The 1965 psychological thriller Bunny Lake is Missing was set in London and, of course, features a scene set in a pub – The Warrington Hotel, Maida Vale.
Bunny Lake was a flop on its original release, and an obscurity for decades. Now, like many lesser-known films of the period, it’s been beautifully restored and released on Blu-ray.
That gives us an opportunity not only to see the pub as it looked almost 60 years ago but also to freeze the frame, zoom and enhance, to see what details we can pick up.
First, a disclaimer: this is a real pub, not a studio set – there are enough clues to be sure of that. But, of course, it is filled with studio extras, not real drinkers, or so we assume.
That means some of what we see is sort of real, and some sort of isn’t – although the film is intended to feel real rather than presenting that romantic fantasy version of London so often seen in American productions.
In fact, Laurence Olivier, as Superintendent Newhouse, makes that point very well, in dialogue written by novelists Penelope Mortimer and John Mortimer:
“Ever been in a pub before? Here it is, the heart of Merrie Olde England. Complete with dirty glasses, watery beer, draughts under the doors, and a 23-inch television.”
Oh, yes – the television. A novelty in pubs in the 1950s, by 1965, it’s a fixture – almost the centrepiece, in fact, front and centre above the bar. It shows the news first, then a performance by The Zombies. Middle-aged and elderly drinkers seem transfixed by it.
Never mind the TV, you’re probably thinking – what about those bottles beneath it.
In this shot, and others, we’ve got:
- Courage Brown Ale
- Worthington Pale Ale
- and some others we don’t recognise, but you might
There’s also some very prominent point-of-sale material for SKOL lager.
What about draught beer? There’s a very obvious Courage Tavern Keg Bitter font in several shots, a draught Guinness font, and a single lonely cask ale pump-clip advertising Flowers.
That last one is a bit confusing because Flowers was a Whitbread brand by 1961 and this pub was definitely a Barclays (Courage) pub. Perhaps this is a bit of set dressing by a production designer who – can you believe it? – didn’t especially care about brewery ownership.
There’s also some background detail for students of pub grub to enjoy. Jars of pickles. Boiled eggs. Pies. Miserable sandwiches. And a full but unconvincing steak, seafood and oyster menu.
What’s also clear is that this was a handsome building. Green and White’s The Evening Standard Guide to London Pubs from 1973 says:
A dominant building at the north end of Warrington Crescent… the Warrington is a glowing example of faded splendour, possibly due to the fact that it has never really been taken up by the Maida Vale elite. It has one of the most imposing pub entrances in London, with its own ornate lamp-standards and a coy lady holding a torch in a niche on your right as you go in. Fascinating interior with some art nouveau stained glass, only slightly marred by some more recent murals, a salmon-pink ceiling hung with chandeliers, and a crescent-shaped bar with a brass footrail. Probably the best example of an Edwardian pub in London.
Apparently, it’s still worth a visit. Next time we’re in London, plagues and regulations permitting, we’ll try to pop in for a sad sandwich and a bottle of brown ale.