English

Who needs Gorgo when mayors destroy London?

In 1954, Godzilla made his first appearance on the silver screen in Japan, and he immediately did what he does best: destroying Tokio. It was such a hit that the King of the Monsters paid Tokyo 12 more cinematic visits over the years, while also laying waste to a host of other Japanese cities. The Godzilla franchise also spawned a legion of lesser-known imitations – one of which is Gorgo: Britain’s answer to Godzilla.

Gorgo appeared in only one film in 1961 (also called Gorgo, available on Amazon Prime) in which the eponymous monster pays a visit to Britain’s capital in an angered attempt to retrieve her child (yes, Gorgo was a ‘she’); greedy businessmen had trapped the monster baby in an empty basin near the Thames where Londoners with nothing to do could have a look at the monster for 5 shillings a pop. Instead of wading through the Thames to get her child back, Gorgo wades through London and several of its landmarks before returning to sea.

Even though the film is hopelessly unrealistic, simple souls could be easily convinced that the monster did indeed cause mayhem in London 60 years ago, but the nation’s capital did not need the forces of nature for this.

A few years ago, I acted like a tourist in my adoptive homeland and I went on a Jack the Ripper tour in Whitechapel and Spitalfields in London’s East End. Though very interesting, almost each location visited on the tour required the use of my imagination due to redevelopment of the area. One of the most ‘intact’ locations is Mitre Square, even though virtually all buildings from area have been knocked down and the square is towered over by the Gherkin. Many of the other locations were demolished (many of which in the 1960s and 70s) to be replaced with modern houses, commercial property or parking garages.

Many applaud the redevelopment of London, especially since the forest of skyscrapers has gone up since the beginning of the current century, as it has turned it into a ‘modern, vibrant city’ and with a further 500 tall buildings scheduled to be built, London is truly turning into a Petri dish of modern architecture. And I don’t like it.

Cities like Amsterdam and Paris have put a great deal of effort into preserving their historical centres. The centre of Amsterdam is strictly off-limits for tall office buildings, which have to be erected in an area miles away from its historic canals. I know that many people will argue that the East End could not escape the clutches of the sledgehammer, but Amsterdam had an East End of its own: the Jordaan area. This old area for the poor working classes had become so derelict by the 1960s that it was considered to knock most of the area down, but this idea was discarded in favour of repairs – and what a great decision this was. One can wander the streets of the area in 2021 with most of its centuries old housing intact.

But not in London. There are no areas to separate the old and the new. Instead, London mayors since Ken Livingston are eager to leave their mark on the capital’s skyline by rubber stamping one skyscraper after the next, resulting in the city’s historical buildings being dwarfed by soulless glass and steel; personal prestige is causing permanent damage to the historical feel of London. Yes, Sadiq Khan rejected the construction of the vomit-inducing Tulip Tower, but the damage has already been done by the other monstrosities that preceded it.

This is progress. But I can’t suppress a sentiment that Gorgo is real and that she will some day wade through the River Thames to level these altars of modernity.

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