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 "Mind the Gap!"

Not a political movement. London's underground railway system is the oldest in the world - the first section opened in 1863 - and one of the best known. It's also known as The Tube due to the tubular shape of deep level stations and tunnels (the name of a number of TV and radio programmes, only one of which is Underground related). Due to the combination of metal, urine and anxious sweat, it has a smell all its own.

Entire books have been written on the system, so we'll be brief here. The London Underground runs on a four-rail 630V direct current. It has 275 stations at present. Not all of the Underground is actually "underground"; much of it is (like many other subway systems) above the surface, over half in this case, with some "underground" stations in the open air (in fact some Underground trains share stations with National Rail services). One line - The Docklands Light Railway - is almost entirely above the surface, run by a different company and has a different power system, but is counted as a part of the underground for ease of travelling.

In November 2007, Transport for London[1] (the company that runs the network, nearly all of the buses and the tram system in Croydon) acquired some National Rail lines, which became "London Overground" (one of these, the Gospel Oak to Barking line, is actually non-electrified and much of the rest is dual voltage). TfL also runs a tram system in the Croydon area, as well as a riverboat service.

The city's considerable age has led to several stations having wonderfully evocative names, including East India, Seven Sisters, Elephant & Castle, Tooting Bec, White City and the unintentionally hilarious Cockfosters. Try not to coo too much, though, because it will make your position as a tourist even more obvious. In fact, the best way to act on the Tube is to nonchalantly read a book (or the free papers that end up littering carriages), or else stare straight ahead with dead eyes.[2] This tendency by London Tubegoers is often referenced in the rest of the country, with Northerners claiming that they can (and do) easily find each other on a given Tube train due to being the only people who act as if there are other human beings present.

The stations are all very different, varying from modern-day gleaming loveliness (most notably the new Jubilee line stations) to atmospheric Victorian gloom (Baker Street), with variations frequently occurring in the same station. A considerable number of the older stations are of listed building status (subject to preservation orders) and the architecture has been the subject of books. The deepest station is Hampstead, which has platforms 220 feet beneath the ground, largely due to a hill directly above it. It's best to take the lift when using these stations.

During the Second World War, many people sheltered in the underground stations as protection from air raids (the Moscow Metro was actually designed with this in mind). It was discouraged at first because the government thought it would bring about a new kind of homelessness (they were also probably kicking themselves for not thinking of it first), but they eventually gave in. Most tended to prefer them to their Andersons or the communal shelters since they were a bit cosier, arguably safer, more familiar and arguably less scary. When a fatal crush occurred at Bethnal Green in 1943 after a false alarm, it was hushed up by the government precisely because people might stop sheltering there.

The lines have their own names and associated colours. They are always referred to by their names though - say "Green line" instead of "District Line" and people will just be confused. To avoid inconveniencing the working population of London in general, repairs or other work on the lines are typically done on the weekends.

There are two different sizes of trains (although the gauge is the same), depending on how the original line was constructed, with larger trains for the older ones that were constructed by digging up the road, building the line and putting the road back on top ("sub-surface") and smaller ones for the ones bored underground ("deep-level"). And each line has different trains to suit the subtleties of each set of tracks (although the sub-surface lines are due to have a standardised set soon).

The network is divided into nine fare zones, and two ancillary sections for Watford Junction and Essex/Kent (formerly six with four ancillary sections, one for Hertfordshire and three for Buckinghamshire), dubbed the Travelcard Zones, because of the ticket type that allows the unlimited use of the whole network and most of the National Rail network in the area for its validity period (a day to a year), except the river boats where you just get a discount. The integrated ticket was introduced by the GLC in 1981 as part of a general price cut. The cut was ruled illegal, but the ticket stayed. Zone 1 is Central London and you will see estate agents (realtors) use "Zone 1" to advertise properties. In recent years the prepaid, scannable "Oyster card" has become very popular among regular Tube users, allowing you to travel without buying a ticket and giving a good discount into the bargain.

The most famous quote associated with the system is the above-mentioned "Mind the gap", used on stations with curved platforms (albeit with a lot of stations using Boring but Practical variations on the phrase). Based on the experiences of our British Tropers, this is probably advice worth listening to.

