Few people (who don’t study nineteenth century diplomats and interpreters) now use the term ‘dragoman’. In the 1920s, enough were still familiar with it – through the accounts of tourists in Egypt and the Middle East – that it could be used as a metaphor for another type of ‘guide’.
The London Dragoman was a monthly guidebook and listings magazine that ran from 1927-1928. The cover of the July 1928 issue features the eponymous dragoman, in a turban and hoop earrings, with a pencil moustache above feminine lips, holding a collection of London’s most famous sights. The image is more pantomime genie than professional tourist guide. He has “London at his finger tips”.
The dragoman can “help you in any difficulty, from where to get your socks mended to advising you as to the best route to India.” He can send messenger boys to wait in queues for theatre tickets. London’s entertainments include the Zoo, with camel and elephant rides, and the opportunity to purchase “duplicate animals” (!). The theatre listings offer all sorts of escapism: a production of Dracula, “frank” social dramas, and the notorious actress Tallulah Bankhead in “the adventures of a professional dancer in Monte Carlo.” The advertisements include holidays in Sweden, the “original sea suit”, liqueur chocolates and a hairdressing salon.
Despite the testimonials printed in the magazine, the London Dragoman was wound up in January 1929, in debt. My copies of the issues of July 1927 and 1928 have been well used by their owners, whoever they were. One has ticked off sights to see, or which have been seen, such as the British Museum. The other has written inside the back cover “Faire aux Puces [flea market], Petticoat Lane London”, suggesting a Francophone tourist.
More pictures here: London Dragoman