Saturday, 29 September 2012

On The Road – Jack Kerouac in London

On The Road – Jack Kerouac in London

Fifty-five years ago, in the face of public outrage in the U.S. at the publication of his On the Road, Jack Kerouac adhered to the first rule of pyrotechnics. Having lit his fabulous yellow roman candle, he stood well back: in Tangier (with erstwhile Londoner William Burroughs), in Europe and, for a brief few days, London. His account of this stay can be found in the 1960 collection Lonesome Traveller

The great surprise, from the man who fathered the 21st Century concept of hardcore Traveller over sedate Holidaymaker, is that his London highlights – pea-soup fog, policemen’s helmets, pints of bitter beer – read more like a checklist of touristy ephemera than a cache of rare gems unearthed by a seasoned adventurer. But the sheer, childlike glee with which Kerouac announces each “discovery” is infectious stuff. From St Paul’s (for a Good Friday performance of the Matthew Passion) to the Old Vic (for The Taming of the Shrew), Kerouac – a man patently in thrall to the city before he’s even stepped off the train at Victoria – finds his London of the imagination perfectly in rhythm with the real thing. 

Perhaps it was the dignity of old lady London, despite her still-ragged post-war weeds, that delighted the so-called King of the Beats most of all. Was there a city more Beat than London in 1957? Where better for Kerouac to live out his last few days of obscurity before heading into the teeth of the Beat Generation storm?


A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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