwise unassuming nooks of our neighbourhoods. A leisurely stroll five minutes from Midori House provides a magical mystery tour of barely mentioned historical sites ranging from the one-time home of Epstein’s mop-topped meal ticket John Lennon to the former HQ of the Special Operations Executive. The latter a shadowy secret-service style espionage outfit from the Second World War, apparently once known by other fabulously rakish monikers such as the Baker Street Irregulars and the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. It should not be confused with the British Invisible Mending Service a couple of streets away, which as far as I can tell repairs trousers. No plaque yet.
But more than just being a splendid way to while away a walk, there’s also an important lesson here in how to preserve the culture of a city simply and modestly. Some achievements deserve monuments. Others? Maybe just a mention.
I didn’t need to know that Vincent van Gogh spent formative years stewing in existentialist angst in a suburban bedsit (haven’t we all?) in southwest London but I’m glad I do now. Likewise, around the globe small dedications to such era-defining events as “Bill Murray stepped here” (Woodstock, Illinois; filming location for Groundhog Day) to “the house where in 1963 the Piña Colada was created” (Barrachina bar in San Juan, Puerto Rico) show that great stories can come from the most nondescript beginnings. A simple one-liner is often all that’s needed to feed the imagination.
There is a catch, though. Places marked in this way tend to be present-day efforts to redress a historical imbalance for stories untold, careers cut short or, as in the case of Epstein, lives lost early. It’s probably more rewarding to be valued in your own lifetime than during someone else’s.
But these plaques are also inspirations to keep on keeping on with that start-up idea for a taxi-app-meets-on-call-barista-cum-yoga-instructor because you never know where an idea might end up. And if it makes it back to your own doorstep you’re probably onto a winner.
Tom Hall is a sub editor and writer for Monocle.