Announced earlier this week, one of London’s most long-standing entertainment venues is set to be bulldozed to make way for houses, shops and community facilities. With the focus on the city’s sport and music shifting to the east, it’s hardly surprising – but there’s no denying that Earls Court saw some amazing moments in its time. If those halls could talk…
1899: Wet ‘n’ wild
Decades before the construction of the exhibition centre proper, an Irish sea captain and watersports enthusiast used the open arena to give stuffy Victorian London a dose of wet, slippery fun. Having filled the space with water, he stuck a 70ft high chute next to it and basically invented the log flume, dooming countless top hats and monocles to a soggy demise in the process.
1937: Sweet beginnings
Earls Court finally opened its doors to the public on September 1 1937 (late and over-budget, naturally), with the very first visitors greeted by the sugary waft of the inaugural Chocolate and Confectionary Exhibition. The following year, the Winter Cavalcade saw a 100ft high ski slope alongside an ice rink and other frosty attractions. Take that, Dubai.
1939: The darkest hour
Six weeks before the outbreak of World War II, Oswald Mosley picked the venue to host the final rally of the British Union of Fascists – the largest indoor political meeting ever held. With the party’s lightning bolt insignia hung from the walls, the would-be dictator’s speech left the 50,000-strong crowd in a state of frenzy. As one of the rally’s attendees recalls: ‘The cry “Mosley… Mosley… Mosley… Mosley” echoed down the hall, rising up to the balcony in an ever-increasing crescendo of sound.’ Chilling stuff.
1948: Going for… bronze
While Olympic involvement this summer was limited to a few games of volleyball, Earls Court was a major venue at London’s 1948 Games. A 19,000-seater set-up was put in place for boxing, gymnastics, weightlifting and wrestling events, where a disappointing Team GB managed just one silver and one bronze medal, both in weightlifting.
1962: A car is born
With its boxy aesthetics and middle-of-the-road performance, the Ford Cortina was the early sixties’ finest example of attainable beauty – the sort of car that would have made Jeremy Clarkson spout mindless hyperbole until his face dried out. The iconic saloon was unveiled to a slack-jawed British public at the 1962 Motor Show (an event that remained at Earls Court until 1977), and went on to become the country’s best selling car for the next two decades.
1975: Led Zep rule the world
Three months after the release of ‘Physical Graffiti’, Bonham, Jones, Page and Plant had the world in their thrall, making their appearance in London one of the most talked-about gigs of the decade. The first three nights – May 23-25 – sold out in just four hours, leading to the addition of two more dates and total ticket sales of 85,000. The asking price for your place in one of the most historic moments in rock ‘n’ roll history? One English pound, which, with the shows running as long as three and three-quarter hours, clocks in at 27 pence per hour.
1981: Pink Floyd take a bow
Having proved they could fill the venue when they performed ‘The Wall’ for six nights straight in August 1980, Pink Floyd returned to Earls Court for five more shows in June the following year. And while Floyd fans hail the gigs as classics in their own right, the closing night, on June 17, marks the last time the classic post-Syd Barrett line-up of Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason appeared on stage together (discounting a brief, reluctant reunion at Live 8 in 2005).
1994: A kind of magic
Making David Blaine’s Perspex box stunt look about as sophisticated as the old slidey thumb trick, David Copperfield left sell-out audiences awe-struck when he first brought his iconic ‘superman’ trick to the city. Later revealed as little more than cheap japery involving lots of wires, the illusion remains the most magical moment in the venue’s history.
1996: Britpop peaks
Picture the scene – Chris Evans is on stage doing the funnies, Take That have just caused an oestrogen-fuelled riot while picking up the gong for best single, Jarvis Cocker’s prepping his arse for a political statement and Liam Gallagher’s stomping around backstage, trying to start a fight with anyone who’s not in Oasis. This is the year the Brit Awards came to Earl’s Court for the first time, and it was absolutely bloody amazing.
1999: Girl power fizzles out
Just two years after Geri Halliwell stepped out at the Brits in that union jack dress, the Spice Girls brought the curtain down on their pre-babies-and-workout-videos career with the Christmas in Spiceworld Tour. The stage laden with more festive tat than a suburban shopping centre, the group rattled through a three-act greatest hits set for four nights in a row – their last shows before their brief, nostalgia-milking 2007 reunion. David Clack