I moved to Islington in 2007 primarily because I’m a geek. I had this idea that if I lived where Douglas Adams had lived, I’d find the same source of inspiration. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is dedicated to “the Arlingtonians for tea, sympathy, and a sofa.” This refers to Jonny Brock and Clare Gorst, who Adams lived with at 29 Arlington Avenue in Islington. You’ll remember the line from the book (changed for the TV show):
“What with space being the mind boggling size it is the chances of getting picked up by another ship within those thirty seconds are 2 to the power of 267709 to 1 against. By a totally staggering coincidence that is also the telephone number of an Islington flat where Arthur once went to a very good party and met a very nice girl whom he totally failed to get off with.”
What is not a coincidence is that 226-7709 is the phone number for that flat on Arlington Ave.
There is also a minor character in H2G2 called Hotblack Desiato. He is the frontman for Ford’s favorite band Disaster Area, and he’s spending a year being dead for tax reasons. The inspiration for Hotblack’s name came from an Islington real estate agent’s name. Sometimes people scold them for stealing the name from Adams, when in fact Adams got the name from them. Their address, with an appropriately pi-centric geeky street number, is 314 Upper Street in Islington.
But I didn’t move to Islington because of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Pftt, are you kidding me? I moved to Islington because of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. If you’re not familiar with Dirk Gently–which you probably are because BBC America just cast Samuel Barnett and Elijah Wood in their forthcoming television version–it’s another sci-fi comedy book series by Douglas Adams, this one about a detective who bumblingly solves cases by using the interconnectedness of the universe. Dirk Gently’s detective office is actually located in Islington! Or…as I was about to find out…only in the book. Adams does a thorough walk through Islington as Dirk and his pal Richard MacDuff stroll the streets. Everything is exactly accurate, such as Regents Canal that Dirk hypnotizes Richard to jump into, except the actual street where Dirk’s office resides–Peckender Street–is fabricated. You can walk around with a copy of the book (as I did) and find the spot where that street should be, but it just isn’t there. I did stop by Regents Canal though, but looking at the water decided not to jump in as Richard had done. Unfortunately, even though the Stephen Mangan-fronted TV show (which is a pleasing adaptation) takes place in Islington, the whole series is shot in Bristol.
Moving just slightly left of Douglas Adams now, did you know Neil Gaiman has a character named Islington in his book Neverwhere? Islington is a mysterious angel, inspired by the Islington tube station Angel. In the television version, he’s played by Peter Capaldi, and in the radio version, he’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch–a Moffatian fantasy come true!
Harry Potter fans will be thrilled to learn that #12 Grimmauld Place, the Order of the Phoenix’s headquarters, was shot in Claremont Square in Islington. To find out how to get there, checkout my Clerkenwell walking tour article on BritMovieTours.com.
Any Simon Pegg fans in? 23 Meteor Street, the fictional address of Tim and Daisy’s flat in Spaced, is actually 23 Carleton Road in Tufnell Park (not far from where I lived on Holloway Road!). In 2014, Terry Jones directed the Simon Pegg film Absolutely Anything, which spent at least a couple days shooting in Islington, specifically on Campdale Road at the actual park Tufnell Park, very near the Spaced house. Finally, the third Cornetto film by Edgar Wright, The World’s End, starring Simon Pegg, used the Wenlock Arms as pub number five, Good Companions, for its interior shots. This is near Shepherdess Walk Park, not too far from Angel tube station.
If you’re a comedy nerd, you’ll like to know that all the current great alternative comics and comedians like Simon Munnery, Kevin Eldon, Stewart Lee, Sally Phillips, Johnny Vegas, Richard Herring, Julian Barratt, and many others used to do a frequent comedy night in the cellar at Market Tavern (now demolished) in Islington called Cluub Zarathustra, 1994-1997, hosted by Munnery’s alter ego The League Against Tedium.
While ultimately I did find living in London inspiring, it wasn’t the same sort of inspiration Douglas Adams had found, and I moved back to America four months later.