Authors: John Healy
John Healy was born in Limerick and raised in County Dublin, but moved to the UK in the late fifties. He worked as a TV engineer, then spent twenty-seven years as a London cabbie. John has previously published a children's book,
The Flea and the Cauliflower
(Authorhouse, 2008). He lives in south-west London.
I DROVE IT MY WAY
Tales of a London Cabbie
John Adrian Talbot Healy
Book Guild Publishing
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by
The Book Guild Ltd
19 New Road
Brighton, BN1 1UF
Copyright Â© John Adrian Talbot Healy 2013
The right of John Adrian Talbot Healy to be identified as the author
of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the publisher, nor be otherwise
circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which
it is published and without a similar condition being imposed
on the subsequent purchaser.
Typesetting in Garamond by
Keyboard Services, Luton, Bedfordshire
Printed in Great Britain by
CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY
A catalogue record for this book is available from
The British Library
ISBN 978 1 84624 933 4
ePub ISBN 978 1 90971 689 6
Mobi ISBN 978 1 90971 690 2
Join me on a tour of London â the London I came to know and love over nearly thirty years as a black cab driver. This is a unique insider's view, showing you London life, warts and all; the ups and downs of being a cabbie, including many tales of the famous â and infamous â people I have met over the years.
Everything in this book I believe to be true and has either been told to me or I have read over the many years I've worked in London. However, there may be the odd discrepancy because sometimes facts get distorted as time passes.
I was a London black cab driver for twenty-seven years. One of my proudest possessions is my certificate from the Public Carriage Office stating that in all that time I never had a single complaint made against me. Mind you, I was wound up by the odd unpleasant customer but then you are bound to encounter a few head-cases over a period of almost three decades.
I sold my cab after my second wife Rosemary developed a dreadful ailment called Motor Neurone disease, which causes the muscles to waste away. She died in 2008 at the age of just 61. I'd always worked days as a cabbie (I hated the abuse and the drunks that you had to deal with at night) and every evening she was there to come home to, with a gentle kiss and a lovely meal on the table. Then suddenly she was gone. My heart was broken.
Black cabs are really called hackney cabs, and according to the London Vintage Taxi Association, the term âhackney' comes from the Norman French word âhacquenÃ©e', meaning a type of horse suitable for hire. The LVTA says that hackney coaches first appeared in London during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I as a way for the wealthy to recoup some of the enormous expense incurred in keeping coaches by hiring them out to aspiring but less well-heeled members of the gentry. I called mine The Hack, and in it I travelled the length and breadth of London more times than I can count and had more adventures than I can remember. Here I've tried to put down as many recollections as possible by creating a cab journey that meanders around the capital as I recall some of my most exciting â and sometimes distressing â experiences.
Before I became a cab driver I was in the television repair business in London. As an electronics engineer, the bulk of my work was in the West End, Belgravia, Kensington, Chelsea and other well-to-do areas. My customers were the rich and famous who lived there, people like Bob Geldof (then with the Boomtown Rats), Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger. At one time, Marianne Faithfull was living in the Jagger household with her young son, so the first stop on our mythical cab tour of London is their house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, where I once repaired the colour television. It was early days for colour sets and not many people could afford such expensive televisions at that particular time, so these were rare calls.
The house was very elegant. The hallway had no carpets, just highly polished floorboards, and the carpets were hanging on the walls. Very tasteful and unusual, I remember thinking. Unfortunately, Mick Jagger was out, but Marianne Faithfull escorted me up the stairs to the first floor where I found the defective television. It was evident the fault had been caused by her little boy, who had âaccidentally' poured Ribena into the back of the TV set. It's a good thing it didn't burst into flames and burn their beautiful old house to the ground. Miss Faithfull recorded quite a few records but not many stayed near the top for very long, although I always thought her a pretty good singer. She led a turbulent life with divorce, drugs and illness and I must admit that I had a bit of a crush on this attractive lady, although she was well out of my league.
Just two or three doors along from where Mick Jagger lived there is a pub called The Kings Head and Eight Bells. In Tudor times they were two different inns, accessible either by road or via the River Thames and frequented by King Henry VIII and his entourage. The Kings Head was the âposh' pub, used by King Henry, his close relatives, courtiers and ladies-in-waiting from Hampton Court. The Six Bells was for Henry's staff, especially the oarsmen who rowed the mighty royal barge on backbreaking journeys down the Thames from Hampton Court to Westminster. The stopover was a very welcome break, because the rowers would be worn out by the time they reached the inns and in need of food and drink. Eight bells were rung to summon all the staff to help the oarsmen prepare for the next leg of the journey, hence the name of the second inn.
Eventually the two inns were knocked down and a single public house erected on the same site using the name The Kings Head and Eight Bells. This double-named pub is a thriving business to the present day. I was told by a local man it was the only pub in the near vicinity that Mick Jagger was not barred from and that the Rolling Stones used to visit now and then en masse. Who was the more famous, King Henry VIII or Mick Jagger?
Five or six houses in the other direction from the Jagger house there is a blue plaque commemorating the well-known Victorian author George Eliot. As most people know, this writer was not a man as the name suggests but a woman called Mary Anne Evans. The reason she used a male pseudonym was because she wanted her writing to be taken seriously and the Victorians tended
to think women wrote only light novels. Her books â including
The Mill on the Floss
â are well-written stories, which I heartily recommend.
