The Inexplicable World of London Tourist Tat – Published: 15 Oct 2006

London. You’ve been there, done that, but did you ever buy the T-Shirt? Or the plastic Winston Churchill radio alarm clock? Or the Royal Family chess set? It’s frankly bizarre what people buy and what items remain perennial favourites.

Here’s the Top Ten touristy knick-knacks which remain inexplicably popular despite being, well, read on…

comedy hat1. Those Big Comedy Hats.
These exuberant bonnets appeared relatively recently but they have become firm favourites. Nothing marks you out as a good-natured, fun-seeking visitor better than one of these. And who amongst us, when they saw one of these for the very first time, didn’t think ‘Wow! Those look just great. Carmen Miranda meets Timothy Claypole – in felt!’

Good girls go to heaven2. Good Girls Go to Heaven, Bad Girls Go to London T-Shirt.
Immensely popular, despite the fact that the slogan doesn’t quite work because of what comedy-T-shirt designers would call a ‘divergent premise’. See, we immediately accept the concept of a good girl going to heaven within a sin/afterlife context, but we are troubled by the direct comparison with the girl going to London since her expedition is in no way contingent on the subject being a) good, b) bad or c) dead. Portraying the two possible resolutions as sharing a common starting point is therefore impracticable.

knickers3. The London Underground Thong
People are drawn to the strangest things. You only have to look at The Crankies to know that. There are probably certain types, at the very kinky end of the spectrum, who would wear these for kicks, make jokes about slipping into the tunnel at Cockfosters, or here’s a roughly Bellsize Park, or erm…need to work on these.

4. The London Underground Boxershort/Pant
These, on the other hand, are worn in all seriousness by men who admire the
great engineering feat the underground represents. They are worn with pride and, probably, with a London Underground T-shirt tucked into them.

plastic big ben5. The Plastic Gold-Effect Big Ben
Nothing says, ‘I’ve been to London and/or I have a friend who has been’ more
than a golden plastic Big Ben ornament on your mantelpiece. It is, however, only an entry-level ‘BB’ trinket. The ‘real’ Big Ben connoisseur will have splashed out that extra bit and bought a framed representation of Big Ben made entirely our of shiny cogs from old clocks and watches.

6. The Plastic Gold-Effect Eiffel Tower
Mmm. Think someone saw you coming. Is this your first time out of Kentucky?

princess di7. Princess Diana Face
For God so loved London that he gave us his only begotten daughter. London is a Di Holy Land and of course disciples need relics. So, after you’ve walked where she walked (Harvey Nichols), sicked-up a simple meal in her honour and bathed your feet in her sacred fountain, you need one of these almost life-size postcard heads to keep and pray to. (Remember – do not buy a Charles head, he is the devil.)

helmet police8. The plastic Policeman’s Helmet.
Here’s an odd one. Worn by a child, visiting from Spain perhaps, this can be very cute. These helmets are about the right size for a child and make a fine souvenir. However, you must not let this novelty fall into the wrong hands! Lost by that same child and later found by a boozy, bare-chested tramp in the middle of a baking-hot summer afternoon, suddenly you are faced with one of the most frightening sights London can present you with. A drunk with a plastic policeman’s helmet on means danger. This is because the helmet is at once a symbol of hated authority whilst at the same time the means of mocking it. Once the tramp puts it on his head, he is suddenly endowed with a fantasy police power. He is now a lager-fuelled Det. Insp. Jack Regan for the afternoon and god help anyone who gets in his way.

I like the pope, the pope smokes dope9. I like the Pope, the Pope Smokes Dope T-Shirt.
Come on, kids. No he doesn’t. And even if he did, would that make you like him?
In all honesty, a more positive slogan would be ‘I like the Pope, the Pope isn’t a Nazi anymore.’

10. Breast with Mouse-Face Painted on it – Kardorama Postcard.
‘All the Breast from London ‘ – reads the slogan. If only it was. Surely this is the most insane ‘long-runner’ in the tourist-tat popularity stakes. The more you question why this continues to remain on postcard stands some 25 years after it first appeared, the more you feel your grasp on reality begin to slacken.

All the breast from LondonIt’s a tit. With a mouse face drawn on. (Tits, vermin, what were they trying to imply about Londoners?) It’s not even particularly well drawn. It’s not even a very nice looking breast. Yet enough people buy this to justify thousands and thousands of batch reprints from a factory in Potters Bar.

You occasionally pass tourists having a bemused look (the British sense of humour is famously dry, right?).  “Dieses unterhält,” they exclaim, “es hat das aussehen einer Maus!”

It would be nice to think this was something a young Tony Hart did, in his college years. Never meant to be seen by anyone, it just happened. It’s the 60s, caution is being thrown to the wind and Tony charms some devoted young model back to his studio. His paint bush dabbing lightly, the excitement building, his Carnaby Street cravat as crimson as that passionate moment. He reaches for his camera, and an icon is created…



Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 28 Oct 06
Those thongs are barely big enough to cover a Shepherd’s Bush. I know, I’ve tried. And is the new Pope a dope fiend too? I think we should be told.

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