A look back at when controversial journalist Bill Grundy slated 'appalling' Aylesbury architecture

The journalist who would go on to become famous for his tangle with the Sex Pistols was not a fan of the early gentrification in Aylesbury.

By James Lowson
Thursday, 17th June 2021, 11:13 am
Updated Thursday, 17th June 2021, 11:14 am

In a news report in the early 1970s Bill Grundy gave Aylesbury both barrels in his assessment of its new County Hall building.

Grundy starts his piece by eulogising some of the more serene areas of Aylesbury, he praises small side streets and church graveyards. He's presenting Aylesbury as a quiet tranquil place to live.

He soon changes tack, a close up of the County Hall has Grundy on voiceover calling it a 'horror within yards of lovely streets. He says: "There can be few other examples of redevelopment so badly matched to the town it's taking place in."

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Despite his hatred for the County Hall building, the tough-talking journalist liked the early 1970s version of the town's main shopping centre. He observed: "To be fair though, not everything about Aylesbury's redevelopment is so bad.

"The move from the old high street to a brand new shopping centre raised a lot of local hackles, but it seems to be working, at least by the number of shoppers using it is anything to go by."

Grundy saves his best takedowns for the architect who designed the redevelopment, Fred Pooley. The journalist continues: "The whole scheme is the brainchild of Fred Pooley – the Bucks County architect and planning officer, who looks out over it from the 10th floor of an appalling edit list known locally as Fred’s Fort and Pooley’s Palace.

"Perhaps his smugness derives from the fact that when you’re inside the place, you can’t actually see it, which is a relief because from the outside, it’s hideous, even more so because it dominates the town."

Bill Grundy

Despite his continuously scathing criticism of the architecture, Grundy describes the 1970s version of Friars Square as if it was truly groundbreaking. He marveled: "As a piece of planning, it does work as people come from all over the country to look at the way the bus station, the new shops, the county officers, the registrar’s refuge and the library, are all linked together in one massive precinct.”

About halfway through his report Grundy changes tact and starts going on a history lesson, inspired by the statue of John Hampden, detailing the Aylesbury figure's role in starting the Civil War. He finishes by concluding that Aylesbury's former prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, would likely be aghast at the way the country town had evolved.

Just years after his scathing assessment of Aylesbury's redevelopment the journalist's traditionalism got into trouble. He was suspended four years later when his attempts to go full Paxman on the Sex Pistols backfired. The journalist was referred to as 'sloppy' and considered to be goading his controversial guests rather than interviewing them, he was suspended following the incident.

The video can be found on YouTube where it has been uploaded by the British Pathe.