As I continue on my mythical cab journey, we enter Royal Hospital Road. If I turn to the left, we come across Chesil Court where Hayley Mills lived for a while. I have been to the flat on two occasions in a professional capacity but I met this talented young lady long before, when she lived on Richmond Hill in a beautiful old house called The Wick. She was only about nine or ten then and I remember knocking on the door of this fine house, which was answered by a very posh man who I thought was the butler. He looked down his nose at me, and said âYeeeeees?', stretching the word out to make it sound long and demeaning, as if I was totally inferior to him. I told him that I was here about the television, and he said in a condescending voice, âFollow me, sir'.
It was then that Hayley Mills' tiny dog began to harass me, nipping at my ankles. The butler turned on the dog, tapped it with his foot, and muttered, âF. . . off'. The dog did exactly that, and we continued our journey to the room where the television was. I noticed a tiny smile creep across his face as he showed me in. Ha, he was human after all! I liked that. Hayley Mills had heard what happened and she laughed her head off.
In 1971, the lovely Hayley married Roy Boulting, one half of the famous Boulting brothers duo, who made films like
(1947). The new Mr and Mrs Boulting lived in Lower Belgrave Street but the press upset the couple by writing about the 33-year age difference between them. Hayley Mills starred in films such as
Whistle Down the Wind
and many more hit movies as well as appearing in the recent hit TV series
Wild at Heart
playing the mother-in-law. What a career to have behind
you. If Hayley Mills had married me she would have been called Hayley Healy. Imagine that.
A few years later I had the good fortune to meet Hayley's dad, the even more famous Sir John Mills. I was called to his new flat just off Park Lane when his TV aerial developed a fault. He actually came up on to the flat roof with me and showed great interest in what I was doing. How many film stars would do that? Sir John Mills, who died in 2005 aged 97, was not a very tall man but he had the personality of a giant and I felt honoured to have met such a legend. He starred in such films as
Goodbye, Mr Chips, Ryan's Daughter, Oliver Twist
but actually appeared in more than 120 films over a career spanning seven decades. What a legacy of movies to have left after just one lifetime.
Just a few houses down from the Boulting brothers' abode was the house of Lord Lucan. He lived there with Lady Lucan, his very petite spouse, and she and their two children were in the drawing room during both my visits. I only saw Lord Lucan the once. As most people know, he is thought to have strangled the nanny, Sandra Rivett. Some say that in the dark basement Lucan mistook her for his wife but I find it very odd that he could have mistaken his tiny wife for a larger woman like Sandra. After Sandra's murder, Lucan vanished into thin air, thus evading a lengthy trial for the alleged murder. Lord Lucan's family name was John Bingham. His friends called him âLucky'.
The first time I went to the house as the family's television engineer I met Sandra Rivett and found her a very down-to-earth person. I remember walking up a flight of stairs to where the television set was. At the top of the stairs on the wall there was a large oil painting depicting
The Charge of the Light Brigade
. Lord Lucan's great-great-grandfather was supposed to have been involved in this disastrous folly. The charge was led by Lord Cardigan. Nearly half of the British troops were slaughtered by cannon fire because of this blunder. British troops were fighting the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War against the Russians. Whatever were we doing there?
In his famous poem about âThe Charge', Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote:
Half a league half a league,
Half a league onwards,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Across the street in Chester Square lives Margaret Thatcher. She now has a permanent armed police guard outside her house. In the seventies, I remember standing with her in the kitchen of her other house in Flood Street, just off the famous King's Road in Chelsea. It was another television job and she was a Member of Parliament at the time (before she became Prime Minister, of course). Margaret Thatcher was the terror of the âGas House', which is what all cabbies affectionately call the House of Commons. One day there will be a blue plaque on the Thatcher house in Flood Street referring to this famous â or infamous â lady. It all depends on one's politics as to which of the two adjectives you choose.
*Â Â *Â Â *
In 1982, I was called to service the television in the Argentine Embassy. This building is on the corner of Grosvenor Crescent and Belgrave Square. When I had completed the work I was escorted to the front door by a man who was obviously carrying a gun under his coat. (Most internal embassy guards do actually carry arms. It can be a wee bit disturbing, especially if something kicks off.) My armed escort told me in broken English to be careful out there and shut the door very abruptly.
Then it happened, smack in the face: a rotten tomato, lobbed by one of an angry crowd. They were screaming abuse at me, so I took to my heels and ran like the wind, wondering what I had done to deserve such treatment. Only later did I hear on the radio that Argentine troops had invaded the Falklands. The angry, screaming mob were exiled Falklanders that had attacked me, believing I was an Embassy employee.
*Â Â *Â Â *
Down the road we come to leafy Eaton Square. Many years ago,
I remember an old bag lady sat here every day on a bench. I pulled my cab over once and had a chat with her. It was a hot summer's day but she was wearing a fur coat that was fraying at the edges. I found out she had been very posh in her earlier years but she would not tell me what had gone wrong to force her to take to the streets. Someone told me that the singer songwriter Ralph McTell wrote âStreets Of London' relating to this very person and although there is no proof this is who the song refers to, I would like to think it was my elegant bag lady. I drove away and returned with a Big Mac and a drink, which she very much appreciated.