Notorious London: A City Tour

Dive into the history of London through the lens of some of its most infamous places, personalities, and politics across the centuries.
Notorious London: A City Tour is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 16.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly Recommended I live in central London and love its' history and heritage - this is one of the best Great Courses I've bought. I liked the way its' presented with lots of background material and visuals and the lecturer is very engaging - you feel he enjoys his subject material starting with Oscar Wilde and Equality Issues to CCTV Technology and the Surveillance Age. I liked the course book and the dvd - and bought the transcript to catch up on when travelling...
Date published: 2021-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Our favorite course, so far I try to find courses that both my husband and I can enjoy. This is definitely one of them. We are about halfway through and everyone has held our interest from start to finish. The professor is a great speaker with an amazing vocabulary.
Date published: 2021-08-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A bit lightweight I have viewed many Great Courses, and I found this one to be disappointing. I found it to be too lightweight to be be a college level course -- I couldn't discern much in the way of general themes or learning objectives. The course jumped from topic to topic without any emphasis on chronology of events or other clear organizing principle. As a "tour" course, it was lacking in that there were few visuals, little use of maps, and little discussion of what a modern day tourist would be able to see at any of the locations involved. Each episode was somewhat informative as a stand-alone topic but it never seemed to come together as an integrated course.
Date published: 2021-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A brilliant tour of the 'underground'! This course beautifully fulfills its goals and purpose--a rollicking tour of the seamy underbelly of a city I thought I knew well. And what a delight at a time like this, when we are all planning a return-trip sometime in the (ever-more-distant) future? My favorite lectures are 1 (on Oscar Wilde's haunts) and 3 (on the dance-hall culture of the 1930s and 1940s), and each is logically, carefully presented. Tying all this superb sociological and historical information to particular spots in the city--with maps in the videos--helps solidify the details in the viewer's mind. The course guidebook is simply the best one--with copious illustrations and suggestions for further (and lively) reading--I've ever seen on offer from The Great Courses. Professor Deslandes brings ebullient enthusiasm, deep expertise, and sharp analysis to each tour, and I doubt I will ever see the placid 'surface' of London the same way again!
Date published: 2021-08-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting, but . . . I was hoping for many more illustrations to accompany these lectures. It seemed to me that many opportunities to illustrate the text were missed. While the content was interesting, I found Dr Deslandes' delivery to be somewhat awkward both in inflection and in hand gestures. For me, it functioned more as an audio course.
Date published: 2021-08-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating: Not Just for Tourists I watched this 2021 twelve-lecture (“lesson”) course on WONDRIUM (formerly Great Courses Plus). It is a rather unusual one for me, with most of the lectures only loosely knit together, if at all. They all have in common London over the centuries. Nevertheless, the course is fascinating in its parts and, on balance, is worth the time spent. It should be required viewing for anyone planning a visit to London, but will be fascinating for others as well. There is a lot dealt with in the course, from Oscar Wilde through today’s CCTV surveillance, and, in between, treatment of many other interesting subjects, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral over the centuries, the Tower of London’s history, the eighteenth-century Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, and, of course, Jack the Ripper. This is a well-produced set of lectures featuring, in Professor Deslandes, a capable and engaging guide. Though some may fault his frequent and vigorous hand motions, it is not a deal-breaker for me, as I got hooked before the first lecture ended. The lectures are further enlivened by many types of fine illustrative material, including street maps pinpointing matters under discussion. While the introduction to the video lectures notes only Professor Deslandes’ publication on Oxbridge men, 1850-1920, the guidebook elaborates, citing his focus on “gender and sexuality, education, and fashion.” I saw this only after viewing all the lectures, but it helps me understand Professor Deslandes seeming preoccupation with these topics in many of the lectures. The only place he really tried my patience occurred in the fourth lecture, “On Carnaby Street in the Swinging Sixties”, that goes into too much detail on fashions and the fashion industry. Others may think differently! The 158-page course guidebook is a good one, though the summaries are relatively short. Along with illustrative material from the video, the guidebook also contains an excellent bibliography and a useful fourteen-page course quiz.
Date published: 2021-07-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing London As I often say in my reviews, if you don't know much about the topic, the course was good. Lots of interesting information. Otherwise, there were too many problems for anything above a "C" as a grade. Why were the lights out? The dark, purple-violet empty bookshelf background was the most "snooze inducing" effect I've ever seen in a course. There must have been a tight budget - Prof. Deslandes spoke of one of the earliest use of "movie" recording of the Diamond Jubilee Procession....did we see any footage? No. He spoke of the many camera men stationed throughout the parade route...we saw one photo, and a repeated sketch. References to Hyde Park, Parliament, rooms in the Tower of London, the London Blitz, The Thames and Great Stink...would it have been prohibitively expensive to have a few photos or diagrams? We were told of modern tours of the scenes of Jack the Ripper murders...could we see one alley please? The maps we are shown have as little detail as possible. A satellite view from Google would have been more helpful. The executions that were carried out are talked about, but no photo of the Tower Green (Ann Boleyn) or Tyburn or Smithfield. Prof. Deslandes seemed like a nice fellow, but he read his lines and spoke of everything in the same, intense monotone to the point of being unable to emphasize an important point. Sorry, but you could learn most of this information from a good book. Splurge and get Dr. Bucholz's course on the History of London.
Date published: 2021-07-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting information about London history I found the professor to be engaging and the material was interesting. I do wish there had been more pictures or illustrations to go along with the material. There were some, but it would have been interesting to see more, particularly when it got to more recent history. But overall an interesting view into parts of London's history I hadn't known much about before.
Date published: 2021-07-07
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Dive into the history of London through the lens of some of its most infamous places, personalities, and politics across the centuries.