It is far from uncommon to see rats and mice happily scampering around on the lines and even sometimes on the platform. They survive on the multitude of food dropped by people passing through and anything else they can find. There are also rumours of a colony of mosquitoes that got in when the lines were being dug, got trapped, and have now evolved so far as to be unbreedable with any other kind of mosquito -- kind of London's version of alligators in the sewers.

The Underground logo or Roundel is iconic and much-imitated, but it is a trademark and Tf L claim to prosecute all unauthorised users.

The Underground features in fiction quite a bit. Transport for London will let you film down there, with permission They even have a webpage dedicated to filming there. They'd happily let you do simple scenes down there, a murder or two at most, but they'd draw the line at a mass shoot-out or a terrorist attack (for obvious reasons). The places they'll often let you use are Aldwych (a closed station on a closed branch), the closed Jubilee Line platforms at Charing Cross and the closed Down Street station.

Many filmmakers mock up Tube stations as a result, with varying degrees of accuracy.

London Underground sub-tropes: Edit

  • Sinister Subway
    • There isn't a huge amount of abandoned construction in the system. There's the bit of the Jubilee line between Charing Cross and Green Park that was shut when the extension was opened, some unfinished stations, some closed ones and the Aldwych branch, but little else that's not above the surface. The London Underground History is a private website covering many of these closed and unused stations.
  • One Under - The term used when someone goes under a train (fatally or not), be it as a result of attempted or actual suicide, murder or accident. Has turned up in fiction at least twice (as in State of Play). Many drivers who are involved in a "One Under" don't drive a train again. Not exclusive to this system, of course. Many stations have areas under the tracks to stop people doing that sort of thing.
  • Mornington Crescent is a Calvin Ball sort of game invented by I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue where the "players" name stations off the Underground according to a "complex system of rules and strategies", the first to call "Mornington Crescent" being the winner. The calling of stations is entirely random and there is no logic to it; the "gameplay" consists of convincing uninformed observers otherwise, or simply being entertaining in your citation of the non-existent rules.
    • At least, that's what veteran players want new blood to think, so they can more effectively catch them in an arcane trap
    • The station Mornington Cresent was probably chosen because it was closed for repairs for a long time, and appeared on the tube map crossed out - though it's back in use nowadays.
    • Mornington Crescent (the game) started in 1978, well before the station was closed (early 1990s).
    • It's more likely to do with it being the hardest station to get to - there are two sets of lines between Euston and Camden, but Mornington Crescent is only on one of them, which leads to a somewhat eccentric service pattern. Bewildered fans can occassionally be found standing on Northern Line platforms trying to figure it out.
Examples of The London Underground include:


Anime Edit

  • The K-On! movie features the girls passing through Camden Town station on the Northern Line.

Comic Books Edit

  • In the comic book Hellblazer, a magician called Map is shown to live in the underground tunnels, happily clearing away the tracks for the London Council, who are quite unaware of his power, which is linked to locations and places (hence his affinity with the city).
  • In many of her early appearances (including the cartoon) the X-Men character Jubilee wore earrings shaped like the London Underground symbol for the Jubilee Line.
  • In The Invisibles, Tom O'Bedlam puts Jack Frost through a stage of his initiation in a disused tube station with hallucinogenic "Blue Mould" growing on the walls.
  • In V for Vendetta, the final(?) showdown takes place in Victoria Station.

