London - Piccadilly Circus in August 1950. And Some Interesting Facts.

London – Piccadilly Circus in August 1950. And Some Interesting Facts.

London - Piccadilly Circus in August 1950. And Some Interesting Facts.

The Postcard

A postally unused LP Series postcard that was published by the Lansdowne Publishing Co. Ltd. of London. The image is a glossy real photograph, and the card has a divided back. It was printed in Great Britain.

Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus is a road junction and public space in London’s West End. It was built in order to connect Regent Street with Piccadilly. In this context, a circus, from the Latin word meaning "circle", is a round open space at a street junction.

The Circus now connects Piccadilly, Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, the Haymarket, Coventry Street (onwards to Leicester Square) and Glasshouse Street.

Piccadilly Circus is close to major shopping and entertainment areas, and its status as a major traffic junction has made the Circus a busy meeting place and a tourist attraction in its own right.

Piccadilly Circus is particularly known for its video display and neon signs mounted on the corner building on the northern side, as well as the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain and statue of Anteros (which is popularly, though mistakenly, believed to represent Eros).

Piccadilly Circus is surrounded by several notable buildings, including the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatre. Underneath the plaza is Piccadilly Circus Underground Station, part of the London Underground system.

History of Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus connects to Piccadilly, a thoroughfare whose name first appeared in 1626 as Piccadilly Hall, named after a house belonging to one Robert Baker, a tailor famous for selling piccadills, a term used for various kinds of collars.

The street was named Portugal Street in 1692 in honour of Catherine of Braganza, the queen consort of King Charles II, but by 1743 it was being referred to as Piccadilly.

Piccadilly Circus was created in 1819, at the junction with Regent Street, which was then being built under the planning of John Nash on the site of a house and garden belonging to a Lady Hutton. The intersection was then known as Regent Circus South (just as Oxford Circus was known as Regent Circus North), and it did not begin to be known as Piccadilly Circus until the mid 1880’s, with the construction of Shaftesbury Avenue. In the same period, the Circus lost its circular form.

The junction has been a very busy traffic interchange since construction, as it lies at the centre of Theatreland, and handles exit traffic from Piccadilly, which Charles Dickens Jr. described as follows in 1879:

"Piccadilly, the great thoroughfare leading
from the Haymarket and Regent Street
westward to Hyde Park Corner, is the nearest
approach to the Parisian boulevard of which
London can boast."

Piccadilly Circus tube station was opened on the 10th. March 1906, on the Bakerloo line, and on the Piccadilly line in December of that year. In 1928, the station was extensively rebuilt to handle an increase in traffic.

Piccadilly Circus’s first electric advertisements appeared in 1908, and, from 1923, electric billboards were set up on the façade of the London Pavilion. Electric street lamps, however, did not replace the gas ones until 1932.

The circus became a one-way roundabout on the 19th. July 1926, and traffic lights were first installed on the 3rd. August 1926.

During World War II many servicemen’s clubs in the West End served American soldiers based in Britain. So many prostitutes roamed the area approaching the soldiers that they received the nickname "Piccadilly Commandos", and both Scotland Yard and the Foreign Office discussed possible damage to Anglo-American relations.

The Holford Plan for the Circus

At the start of the 1960’s, it was determined that the Circus needed to be redeveloped to allow for greater traffic flow. In 1962, Lord Holford presented a plan which would have created a "double-decker" Piccadilly Circus; the upper deck would have been an elevated pedestrian concourse linking the buildings around the perimeter of the Circus, with the lower deck being solely for traffic, most of the ground-level pedestrian areas having been removed to allow for greater vehicle flow.

This concept was kept alive throughout the rest of the 1960’s. A final scheme in 1972 proposed three octagonal towers (the highest 240 feet (73 m) tall) to replace the Trocadero, the Criterion and the "Monico" buildings.

Fortunately the plans were permanently rejected by Sir Keith Joseph and Ernest Marples; the key reason given was that Holford’s scheme only allowed for a 20% increase in traffic, and the Government required 50%.

The Holford plan is referenced in the documentary film "Goodbye, Piccadilly", produced by the Rank Organisation in 1967 as part of their Look at Life series when it was still seriously expected that Holford’s recommendations would be acted upon. Piccadilly Circus has since escaped major redevelopment, apart from extensive ground-level pedestrianisation around its south side in the 1980’s.

Terrorist Bombs

Piccadilly Circus has been targeted by Irish republican terrorists multiple times. On the 24th. June 1939 an explosion occurred, although no injuries were caused, and on the 25th. November 1974 a bomb injured 16 people. A 2lb bomb also exploded on the 6th. October 1992, injuring five people.

The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain

The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain in Piccadilly Circus was erected in 1893 to commemorate Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th. Earl of Shaftesbury. Lord Shaftesbury was a Victorian politician, philanthropist and social reformer.

