CELEBRATE HARRY POTTER’S 20TH ANNIVERSARY
This month marks 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was published. Dominic Wells explains how you can fall under the spell of the stories
Relive the magic of the books and films across the city and at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London.
Has it really been 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was published? Yes, and here’s the proof: a new series of specialedition covers is released by Bloomsbury Books this month. The children who first read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone are grown up now, many with children of their own, yet the stories have a timeless quality that means they don’t date. They are steeped in an exaggerated English boarding school tradition that makes Harry Potter as recognisable an emblem of Britishness as James Bond, Sherlock Holmes or the Queen – and just as big an attraction for visitors to London.
The book that J.K. Rowling wrote in an Edinburgh café as an impoverished single mother, and which initially struggled to find a publisher, has now become a global franchise with seven books, eight Harry Potter films, a new film series of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and even a successful stage show: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is still the West End’s hottest ticket, a year after it opened. Its innovative staging has won over the critics as well as Potter fans: it won the 2016 Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play, and was nominated for 11 Oliviers, more than any other show. Tickets to the sold-out production change hands for hundreds of pounds on ticket resale websites, but 40 tickets at just £20 each are released online at 1pm every Friday. Just round the corner from the Palace Theatre, where The Cursed Child is showing, is a selling exhibition devoted to the art of Harry Potter. The film series was renowned for the exquisite craftsmanship that went into all the props and costumes, and here you can see newspapers, magazines and posters created for the wizarding world by the graphic design team of Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima. Two floors of the House of MinaLima, their pop-up shop on Greek Street in Soho, are devoted to the Harry Potter films, and another for Fantastic Beasts. Or perhaps you would like to show off your own knowledge of the series? St Margaret’s House in Bethnal Green, east London, hosts a Harry Potter quiz every month or so – see if you can let out your inner Hermione Granger and pass your O.W.L. exams with flying colours.
Just 10 minutes from there you’ll discover one of the great Harry Potter locations in Leadenhall Market, the elegant, ornate Victorian arcade which provided the setting for Diagon Alley in The Philosopher’s Stone. The entrance to the Leaky Cauldron pub for wizards is, in reality, an opticians in Bull’s Head Passage. Walk east towards St Paul’s, and you’ll find the Millennium Bridge linking the cathedral to the Tate Modern art gallery on the South Bank. This slender silver scimitar of a bridge was memorably ripped up and destroyed in the wake of the flying Dementors in The Half-Blood Prince – a witty reference to the fact that, when it was first built, it was nicknamed ‘the bendy bridge’, since it visibly swayed when crowds of people walked over it.
Other notable London locations seen in the Harry Potter films include Piccadilly Circus, where Harry, Hermione and Ron have to jump out of the way of a London bus in The Deathly Hallows; Lambeth Bridge, which the Knight Bus races across in The Prisoner of Azkaban; Tower Bridge, which Harry and friends swooped past on broomsticks in The Order of the Phoenix; and the grand St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, from which the magical Ford Anglia takes to the skies in The Chamber of Secrets. Just across the road from there, in King’s Cross station, you will find the official Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9¾. For more in-depth exploration, there are many guided Harry Potter walks and bus tours; or you can download a free walking tour at www.the-magician.co.uk.
The degree to which Harry Potter has gone from a humble children’s story to a classic beloved by all generations is shown by the fact that The British Library, no less, will be hosting the 20th anniversary exhibition, A History of Magic (from 20 Oct).
Jamie Andrews, Head of Culture and Learning, says: ‘We are thrilled to be working with J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury to mark the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter, and to inspire fans with the magic of our own collection.’
After 20 years, readers and viewers are still spellbound by J.K. Rowling’s tales of alchemy, magic and fantastic beasts of yore. ■
Clockwise from top: Millennium Bridge; Harry Potter Shop merchandise; Forbidden Forest at Warner Bros. Studio Tour; Harry Potter Walking Tour; J.K. Rowling