Film Edit

  • Creep. The poster for this, featuring a woman's bloodied hand against the front of a Tube train, was famously banned from being displayed in the system. A semi rail-fans's point on the poster: It features a 1972 stock Northern Line train, withdrawn from service a number of years before Creep was made.
    • The Tube has banned quite a few ads from the network over the years, mostly for being too raunchy.
  • The James Bond film Die Another Day makes the rather big mistake of having a Piccadilly line station south of the river. For those who don't know the system, said line is entirely north of the Thames.
  • A defunct Underground line features prominently towards the end of V for Vendetta, where the whole network is closed by the Norsefire Coalition.
  • The plot of the film Sliding Doors diverges at the main character catching/missing her train at Embankment station, setting off events for the rest of the film (which shows us two parallel lives from that point on.) The actual scenes underground were filmed on the Waterloo and City Line.
  • The movie Death Line features cannibals on the underground who have grown up completely apart from other human contact and can only say "mind the doors". It sounds goofy, but it's a British horror classic.
  • Atonement features Keira Knightley and a considerable number of other people drowning in the real-life bombing of Balham station.
  • 28 Days Later was filmed at Canary Wharf. Jim, Serina and Mark walk along the Docklands Light Railway line.
    • 28 Weeks Later had a whole section of going through the Underground, in the pitch-black.
  • In An American Werewolf in London the titular werewolf committed one of his murders in Tottenham Court Road station. When the dead were advising him to end it all (in a porn cinema in Piccadilly), one of them says, "You could throw yourself in front of the tube".
  • Otto in A Fish Called Wanda needs it explained the London Underground is not a political resistance movement.
  • Three And Out. Where a guy has two "one unders" in a month and discovers a third gets him 10 years wages' and retirement. He then persuades a suicidal guy to jump under his train. Provoked a massive protest from ASLEF (the trade union for Tube drivers) and the filmmakers taking out ads accusing Underground bosses of opportunism. It got universally panned by the critics, and bombed at the box office.
  • In The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Strand station becomes the Pevensie children's gateway to Narnia. In the book, this happened at an unnamed countryside train station, rather than in the Underground.
  • Brian Cox's escape plan in The Escapist relies on breaking through a wall near a stormwater drain to get through to an abandoned area of the London Underground (left after World War 2), and getting onto a station platform before the tracks start up and electrify.
  • In the film of Quatermass and the Pit, the artefacts are found during the construction of a fictional Central Line station called Hobbs End.
  • Split Second, a 1992 film featuring Rutger Hauer in the far future of 2008 ends with him chasing a creature though the Global Warming-flooded Underground tunnels.
  • The 1968 British film Otley features a standoff between Tom Courtenay and Leonard Rossiter on the Central Line platform at Notting Hill Gate.

Literature Edit

  • The Underground is so old that it features in the Sherlock Holmes canon, being a major plot point in "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans".
  • In the Nightside novels by Simon R. Green, the way to the Nightside involves entering the Underground, finding a station sign written in Enochian (the language men use to communicate with angels) and boarding that train.
  • Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter claims to have a scar in the shape of a map of the Underground. That must be one hell of a scar.
  • As noted in the Live Action TV section, a great deal of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is set in these tunnels and other service and sewer tunnels of London.
  • Martha Grimes' The Anodyne Necklace starts in the Underground, with a busker becoming involved in a mugging, and the resemblance of the Tube map to a Role Playing Game dungeon becomes a plot point.
  • In the Len Deighton novel SS-GB a man attempts to murder Douglas Archer in a Tube station.
  • In the Discworld novel Thud, dwarven tunnels under Ankh-Morpork are marked with the sign of the Long Dark - described identically to the London Underground logo. At the end of the novel these are gifted to the city - the next novel set there mentions The Undertaking, a government project to convert these to civilian use...
    • In Sourcery, it's briefly mentioned that the spider-skin bound version of the Telenecronomicon contains an insert showing the London Underground with the three stations they never dare show on the public maps.
  • The Doctor Who New Adventures novel Transit is set in a future where the Tube has combined with the T-Mat teleporter network from "The Seeds of Death" to form a network of trains that "hop" through teleportation fields, linking all the planets in the solar system. There's even a holographic version of the Beck map, which clearly shows how the subspace tunnels connect by ignoring the planets themselves. The novel is about the attempt to make the first interstellar link, known as the Stellar Tunnel, or Stunnel (a parody of the Channel Tunnel). King's Cross is still the major interchange for different lines.
  • The whole plot of the novel Tunnel Vision is a bet the main character, Andy, does with his best friend that he can ride the whole system in a day (people have tried this). Him being a 'Trainspotter', his internal monologue features a lot of useless trivia about the system.
  • A character called Fenchurch in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish is named after Fenchurch Street station, which adjoins Tower Hill tube. She insists that Arthur get the joke of her being found there out of the way early on, as she's Never Heard That One Before.
    • Then she mentions she has the name because she was conceived there.
  • The novel Mind the Gap has a group of runaways living in abandoned tunnels of the London Underground.
  • In Child of the Hive, Will, Ben and Alex attempt to escape from Drew, who is chasing them, by going into the Underground and moving between lines.
  • In the non-fiction literature Guinness World Records (formerly Guinness Book of Records) The London Underground is stated as the first underground railway in the world. The shortest amount of time to travel to all the underground stations is always changing so it's probably not worth stating the current record here.