It was removed from the Circus twice and moved from the centre once.

The first time was in 1922, so that Charles Holden’s new tube station could be built directly below it. The fountain returned in 1931. During the Second World War, the fountain was removed for the second time and replaced by advertising hoardings. It was returned again in 1948.

When the Circus underwent reconstruction work in the late 1980’s, the entire fountain was moved from the centre of the junction at the beginning of Shaftesbury Avenue to its present position at the southwestern corner.

The subject of the Memorial is the Greek god Anteros, and was officially given the name The Angel of Christian Charity, but it is generally mistakenly believed to be his brother Eros.

Location and Sights

Piccadilly Circus is surrounded by tourist attractions, including the Criterion Theatre, London Pavilion and retail stores. Nightclubs, restaurants and bars are located in the area and neighbouring Soho, including the former Chinawhite Club.

Illuminated Signs

Piccadilly Circus was surrounded by illuminated advertising hoardings on buildings, starting in 1908 with a Perrier sign, but only one building now carries them, the one in the northwestern corner between Shaftesbury Avenue and Glasshouse Street. The site is unnamed (usually referred to as "Monico" after the Café Monico, which used to be on the site); it has been owned by property investor Land Securities Group since the 1970’s.

The earliest signs used incandescent light bulbs; these were replaced with neon lights and with moving signs (there was a large Guinness clock at one time). The first Neon sign was for the British meat extract Bovril.

From December 1998, digital projectors were used for the Coke sign, the square’s first digital billboard, while in the 2000’s there was a gradual move to LED displays, which by 2011 had completely replaced neon lamps.

The number of signs has reduced over the years as the rental costs have increased, and in January 2017 the six remaining advertising screens were switched off as part of their combination into one large ultra-high definition curved Daktronics display, turning the signs off during renovation for the longest time since the 1940’s. On the 26th. October 2017, the new screen was switched on for the first time.

Until the 2017 refurbishment, the site had six LED advertising screens above three large retail units facing Piccadilly Circus on the north side, occupied by Boots, Gap and a mix of smaller retail, restaurant and office premises fronting the other streets.

A Burger King located under the Samsung advert, which had been a Wimpy Bar until 1989, closed in 2008, and was converted into a Barclays Bank.

Coca-Cola has had a sign at Piccadilly Circus since 1954. In September 2003, the previous digital projector board and the site that had been occupied by Nescafé was replaced with a state-of-the-art LED video display that curves round with the building.

From 1978 to 1987 the spot had been used by Philips Electronics, and a neon advertisement for Foster’s used the location from 1987 until 1999.

For several months in 2002, the Nescafé sign was replaced by a sign featuring the quote "Imagine all the people living life in peace" by Beatle John Lennon. This was paid for by his widow Yoko Ono, who spent an estimated £150,000 to display an advert at this location. Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero, Fanta, Sprite and Vitamin Water have all been advertised in the space.

The Hyundai Motors sign launched on the 29th. September 2011. It replaced a sign for Sanyo which had occupied the space since 1988, the last to be run using neon lights rather than Hyundai’s computerised LED screen.

Earlier Sanyo signs with older logos had occupied the position since 1978, although these were only half the size of the later space.

McDonald’s added its sign in 1987, replacing one for BASF. The sign was changed from neon to LED in 2001. A bigger, brighter screen was installed by Daktronics in 2008.

Samsung added its sign in November 1994, the space having been previously occupied by Canon Inc. (1978–84) and Panasonic (1984–94). The sign was changed from neon to LED in summer 2005, and the screen was upgraded and improved in autumn 2011.

L’Oreal, Hunter Original and eBay had signs in the Piccadilly Circus billboards since October 2017. One Piccadilly, the highest resolution of all the LED displays was installed by Daktronics in late 2013, underneath the Samsung and McDonald’s signs. It allowed other companies to advertise for both short- and long-term leases, increasing the amount of advertising space but using the same screen for multiple brands.

The Curve, a similar space to One Piccadilly, was added in 2015, replacing a space previously occupied by Schweppes (1920–61), BP (1961–67), Cinzano (1967–78), Fujifilm (1978–86), Kodak (1986–90) and TDK (1990–2015).

On special occasions the lights are switched off, such as the deaths of Winston Churchill in 1965 and Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. On the 21st. June 2007, they were switched off for one hour as part of the Lights Out London campaign.

Other companies and brands that have had signs on the site include Bovril, Volkswagen, Max Factor, Wrigley’s Spearmint, Skol, Air India and Will’s Gold Flake Cigarettes.