Paul Deslandes
Paul Deslandes

Please join me on this tour of notorious London.


The University of Vermont

Paul Deslandes is a Professor of History at the University of Vermont, where he chairs the Department of History and the university’s Historic Preservation Program. He previously taught at Texas Tech University, where he was awarded the Hemphill-Wells New Professor Excellence in Teaching Award and was elected to the Teaching Academy. He received his BA in History from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and his MA in British History and PhD in History from the University of Toronto.

Among the courses Paul offers at the University of Vermont are London: A Cultural History and Sex in Modern History. He has been active in promoting the teaching of history at the high school level, and he served for several years as chief reader for the College Board’s AP European History program. He also held the position of executive secretary for the North American Conference on British Studies.

Paul is a cultural historian of modern Britain and has focused much of his writing on the history of gender and sexuality, education, and fashion. He is the author of many articles, essays, and books, including Oxbridge Men: British Masculinity and the Undergraduate Experience, 1850–1920 and The Culture of Male Beauty in Britain: From the First Photographs to David Beckham. He also received a REACH grant for his project titled “Transatlantic Britishness: Architecture, Design, and Cultural Exchange, 1876–Present,” sustaining research for a book that will examine material culture and design exchanges between Britain and North America.

By This Professor

Notorious London: A City Tour
Notorious London: A City Tour


Oscar Wilde’s Decadent London

01: Oscar Wilde’s Decadent London

Begin your historical tour of London with a look at the city when it was home to Oscar Wilde at the close of the 19th century. Trace the details of Wilde’s trial for indecency as you examine the way London society was structured and how immense wealth and privilege—for some—left its imprint on the city and its history.

34 min
St. Paul’s Cathedral in Faith, Fire, and Sin

02: St. Paul’s Cathedral in Faith, Fire, and Sin

St. Paul’s Cathedral has overlooked London from a high point in the city for generations. Uncover the history of this church that has been so much more than a place of worship for the people of London, and has survived fire, plague, and the ravages of war. Here, you will look at several episodes from the cathedral’s long and storied past.

