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London: Piccadilly Circus

Alla scoperta della geografia di Londra e soprattutto di una delle sue piazze principali, Piccadilly Circus, nota per i suoi cartelloni pubblicitari (lì da più di un secolo!) e con un nome alquanto particolare: perché si chiama “circo”? Si tratta di una questione puramente linguistica! Ci spiega tutto l’esperto Mike Paterson. By Mark Worden - LANGUAGE LEVEL C1 ADVANCED

Mike Paterson (Standard English/Zimbawe accent)

I think a good way to think about Piccadilly Circus and actually to understand Piccadilly Circus – if you want to understand Piccadilly Circus at all –  is... is to think of it geographically or... or topographically. Let’s start with the... the idea of a circus. A circus isn’t a tent full of clowns, or that sort of thing, although it can be: a circus also means a... a major intersection. So in London we have Cambridge Circus and Oxford Circus, of course, and Holborn Circus. So there are lots of circuses in London, and Piccadilly Circus is just another one of these. Just another one of these? It’s... it’s... it’s also a little different bit because it’s got five, or you could argue even six roads coming out of it, but essentially over the crossroads, so... which came into existence after John Nash, who was the favourite architect of George IV when he was Prince Regent... between them they... they came up with this plan to put a big street going north to south, which was today’s Regent Street, from what is today Pall Mall right up to Regent’s Park, and the... the vision was going... this was going to be some sort of boulevard, like you would see in Paris or Rome or something like that... created that in.... it was completed in 1819 thereabouts, creating a major intersection where Piccadilly Circus is today, and that’s essentially what created the entity we we know as Piccadilly Circus. But at that time obviously it was just simply a... a major crossroads, if you like. The things which make it what it is today were the addition of things like the Eros statue and the memorial to Lord Shaftesbury, which was completed in the 1890s, and then, a little bit before that actually, Shaftesbury Avenue, again named after the same chap, was... was... was... was put  through there in the 1880s as part of a... a slum clearance programme, and that gives us your five major streets which made Piccadilly Circus what it is today.


The final two things, which were added, were the underground station, which is literally underground because it’s one of the few stations in London which doesn’t have a surface ticket hall or ticket office; the whole thing is underground. And then, secondly, the famous advertisements on the north-east corner, which started about 1908 with a... with a Perrier advertisement, followed by Schweppes and Bovril, and then neon lights came in and then... and it’s been a famous... sort of a bit like Times Square in New York, the... the lights have been what’s made it a...a famous image, a famous global image, if you like. And so Piccadilly Circus, as we understand it today, has been more or less as we understand today for about 100 years now, since about 1910, and it’s a great place because, once you’ve seen it, and you visit London for the first time, you come here, and whether you’ve got kids or you haven’t got kids, you can take them to the more frivolous places, or you can eat or you can go to the theatre, or you can go  posh shopping, if you turn down left down Piccadilly, and that’s what makes it a... a great and interesting place to start off from.

(Mike Paterson was talking to Mark Worden)

Mike Paterson is the director of London Historians. For more information, click here: www.londonhistorians.org

The interview continues in the March issue of Speak Up, click here to listen to it.