By way of a summary, and to aid the dating of other photographs of Piccadilly Circus, major brands and dates are as follows:

— BASF up to 1987
— Bovril from 1923
— BP 1961 to 1967
— Canon 1978 to 1984
— Cinzano 1967 to 1978
— Coca Cola from 1954
— eBay from 2017
— Fosters 1987 to 1999
— Guinness from 1930 – see below
— Fujifilm 1978 to 1986
— Hyundai from 2011
— Kodak 1986 to 1990
— l’Oréal from 2017
— McDonald’s from 1987
— Nescafé from 1999
— Panasonic 1984 to 1994
— Perrier from 1908
— Philips 1978 to 1987
— Samsung from 1994
— Sanyo 1978 to 2011
— Schweppes 1920 to 1961
— TDK 1990 to 2015


— From 1930 to 1932, a Guinness ad showed a pint of Guinness and stated that ‘Guinness is Good For You.’
— From 1932 to 1953 the Guinness ad featured a clock and stated ‘Guinness Time’ as well as ‘Guinness is Good For You.’
— From 1954 to 1959 the Guinness clock had a zoo-keeper and two juggling sealions under it.
— From 1959 to 1972 the Guinness ad featured a cuckoo clock with a swinging pendulum incorporating two back-to-back toucans.

In the photograph above, you can just see the edge of the Guinness ad on the far left. The ad is pre-sealions, therefore the photograph was taken prior to 1954.

The Criterion Theatre

The Criterion Theatre, which is a Grade II* listed building, stands on the south side of Piccadilly Circus. Apart from the box office area, the entire theatre, with nearly 600 seats, is underground, and is reached by descending a tiled stairway. Columns are used to support both the dress circle and the upper circle, restricting the views of many of the seats inside.

The theatre was designed by Thomas Verity, and opened as a theatre on the 21st. March 1874, although original plans were for it to become a concert hall.

In 1883, the Criterion was forced to close in order to improve ventilation and to replace gaslights with electric lights, and was re-opened the following year. The theatre closed in 1989 and was extensively renovated, re-opening in October 1992.

The London Pavilion

On the northeastern side of Piccadilly Circus is the London Pavilion. The first building bearing the name was built in 1859, and was a music hall. In 1885, Shaftesbury Avenue was built through the former site of the Pavilion, and a new London Pavilion was constructed, which also served as a music hall. In 1924 electric billboards were erected on the side of the building.

In 1934, the building underwent significant structural alteration and was converted into a cinema. In 1986, the building was rebuilt, preserving the 1885 façade, and converted into a shopping arcade.

In 2000, the building was connected to the neighbouring Trocadero Centre, and signage on the building was altered in 2003 to read "London Trocadero". The basement of the building connects with the Underground station.

Major Shops

The former Swan & Edgar department store on the west side of the Circus was built in 1928–29 to a design by Reginald Blomfield. Since the closure of the department store in the early 1980’s, the building has been successively the flagship London store of music chains Tower Records, Virgin Megastore and Zavvi. The current occupier is clothing brand The Sting.

Lillywhites is a major retailer of sporting goods located on the corner of the circus and Lower Regent Street, next to the Shaftesbury fountain. It moved to its present site in 1925. Lillywhites is popular with tourists, and they regularly offer sale items, including international football jerseys at up to 90% off.

Nearby Fortnum & Mason is often considered to be part of the Piccadilly Circus shopping area, and is known for its expansive food hall.

The County Fire Office

Dominating the north side of the Circus, on the corner of Glasshouse Street, is the County Fire Office building, with a statue of Britannia on the roof. The original building was designed by John Nash as the extreme southern end of his Regent Street Quadrant.

Its dramatic façade was clearly influenced by Inigo Jones’s old Somerset House. Although Robert Abraham was the County Fire Insurance Company’s architect, it was probably Nash who was instrumental in choosing the design.

In 1924 the old County Fire Office was demolished and replaced with a similar but much coarser building designed by Reginald Blomfield, but retaining the statue of Britannia. During the London Blitz it was the only building in the Circus to be damaged, although only a few window panes were blown out. The building is Grade II listed.

Piccadilly Circus Underground Station

Piccadilly Circus station on the London Underground is located directly beneath Piccadilly Circus itself, with entrances at every corner. It is one of the few stations to have no associated buildings above ground, and is fully underground. The below-ground concourse and subway entrances are Grade II listed.

The station is on the Piccadilly line between Green Park and Leicester Square, and the Bakerloo line between Charing Cross and Oxford Circus.

Demonstrations at Piccadilly Circus

The Circus’ status as a high-profile public space has made it the location for numerous political demonstrations, including the 15th. February 2003 anti-war protest and the "Carnival Against Capitalism" protest against the 39th. G8 summit in 2013.

Piccadilly Circus in Popular Culture

The phrase ‘It’s like Piccadilly Circus’ is commonly used in the UK to refer to a place or situation which is extremely busy with people. It has been said that a person who stays long enough at Piccadilly Circus will eventually bump into everyone they know.