30 min
Getting Blitzed at London’s Café de Paris

03: Getting Blitzed at London’s Café de Paris

Go back in time to an evening in March of 1941, when the Café de Paris—a popular center of London nightlife in the 1930s and 40s—was destroyed in the Blitz. Uncover the history of the Café and see how its destruction reflects not only the horrors of wartime London, but the resiliency of the citizens who had to “keep calm and carry on” under the threat of war.

31 min
On Carnaby Street during the Swinging ’60s

04: On Carnaby Street during the Swinging ’60s

Carnaby Street emerged during the expansion of London in the 17th century and would go on to become a symbol of social change in the 1960s. Look back on the history of this three-block stretch of city street and see why it became such a magnet for trendsetters and youth culture in post-war London, and examine why these changes were embraced by some and seen as a threat by others.

29 min
A History of Infamy in the Tower of London

05: A History of Infamy in the Tower of London

Dive into the long history of the Tower of London and its many roles: fortress; royal residence; mint; armory; military garrison; zoo; and, perhaps most notably, prison. From the days of William the Conqueror to the Victorian era and later, you will see how this structure has played a significant part in London’s long and notorious history.

32 min
Underground Catholics of Protestant London

06: Underground Catholics of Protestant London

Following the Protestant Reformation of her father Henry VIII’s reign, Elizabeth I and her successor James I ruled over an England torn by religious controversy and their rules were characterized by multiple conspiracies. Relive the history of religious persecution in London, from the pro-Catholic Mary I to her Protestant successors.

28 min
Wicked Fun at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

07: Wicked Fun at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

Especially popular with the aristocracy and the aspiring middle classes, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens were 12 acres of woods and gravel walks on the South Bank of the Thames. Experience some of the scandalous stories of overindulgence, social interaction, sex, pleasure, and danger that abounded in and around this quintessentially 18th-century public place.

29 min
Taking the Dead Man’s Path to Tyburn Tree

08: Taking the Dead Man’s Path to Tyburn Tree

Look back on the trial and execution of Jack Sheppard in 1724 and reflect on the ways Jack’s story highlights the public display of state power and the nature of public life in 18th-century London. Somewhat of a folk hero, Jack Sheppard still met an ignominious end that sheds light on the drastic disparities between the haves and the have-nots of London’s past.

26 min
The Great Stink of 1858

09: The Great Stink of 1858

How did a vital waterway like the Thames become so polluted that its rancid stench disrupted the everyday life of an entire city? Revisit the year 1858 and the “Great Stink” that helped Londoners conceptualize the dangers of pollution and prompted the implementation of lasting reforms that transformed the city’s infrastructure for generations to come.

31 min
In the Footsteps of Jack the Ripper

10: In the Footsteps of Jack the Ripper

Whitechapel had a reputation as a notorious district riddled with crime and poverty in the 19th century. While this characterization is not entirely accurate, the grisly murders of Jack the Ripper—and the sensationalist news coverage of them—cemented its dangerous status. Learn the real history of this East London neighborhood as you follow the trail of this infamous serial killer.

29 min
Fading Empire and the 1897 Diamond Jubilee

11: Fading Empire and the 1897 Diamond Jubilee

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897 celebrated 60 years of the monarch’s rule. As you revisit the pomp and circumstance of this grand occasion, Professor Deslandes will highlight what this sort of celebration revealed about London, its royals, and its citizens—and also what it was intended to obscure about the decline of the British Empire and the rapid changes of a modern world.

33 min
The Prying Eyes of London CCTV

12: The Prying Eyes of London CCTV

A series of bombings in the early 1990s prompted the British government to create what they called a “ring of steel,” which expanded police presence and surveillance in the city. Close your London tour with a look at how the vast network of CCTV devices implemented at the turn of the century transformed the way Londoners and visitors alike experience the city and how we think about issues like privacy and civil rights.

31 min