Croydon ’til they die: Andy Miller and John Grindrod in conversation

By - Wednesday 15th July, 2015

Croydon is the super ‘burb, pin-up and lightning rod for all that post-war development promised then (arguably) failed to deliver. This summer, celebrated authors John Grindrod and Andy Miller have explored suburban identity in their literary roadshow, Croydon Till I Die.

Here are John and Andy on how their four book-readings in Crystal Palace, Shoreditch, Fairfield Halls and the Brecon Beacons came about, what they set out to say, and how an author’s best laid plans don’t always allow for an audience.

Photo of John Grindrod and Andy Miller by Richard Depesando, used with permission.

John Grindrod: Hi Andy. So, the phrase ‘Croydon till I die’ – when did that first occur to you?

Andy Miller: Hi John. ‘Croydon till I die’ popped into my head when I was writing the introduction to my book The Year of Reading Dangerously. There are several mentions of Croydon and I talk about coming from the suburbs, so ‘Croydon till I die’ seemed both funny and true: you can leave your home town but it never leaves you.

JG: I remember finding it very funny. My book, Concretopia, had been published, and people were interested in the Barbican or the BT Tower but not in Croydon, which was its core. So I was keen to do something more Croydon-focused too. We realised quickly that ‘Croydon till I die’ was a good name for an evening of readings about suburbia. But it was daunting. We thought getting special guests in would help. I work for Faber, who published Croydon legend Bob Stanley, and so he seemed like a good person to approach.

AM: I find traditional book events quite, erm, sedate – that’s putting it politely. So I’m always interested when authors talk about a subject, rather than just reading from their work. This was an opportunity to do something worthwhile and entertaining. I liked the idea that Croydon Till I Die could be different every time, depending on who was involved and the location.

JG: We thought small at first, then you said the Fairfield Halls. When we booked, our feeling was terror – like we’d struggle to get fifty people to turn up, and the Arnhem Gallery seats 300 plus. But, as Bob said: “It’s the Fairfield Halls! We’ve got to do it.

Bob had written great stuff about Beano’s record store, and I’d written about the post-war rebuilding of Croydon in Concretopia. There were a few (I thought) good jokes and some slightly odd opinions that I wasn’t sure how they’d go down with locals. You were coming from a more literary perspective. How did you choose your angle, and what to read?

AM: I wanted to read from The Year of Reading Dangerously – the sections about The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr and about Croydon libraries which influenced my childhood – but to preface that with others: the poem ‘Croydon’ by John Betjeman, an extract from Hilary Mantel’s novel Beyond Black, and sections of the film Robinson In Space, written and directed by Patrick Keiller. The common theme was ambivalence – a mixture of pride and despair in suburbia. Which is pretty much how I feel too.

JG: Yes, I was surprised the Crystal Palace audience was so positive about Croydon – not what you expect! In Shoreditch I wasn’t sure what sort of audience there’d be – Rough Trade East showcases the latest bands, not usually a trio of middle-aged men talking about suburbia!

But loads turned up and again asked thoughtful questions, interested in changes in contemporary Croydon, arts and cultural organisations and how a new generation is re-inventing the town centre, rather than how my generation had complacently accepted what was there.

So – two events in and both had gone well. The big scary one was still the Fairfield Halls. That was a bit of a revelation, wasn’t it?

AM: We thought fifty people would show up – then 300 walked in!

JG: I remember being anxious. I wasn’t sure that what we were going to do was big enough for the number of people who had turned up…

AM: But it was amazing and I felt so proud of what was happening – hundreds of people cheering and swearing allegiance to the letter ‘T’ from the now-dismantled Taberner House – a bit of pantomime there. And we namechecked stuff happening in Croydon now: new galleries, Tech City, the Fun Palace – as many as we could.

The energy comes from what the audience wants to talk about – Croydon, obviously, their memories, and the nature of suburban identity, which is obviously what we want to talk about too. But you don’t know what’s coming…

JG: Absolutely. Everyone was so generous-spirited with their questions and observations. We all came out as Croydon And Proud. We’d not realised this would be a group therapy session! I’ve long felt that Croydon might as well have had a cloaking device, for all of the notice anyone takes of it. It was brilliant to shine a spotlight, and to stop apologising for it too.

Next stop, Las Vegas. This has to happen.

AM: I agree. Like our hearts, Croydon Till I Die will go on.

John Grindrod’s Concretopia: A Journey Around the Rebuilding of Postwar Britain is published by Old Street Publishing. His website is He is on Twitter @Grindrod.

Andy Miller’s The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life is published by 4th Estate. His website is He is on Twitter @i_am_mill_i_am.

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