[John] Davis writes that he has 'long had misgivings about attempting a linear history of a city as complex, diverse and multifaceted as London'... He offers instead a series of sixteen standalone essays, some of which have been published in academic journals over the past twenty years...Whether this is temerity or wisdom is very much a matter of taste, but the essay format does leave scope for gaps, as Davis confesses...The biggest is education, where the politics of the Inner London Education Authority after 1965, and where parental anxieties over inner-city schooling, fueled the suburban drift and population decline that Davis charts elsewhere, offering another convincing bolster to his proto-Thatcherite theme...Another silence comes in Davis’s consideration of race...He focuses almost entirely on the Notting Hill area and says nothing about the Bengali migration to the inner East End...This was the district where, after Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech in April 1968, there were skinhead race riots and racist murders, with violent resistance by white residents to Asian families moving into council estates... Indeed, 'white flight' out of London’s central districts is a significant factor in the city’s net population loss (some 76,000 a year in the 1970s)... There could have been more on this, in the East End chapters especially...Even so, John Davis charts the complexities of these important decades in London's recent history with great brilliance...His approach is unapologetically academic, but he writes with a light touch and dry humour...Time after time the reader is drawn into arcane narratives about planning policy or the decline of Soho's sex trade or the dereliction of London's docklands, and finds Davis to be a sure-footed and unrivaled guide.
[John] Davis is a very serious, though generally not solemn, Oxford historian...You won’t find any reference to the Kinks in Waterloo Sunrise and only some rather lofty references to most popular music and culture, although Davis does go to town with fashion...The Beatles get a few mentions, but these are loftier still: for example, 'Beatlemania was in itself an adolescent cult, but the Beatles were instrumental in developing musical modes which — in many hands — had an extraordinary appeal to teenagers and young adults'...Davis is a meticulous and exhaustive researcher who has clearly spent masses of time going through old newspapers and local government archives as well as more familiar printed sources... The bibliography runs to 30 densely packed pages; there are 90 pages of notes...The result is that he has ferreted out some wonderful and arcane nuggets of information...Who would have thought that, in 1963, 65 percent of office staff in London were women, and that by the mid-’60s there were half a million secretaries in the city, though I suspect the definition of “secretary” was rather porous....I didn’t know, though others surely did, that the word “gentrification” was coined by Ruth Glass in 1964, and for a while it was rivaled by the term Chelseafication...For that matter, who would have imagined that the first project undertaken in 1971 by the newly established Harrow Council of Social Service was a study of loneliness in the borough?...A book like Waterloo Sunrise obviously can’t be all things to all people...There were certainly times when I wished it was a bit more fun, but no doubt that’s evidence of my light-mindedness...Even so, I know that this is a book I will be using as a research source for many years to come.
It is one of the pleasures of Waterloo Sunrise that it leaps from race and urban reorganization to fashion and fun...[John] Davis is a wizard of the archives...The general reader will delight in his excavation of local newspapers in pursuit of treasures that illuminate whatever topic is under discussion, while diligent trawls through government reports are for a more specialized audience...It is, finally, a tale of many streets: civvie street after the war leading to Carnaby Street, streets needlessly destroyed, Soho's streets of sin, Fleet Street ('street of shame') recording it all...The last has gone now, too, but has served the author of Waterloo Sunrise well... The introduction of Margaret Thatcher into the book's subtitle is slightly misleading: she receives only 10 mentions in a bulging index, the same number as the River Thames.
Waterloo Sunrise, which deals with the 'complex, diverse, multifaceted' subject of London until the advent of the Thatcher administration and 'entrepreneurial dynamism' in 1979, is determinedly in this encyclopedic-kaleidoscopic strain...So we tend to dart about...We hear about the atmospheric fogs; in 1967, a quart of London air contaminated 10 million particles of soot and dust...We are given potted histories of docklands and of taxi drivers—'Winston Churchill was a hero to the nation, but a bit tight when it came to tipping'...Waterloo Sunrise is about London in economic decline...The 'eclecticism, irregularity and quirkiness' of the city were not yet appreciated as strengths...Beyond looking at Buckingham Palace and the Crown Jewels, mass tourism hadn’t taken hold...As always, 'young runaways, addicts, single mothers, meths drinkers and drifters' took the shine off grandeur, evidence of what the sociologists called 'the phenomenon of poverty in affluence'...Davis, emeritus fellow in modern history and politics at The Queen’s College, Oxford, is good on London as an administrative centre and economic hub... When it comes to cross-checking obscure references in the archives of the Greater London Council or the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, he is your man...But his subject is too vast, too various, for a lone academic...Weighty though Waterloo Sunrise is, it is only a sketch.