Aladdin’s Cave is a term much over-used in describing vintage or antiques shops, though I’m not sure that a random collection of second hand ‘stuff’ often lives up to the promise. Pay a visit to Radio Days at 87 Lower Marsh, just behind Waterloo Station, though, and you will enter into a cave of vintage treasures that would delight the eyes of any MidCentury Ali Baba (though hopefully the 40 thieves would be shamed into keeping their hands off the stock).

Presiding over this gem of a shop is the effervescent Lee who, with his partner Chrissie, has made the shop a labour of love for 21 years now, long predating the current vintage vogue. Be warned or reassured, Lee is not one of those traders who subscribes to the definition of ‘vintage’ that encompasses any secondhand tat from the 90s and before. He, like me, dived into the look and feel of MidCentury design precisely to escape the style nightmare that was the 1980s, and he’s not about to surround himself with its surviving artefacts on his days and evenings behind the counter. Nor has he been tempted to bulk out his stock with reproductions, no matter how good – there’s just too much original stuff to leave any room. Consequently, every item you’ll come across is a genuine piece from the 1940s, 50s or 60s – or occasionally earlier – in good condition and beautifully presented. The goodies on offer stretch from floor to ceiling and from front to back of a tardis of a shop with a small – but always carefully presented – frontage.

There’s everything for the wardrobe of the well-dressed chap and lady, plus all the accessories to set off an outfit; that’s just one area where Radio Days outshines many outlets – cufflinks, tieclips, collars, bracelets, scarves, ties, cravats, hatpins, cigarettes cases, compacts – they’re all there and lovingly displayed in old shop cabinets. Like many of us, the words that set Lee’s heart beating faster are ‘dead stock’ – the brand new items that have sat untouched at the back of the stockroom of shops since they arrived from the distributors and that often only come to light when the proprietors close up and retire. Sometimes it feels as if would be a crime to buy just one item; when he shows you an entire original ‘Empire Made’ card of watchstraps, each with its paper sleeve still intact, how could you destroy the impact by leaving a space? Lee knows his stuff so, while you won’t walk off with a giveaway, nor are you going to pay over the odds, and the quality and condition of his merchandise make his prices realistic and fair. Every customer is greeted warmly, there’s always time for a chat, and an endless selection of vintage tunes will set you in the mood for some serious browsing – and you’ll leave with your purchases meticulously wrapped. Oh – and every customer gets offered a treat from Lee’s bottomless sweetie tin.

Now for the alarming part – after 21 years of graft, and with the Lower Marsh area increasingly coming under pressure from the relentless greed of gentrification creeping south from Waterloo, Lee and his partner are seriously considering letting the shop go at the end of the year and giving themselves a break. So, waste no time and get yourselves along there. Whet your appetite first with a visit to their excellent website.

The area has lots more to offer for the vintage shopper – just a couple of doors down you’ll find What the Butler Wore, and the street still has a wide variety of other independent traders. It’s also only ten minutes walk from the Imperial War Museum and their current special Fashion on the Ration exhibition, exploring British clothing between 1939 and 1947. In contrast with the Museum’s main displays which I’ve found somewhat chaotic since their major refurbishment last year (and I’ll stay off that particular soapbox for the moment), Fashion-on-the-Ration-poster_thumb3Fashion on the Ration includes a fascinating variety of original items that leave you wondering how on earth they’ve survived, accompanied by comprehensive and intelligent display information and a well-chosen selection of material to put them in context. I’d been left quite jaded by the proliferation of 1940s re-enactment and theme events which give the impression that WWII as one long fancy dress party, but this exhibition focussed on the everyday privations faced by the wartime generation, and their ingenuity in managing to stay well-enough dressed through the war and beyond. I did, though, feel rather sorry for all the chaps coming home after demob, looking forward to slipping into the suits they’d carefully hung up on enlistment, only to find they’d been ‘recycled’ in their absence! Details are available from the IWM’s website.