Published: 1 November 2013
By RICHARD OSLEY
IT spent 12 years fighting for the right to sell Big Macs in Hampstead High Street in one of Camden's longest running and famous planning rows.
But, two decades after defeating the 'Burger Off' campaign in NW3, McDonald's are set to close the store at the centre of the dispute.
The Hampstead branch will serve its final Happy Meal on November 16, it was revealed today (Friday).
The multinational fast food operators had originally bought the property in 1980 but ran into huge resistance from local residents who said McDonald's would lead to littered Hampstead streets reeking of kitchen fumes.
Camden's planners refused to let it open the store, triggering the 12 year legal fight which ended in 1992. The legend has it that McDonald's agreed to have black signs, rather than the garish red and yellow colour scheme it used elsewhere, to appese the critics.
When it finally opened, nationals sent colour writers to capture the event. Ian Katz, now the producer of Newsnight, wrote in the Guardian: "It was fitting that Ben Williamson, the seven-year-old charged with blessing the reluctant marriage between McDonald's and the intellectually wholesome enclave of Hampstead, north London, should have chosen a Fillet-o-Fish rather than the iconic big Mac to mark the event. 'It's the only sort of burger I can eat,' he explained. 'I'm a vegeterian'."
The opposition against the store had pulled in support from a host of famous faces including actor Tom Conti, novellist Margaret Drabble and the late Peggy Jay, mother of broadcaster Peter Jay.
Ms Drabble said at the time: "My loathing of McDonald's is intense. There are advantages in development provided it is the right sort, but there are already too many take-away restaurants in Hampstead."
There were anti-McDonald's rallies on the Heath and original protest songs written to help up drum a petition signed by thousands.
McDonald's maintained at the time they were taken completely by surprise by the opposition. Lawyers said complaints filed by the Gayton Road Association "borders on hysteria". The company was in the middle of a surge of new openings in the United Kingdom, particularly in London. It had only been repelled in one other area: Martha's Vineyard, again falling prey to a celebrity driven resistance that included objectiosn from Carly Simon and Mia Farrow.
The Hampstead Shops Campaign said it was "dramatic news" that the branch would now close "as we have become used to this store in the neighbourhood".
The branch recently abandoned its plans to secure a later licence that would have allowed it to close at midnight.