The Independent London Newspaper
26th April 2019

John Gulliver - Hugh Dehn's Christmas cards

    A snowscene of Primrose Hill from one of Hugh Dehn’s Christmas cards

    As always, Hugh’s dreaming of a white Christmas

    AT about this time every year Hugh Dehn waits for the sky to darken and the snow to fall.
    And then if the snow settles Hugh will venture out with his camera to capture that something of Primrose Hill or Regent’s Canal that is feeding a growing public demand for authentic local Christmassy cards.
    For a moment yesterday (Wednesday), he wondered as he looked out from his home in Gloucester Avenue, Primrose Hill:
    Was this going to be the day?
    But as the first flicker of faint snowdrops turned to rain in the evening, he put the camera away.
    Hugh started taking snowy scenes six years ago and you can see them in several shops.
    I first spotted them in a little Italian deli in Parkway, Camden Town. But you can now find them in Waterstone’s in Camden
    High Street and Hampstead, as well as Copycat Art in Camden Road, Fresh and Wild in Parkway, Shepherds and a pharmacy in Regent’s Park Road.
    “Dehn” – the name rang bells and, yes, I discovered, Hugh is member of a famous family of writers and creative artists – his uncle was the critic and writer Paul Dehn.
    I warmed to Hugh when he told me he had started out as a reporter on a local weekly in Dorking in the 1980s.
    Though he is now established as a TV producer, he still cannot control that itch, thank goodness, to record those lovely snowy scenes.


    Let’s have art on the streets

    STEPHEN Bayley, a critic of style, taste and design, once described as the “second most intelligent man in Britain”, became splenetic last week about the “artistic atrocity” committed by Christmas decorations.
    His ire – aimed at a “giant pneumatic” reindeer suspended outside his office window in Soho – poured into the pages of the Spectator magazine.
    His real gripe was the lack of public art in a place like Soho whose streets teem with designers, writers and theatre people.
    But couldn’t the same be said of Camden? Isn’t Hampstead, Camden Town and Primrose Hill over-flowing with visual artists, sculptors, graphic designers, writers, film-makers, photographers?
    Look around the borough, and tell me if you have seen one – just one – piece of public art laid down, let’s say, since the 1980s!
    As Bayley writes, our streetscapes should be an advertisement of the capital’s talent. But they aren’t. Talent is here in large dollops, but it stays in studios (though occasionally it may be paraded at exhibitions).
    Ah, but it would be too costly for the council to commission, install and maintain, I can hear the voices of doom say.
    But would it? Admittedly, the council’s budget would have to bear the cost – perhaps a few thousand pounds, but not much more – and would that really strain our finances to such an unbearable and unacceptable level?
    In large institutions like a municipal authority, with an annual budget of several hundred million pounds, waste of one kind or another, involving tens of thousands of pounds, is almost bound to occur – but as long as it is kept manageably low, the public will accept it.
    In many ways our streets are as grim and as full of bad taste as they were 100 years ago!
    In his unflinching attack in the Spectator, Bayley describes the reindeer as a “cheerless, artless, patronising Bambi of cynical witless dross – a national embarrassment.”
    “It’s beyond bad,” he said. “To say it’s bad is to suggest the possibility of redemption.”
    It is difficult to better his description of the usual street decorations at Christmas as a “fatiguing fugue of bad art and false sentiment.”
    He asks: Is this how we advertise our creative capital?
    Isn’t he right?


    A drunken Santa? That’s the spirit, Os!

    I DROPPED into my favourite barbers on Tuesday morning – and wow, the coolest Christmas window display hit me!
    Not great art, of course. Nor – and I’m biased – was it kitsch!
    But the whole window space in Parkway, Camden Town, had been filled by an alert Santa eyeing a little table and a glass of sherry.
    I ought to have known that Ossie Mehmet would do something like that. This, after all, is the man whose personality brings in such regular customers as Alan Bennett and Sir Jonathan Miller. But before these members of the local literati found him, he was discovered 35 years ago by the veteran newsreader Sir Trevor McDonald who, down the years, has only allowed Ossie to keep his tache in trim.
    Full of festive cheer, Ossie confided he would be dropping in on Sir Trevor next week for a Christmas drink.
    The pair met in 1973 when the ITN newscaster began making regular trips to Ossie’s previous shops in Holloway Road and the West End.
    The pair’s friendship has seen Sir Trevor invite Ossie along to awards evenings, and even to share a holiday in Las Vegas.
    Ossie recalled: “It was the year Bruno fought Tyson. I was there with six friends and he came and joined us for three days. Neither of us knew how to play blackjack but Trevor won $250.”

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