Probably because of this connection, during World War II, "Piccadilly Circus" was the code name given to the Allies’ D-Day invasion fleet’s assembly location in the English Channel.

Piccadilly Circus has inspired both artists and musicians. Piccadilly Circus (1912) is the name and subject of a painting by British artist Charles Ginner, part of the Tate Britain collection.

Sculptor Paul McCarthy produced a 320-page two-volume edition of video stills by the name of Piccadilly Circus.

In the lyrics of their song "Mother Goose", on the Aqualung album from 1971, the band Jethro Tull tells:

"And a foreign student said to me:
‘Was it really true there were
elephants, lions too, in Piccadilly

Bob Marley mentioned Piccadilly Circus in his song "Kinky Reggae", on the Catch a Fire album in 1973.

L. S. Lowry’s painting Piccadilly Circus, London (1960), part of Lord Charles Forte’s collection for almost three decades, sold for £5,641,250 when auctioned for the first time at Christie’s on the 16th. November 2011.

Contemporary British painter Carl Randall’s painting ‘Piccadilly Circus’ (2017) is a large monochrome canvas depicting the area at night with crowds, the making of which involved painting over 70 portraits from life.

In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019), the second campaign mission takes place at Piccadilly Circus, where the game has the player intervene during a terrorist attack by the fictional terrorist group Al-Qatala. There is also a multi-player map called Piccadilly, which appears to take place in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.


Circa is an art platform based at London’s Piccadilly Circus. They commission and stream a monthly programme of art and culture, every evening at 20:21, across a global network of billboards in London, Tokyo and Seoul.

Established in October 2020 by British-Irish artist Josef O’Connor, the daily and free public art programme pauses the world famous advertisements in Piccadilly Circus and across a global network of screens for three minutes every evening.

They commission new work to fill the space that considers the world in response to the present year. It is the largest digital art exhibition in Europe. O’Connor recalls:

‘I first had the idea when I was 19, but it was only
about three years ago that I acted on it and reached
out to the screen owner, Landsec, via Twitter.
I was inspired by Piccadilly’s kinetic architecture –
how it morphed and changed with time to reflect
the world – from neon lights in 1908 to the iconic
red and white Sanyo sign in the 1990’s, etc.
You could accurately guess the decade by just
looking at a photo or postcard of the landmark.
This inspired the concept for Circa, to pause time
and commission artists to create new work that
considers the world around them, circa 2020/21, etc.’

The first artist to fill the three-minute daily slot was Ai Weiwei, who is quoted as saying in an interview with The Art Newspaper that:

"Circa 2020 offers a very important platform
for artists to exercise their practice and to
reach out to a greater public”.

Other notable artists and curators whose works have been exhibited as part of the Circa programme include Cauleen Smith, Eddie Peake, Patti Smith, James Barnor curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Vivienne Westwood, David Hockney, Alvaro Barrington and Anne Imhof.

Each commission for the project is approved by an independent council chaired by the British independent curator and ex-director of The Royal Academy, Norman Rosenthal.

On the 1st. January 2021, Circa commissioned two live performances from Patti Smith to help put an end to 2020 and beckon in the New Year. The New Year’s Eve screening in Piccadilly Circus was eventually cancelled due to Covid restrictions, but the performance was still broadcast for free via the Circa YouTube Channel on the 31st. December to an audience of over 1.5million people around the world.

Circa and Serpentine Galleries’ collaborative presentation of James Barnor’s work in April 2021 completed a journey that began more than half a century ago, when Barnor photographed BBC Africa Service presenter Mike Eghan against the backdrop of Piccadilly Circus’s neon signs in 1967.

The iconic image is held within the Tate collection, and was the inspiration behind Ferdinando Verderi’s Italian Vogue cover, with Barnor remote-shooting model Adwoa Aboah standing in the exact same location to create a present reflection on the past.

To celebrate her 80th. Birthday, British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood was commissioned by Circa to present a new video work in Piccadilly Circus created with her brother entitled ‘Don’t Buy a Bomb,’ an anti-war message presented for ten minutes on the Piccadilly Lights screen.

In the ten-minute film, the punk icon performed a re-written rendition of ‘Without You’ from My Fair Lady to offer a stark warning of societal indifference to looming environmental catastrophes, a cry against the arms trade, and its link to climate change.

In May 2021, British artist David Hockney’s 2.5 minute iPad drawing of a sunrise entitled “Remember you cannot look at the sun or death for very long,” was broadcast by Circa across digital billboard screens in London’s Piccadilly Circus, New York’s Times Square and prominent locations in Los Angeles, Tokyo and the largest outdoor screen in Seoul.

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