This Winter Festival, East End guru Alan Gilbey returns with a Shoreditch remix of his hit Summer Festival event. “But who knows the East End?”: An Exploration takes audiences through the back streets on a journey of stories and intrigue. We caught up with Alan to find out more…
You’ve lived in the East End all your life, what do you love most about the area?
It’s there when I wake up, which is handy, and I’ve seen a sweep of its story, with all the good bits and the bad bits; the closure of the docks and the coming of Canary Wharf; the ebb and flow of many new people’s washing up on its brick-built shores.
And do you have any local recommendations?
1. The first beigel shop in Brick Lane isn’t as good as the second one, but does do heretical bacon ones, which is fab.
2. Call them beigels not bagels.
You’ve gathered quite a bit of East End lore and legend in your book East End Backpassages, what’s your favourite tale or strange-but-true nugget of information?
The founder of the Harlem Globetrotters was a little Jewish man!
Born just off Brick Lane, Abe Saperstein left for America in 1907 and twenty years later joined the Savoy Big Five, a black basketball team that could only play in segregated leagues. Building on their flare for comedy he renamed them the Harlem Globetrotters (because they came from Chicago and had never been anywhere) and entered the world of show business, where they used a wide repertoire of slick and silly street moves to beat rival teams – who always seemed to be white. A true breaker of racial barriers, Abe died in 1966 and now lies buried in Illinois with a basketball hidden up his shirt.
When you’re not showing people round East London’s weird and wonderful history, you write for animation. Can you tell us a bit more about what you get up to?
Well on CBBC I had a hand in the new Pinky and Perky (it’s legal) and Frankenstein’s Cat. And on Cbeebies I’ll soon have a show about philosophy for pre-schoolers and, one day, Dinopaws, my own creation. I’ve also won several animation BAFTA Awards, but they’re only drawings.
What can people expect in But who knows the East End?
More than they might be expecting. It’s a journey through stories – starting with Arthur Morrison’s A Child Of The Jago and ending in a secret place where many other storytellers wait with their own tales, and they’ll be all kinds. We’ve got authors and local housewives, historians and Hitchcock.
You’ll learn at least fifty-seven things you didn’t know about Shoreditch before and in ways that will surprise.