I began my career in Soho, London, at least the part of it that my parents would call a career. Even then Soho was the beating heart of the UK's creative industries. I was an assistant editor on corporate docs, basically in charge of hanging up all the film trims on their little hooks, hoping none of them dropped off into the bin holding miles of 16mm film, it would take a whole lunch hour to find them again. I can still remember the 'snick' of the splicer, slicing through the film, in between the frames, and the whirr of the spinning Steenbeck plates.
I went on to cut my own short films in Soho, and later as a producer, sat for hours pondering over two or three frames difference in a cutting point, much to the rightful annoyance of the editors.
I lugged the only print in the UK of THE KILLING FIELDS round all the Soho viewing theatres, and I'm still addicted to the smell of new 35mm celluloid. I gathered thousands of feet of short ends from all the Soho ad companies to make a short film. Short ends are the bits of film left over from each shot. We gathered them all up and made a film out of the bits no one else wanted. I hung out at the legendary Maison Bertaux café, pigging out on the best almond croissant in the world, that bit of Soho hasn't changed, and Bertaux's croissant are still as good.
It was accepted then that Soho was the centre of the film and television business. Many people will have fond memories of Stanleys' film supply shop window, with its clapperboards, gaffer tape, directors chairs and cans of film. What I didn't know then was that Soho had been the centre of the creative industries in London for nearly 400 years. Many of the Huguenots who got kicked out of France by the Catholics set up in the craft trades in Soho servicing the rich across the way in Mayfair. Silver and goldsmiths, metalworkers, weavers, tailors and jewellers, all crammed into a few streets around Soho Square. They were Soho's first creative industries, and it goes to show how long it really takes to build specialist centres of activity.
With Westminster City Council and the UK Trade and Investment, we have just commissioned a piece of work examining Soho's current creative stock. There has been a lot of talk of the creative industries moving out of Soho, further East for cheaper rents or further North for more space, and so we were keen to know how much truth there was in the rumours. None, it turns out.
Now, nearly a quarter of Soho's entire workforce is in the creative industries, making it the most creative square mile in the world, and the epicentre of the countries creativity. 5% of the countries workforce is in the creative industries, 10% of London's, 15% of Westminster's and a staggering 23% of Soho's. And it's growing, adding 10,000 jobs in the last four years, a creative workforce growing faster than anywhere else in the country.
Soho has been 'managed' well. You will be hard pushed to find a major retail chain, instead you have a plethora of independent businesses, Rapha, some of the best cycling kit you can buy, vinyl record shops gorgeous eateries offering steaming bowls of Japanese noodles, Swedish rye bread sandwiches, Italian salami with sundried tomatoes and steak and eggs. On the surface you would think that the production industry has moved out. But on top of all those restaurants, at the ends of the alleys and behind the doors, is the digital production sector. Rows of state of the art tech, Oscar winning digital effects, and world class animation and graphics. Soho is responsible for winning an average of two Oscars a year, with 22 in the last ten years, on top of 100 wins at Cannes. And it's not just film. Theatre, advertising, music and fashion are also major strengths for Soho with 50 yellow or black D&AD awards and 18 Brit Awards to Soho based labels. When it comes to Theatre, you can easily see a different show every day of the week, from the world's most successful musicals to extraordinary new work, from The Palace to Soho Theatre.
The creative sector in the country is thriving and in Soho it's white hot.
From the early Huguenot crafts people to the celluloid film industry to today's global successes in digital effects, fashion, music and theatre, Soho remains an extraordinary place to live and work. If you're at all creative, then it's probably the best place to work in the world.
During my career I have left Soho many times, but I am thrilled to be back. We are currently gutting the old sex DVD shop next to the burlesque night club Madame JoJos. The shop has been kindly loaned to us by Fawn and her team at Soho Estates. It's going to be our box office for SohoCreate, right in the edgy, thumping heart of Soho.
Back again, doing something I love, in a place I love, working with creative people to champion what they do, in the most creative square mile in the world. It doesn't get better.