The Piccadilly Circus mystery – can you help?

Do you recognise any of the cast and crew from this shoot? © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection
Do you recognise any of the cast and crew from this shoot? Click on the image to enlarge it. © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection

Here’s a mystery – and a topical one too. To tie in with the 150th anniversary of the Tube, the BFI restoration of Anthony Asquith’s 1928 thriller Underground gets a theatrical release this week. What do you mean, you didn’t know? This happy news led Simon Murphy from the London Transport Museum to send me this intriguing photograph of what seems to be a film cast and crew at Piccadilly Circus station.

Simon writes:

The location is Piccadilly Circus and the date is 1929 or so I think, but could be later. I used to think it was 1928 and linked to the Asquith film Underground somehow, but the station was only just being built when Underground was shot in April-May 1928 and didn’t open to the public until December. I recognise Anthony Asquith, to the right of the guy with the pencil moustache, and the woman on the left looks familiar but I can’t place her …

So we’re asking for your help. Do you recognise any famous (or not-so famous) faces from British film history? Could they be filming a short, or some publicity material for another title? Perhaps these closeups will help:

Piccadilly Circus mystery closeup 1
The group on the left. Surely someone will know the glamorous woman in the shawl? © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection

The woman with the bob must be a star, surely? And is that really Asquith with his coat collar turned up?

Piccadilly Circus mystery closeup 3
How about this group on the right of the original image? © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection

I’ve heard a suggestion that the lone figure in the foreground of this group may be Michael Balcon. Do you agree?

If you have any suggestions, please add your comments below – or email londonsilent@gmail.com.

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15 thoughts on “The Piccadilly Circus mystery – can you help?”

  1. I’m afraid I can’t offer suggestions as to their identities, but this post tells me about a movie I must watch and reminds us that we can still see this beautiful station today. Thanks!

  2. Marie Prevost? she did 6 films in a row with Harrison Ford around that time including Girl on the Pullman (1927) aka Girl on the Train.

  3. This is a pet theory for which I have absolutely no evidence, but it strikes me that Asquith, having proved his ability handling ‘his’ crowds in the Underground, may later have been persuaded to shoot a promotional for the new station, maybe as a sweetener to the Transport Authority for the access he got for Underground. The film may never have seen the light of day, or be lost, or whatever – either way, the coincidence of Asquith down another tube station within months of making Underground suggests a link.

    1. Hmmm – there *is* some footage of Piccadilly Circus in 1930 or so in the LT museum collection, but it’s only 2 or 3 seconds, cut with shots of escalators, booking halls and platform scenes at other stations – it’s on 35mm but quite amateurish. It’s possible the Underground asked Asquith to pop down during the filming for some extra publicity, but I don’t think there’s anything in the staff magazine about it.

  4. The chap in the centre of the right and picture looks like comedian Max Miller who was very much a star then. Although I was only aware of him making films from 1933.

  5. Not Michael Balcon. Not Asquith. Not Max Miller. I reckon they are random extras for the 1930 film – made in a slightly ‘city symphony’ type pf style. we have some production footage at the BFI.

  6. Hello, in talking with my friend, film historian Kevin Brownlow, he sent this, in response to my forwarding him the photograph:

    “Piccadilly Circus Underground was opened in 1929, I believe, so this could be from UNDERGROUND (which was shot in 1928, before it was opened to the public. I don’t recognise anyone but will pass it on to the people who restored UNDERGROUND. Great shot! Best wishes Kevin (B)”

    All the best, if I hear anything further will let you know! Kevin Charbeneau, the other Kevin

  7. Some years ago, 13th September 2003 in fact, I discovered the same photograph along with a very helpful caption which reads ‘Film technicians and cast members standing by studio lights in the ticket hall of Piccadilly Circus underground station, London during the shooting of “Piccadilly Lights”.’ A second shot I found was captioned ‘Actors Elsie Bower and Billy Rutherford (centre) being filmed on location at Piccadilly Circus underground station for the film, “Piccadilly Lights”.’ The third photo I found showed a street at night with the caption reading ‘Piccadilly Circus illuminated by flood lights during a night shoot for the film, “Piccadilly Lights”.’ I believe Bower is the woman in the shawl and Rutherford stands by her left arm. The photographs were dated 15th January 1930.

    I don’t know if ‘Piccadilly Lights’ was the original name of the film, or a typing error, but these shots show the shooting of ‘Piccadilly Nights’ (1930), directed by Albert H. Arch which starred Rutherford and Bower. The imdb gives more details about the film but the point that seemed to jump out to me is that most of people involved with this film have very, very few film credits. The only name in the cast and crew I recognised was Lance Comfort. It also seems impossible, to me at least, to find photographs of people involved in this production.

    The original posting, which I first noticed 24th October, prompted me to search again with that search uncovering an additional three photographs showing location shooting in Piccadilly Circus station on 15th January 1930.

    The photographs I found in 2003 were part of the Hulton Archive which has since been absorbed into Getty Images and all the images I mention above, excluding the street which eluded me the other day, are to be found on the Getty Images site.

    I wonder if anyone has a copy of the film?

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