WHERE THE SUB-PLOT THICKENS
Early doors in The Lazarus Curiosity, Scotland Yard’s Head of Special Branch, Superintendent William Melville, cajoles Michael and Phoebe into London for a top secret, late night assignation.
Melville directs them to Maiden Lane, one of the oldest streets in London, which runs parallel with the Strand. Secrecy of paramount importance. Except Phoebe promptly duffs up a couple of abusive toffs while Michael is clocked and loudly greeted by comic actor Harry Nicholls, who happens to be standing on the other side of the lane, supping a post-show beverage outside The Peacock pub. So much for keeping a low profile.
By the way, The Peacock which had served foaming flagons of ale at 14 Maiden Lane since the 1830s is now a burger joint, but a photograph of how the pub used to be can be found here:
The Peacock stood a few doors down from the stage door of The Royal Adelphi Theatre, where Harry Nicholls was appearing in a show called “The Secret Service”. (It’s worth taking a look at the Deleted Scenes chapter on this website.)
Here’s Harry, pictured in his younger days when he was a stalwart of Theatre Royal, Drury Lane pantomimes before signing up in the mid 1890s for regular roles in all manner of Adelphi melodramas.
Okay, yes, it’s a bit late to announce that because the picture at the top of this piece is a giveaway, but after the dust-up and the shouting match Melville sneaks Michael and Phoebe into Rules: the oldest restaurant in London, opened first as an oyster bar by Thomas Rule in 1798.
The wall lamp found at Rules is certainly an original of the Victorian era, but historians and experts are divided about the security camera. It’s just a shame the Victorian photographer chopped the lid off the lamp.
Over the next century, Rules became one of the most significant restaurants in Britain, with famous faces becoming frequent diners.
Not being lazy, but quite honestly this close up of the sign outside sums up the history of the place far more succinctly than I ever could. You might have to squint a bit…
It was at Rules that Edward, the Prince of Wales, would meet with one of his most famous mistresses, the actress Lillie Langtry. To maintain the secrecy of their assignations and avoid recognition, the restaurant allowed Edward and Lillie to use a private side entrance. We were assured this was the door they used.
The haunting apparitions reflected in the glass are not the restless spirits of long dead Victorians but the haunting apparitions of the SS&M team.
In the novel, Michael and Phoebe are ushered through the door and up this flight of stairs…
...at the top, they are met by the Maitre d’…
… and then led into this private dining room where they encounter Lillie Langtry.
This is the actual room where Prince Edward and Lillie Langtry would meet for dinner…
In The Lazarus Curiosity, Lillie is found sitting at a table set for two in front of that leaded window. The shield wasn’t there at the time.
They are joined by the Prince of Wales, and the sub-plot of the black magic portrait and Michael and Phoebe’s encounters with Oscar Wilde and Aleister Crowley gets under way.
Without sounding too Trip Advisor, Rules is a wonder. History and atmosphere seep from the fabric of the unspoilt restaurant. Heroes of mine, Henry Irving, H G Wells, Chaplin, Keaton, Stan Laurel and more recently Ralph Fiennes playing M in ‘Spectre’, have all sampled the extensive menu. The walls are lined with apposite cartoons, photographs and portraits, historic and contemporary, of almost every famous face who came by in the last 200 years.
Sir John Betjamin, no slouch he when it came to lyrical appreciation of history and art, decreed that Rules was “unique and irreplaceable, and part of literary and theatrical London”.
And on the subject of literary stuff, a quick reminder that the plaque outside states that the restaurant “…has also appeared in novels by Rosamond Lehmann, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, John Le Carre, Dick Francis and Claire Rayner.”
As yet there’s no mention of “The Lazarus Curiosity” – but I’m not holding my breath. It’s enough that myself and the SS&M team got to enjoy the Rules experience. Sunday lunch, checking location details and channelling the world of Queen Victoria. A nice touch – the name of our charming and indefatigable waiter? Albert.
(With website Producer, Lady Angel A. Ryder, under the stern gaze of Lillie Langtry)