Live Action TV Edit

  • Doctor Who several times, most notably in "The Web of Fear" (now mostly lost to posterity), where the mock-up was so convincing, London Transport thought that their property had been used without permission. The small amount of surviving footage shows why, because it's pretty damn convincing for a no-budget kids' show.
    • Marble Arch in "Trial of a Time Lord" ... less so.
  • Primeval, episode 2, has giant prehistoric bugs getting into the Underground via time anomaly and killing people. However, said station is very clearly a mock-up, as it doesn't even have the standard station name logos on the side of the tunnel opposite the platform.
  • Neverwhere had many scenes set in underground stations, including the long-closed British Museum station. Aldwych station was used for much of the filming. Several of the locations and characters are literalisations of the names of Underground station, such as the Angel called Islington, the monastery of the Black Friars, and the Earl's Court.
    • It's probably worth noting that, historically, most of these stops are named after things that actually used to be there - there was a monastery at Blackfriars, for example. Sadly, The Angel, Islington and Elephant and Castle are just named after old pubs.
      • It should be noted that there is (or was) more than one Elephant and Castle pub in London -- there used to be one by Vauxhall station. The area south of Waterloo is formally called Newington, but nobody ever calls it that; the pub after which it's named is still there (it may not be the original) and was itself named because the land was owned in the Middle Ages by the Infanta de Castile.
      • The 'Infanta de Castile' etymology is unsubstatiated. There are several versions of the story, but that land was certainly never owned by a Spanish princess!
  • At the end of part one of The Sarah Jane Adventures episode "The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith" when London is shown to have been destroyed a London Underground roundel labelled "Greenford" (an actual station on the Central Line in the Ealing area) can be seen next to Clyde and Rani.

Music Edit

  • In 1978, The Jam released a single in which the narrator is attacked by thugs while "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight".
  • Also in 1978, 10cc released "Shock on the Tube (Don't Want Love)" on their Bloody Tourists album. The singer thinks he's seen his dream girl on the Underground, but it turns out to be All Just a Dream.
  • There have been British rock bands named The London Underground, Subway Sect, Tubeway Army (led by Gary Numan) and Bakerloo.
  • Duffy's "Warwick Avenue" mentions the Tube station of the same name in the lyrics.
  • Music Videos filmed at Underground stations include Howard Jones' "New Song" and Aqua's "Turn Back Time" (from the Sliding Doors soundtrack), both filmed at Holborn station; Boris Gardiner's "I Want To Wake Up With You", filmed at Westbourne Park station; and The Prodigy's "Firestarter", filmed at Aldwych (well, a tunnel rather than the station proper, but it's close enough).
  • Not the Girls Aloud song "Sound of the Underground".
  • Madness is associated with a roundel for the invented Cairo East station, which appeared on the cover of their second album and shows up in concerts and music videos every so often.
  • Godsmack made a song called Someone in London, which consists solely of a sweet guitar riff and sound samples from the Tube, including "Mind the gap!".
  • In a similar vein, Judge Dread (no, not him) recorded a reggae song called "Mind the Gap"
  • Marillion's song Fugazi contains references to "Drowning in the liquid seize on the Piccadilly Line" while "Sheathed within the Walkman, wear a halo of distortion/An aural contraceptive aborting pregnant conversation".


Radio Edit

  • Undone. The episode 'Underground' is set mostly on the tube system.
  • The Museum of Everything. The London Underground features in the last of the 'insanely dangerous ride' sketches.


Video Games Edit

  • In Hellgate London, the London Underground is the base for the humans who have survived the Demon Invasion. Shame none of the overground stuff remotely resembles London.
  • Tomb Raider III has one level set in the abandoned tube station Aldwych, albeit a much larger version than reality.
  • A James Bond video game (The World is Not Enough) has part of a level set on an underground platform and an underground train.
  • A map in the Half Life mod The Specialists takes place in a run-down London Underground station, complete with cheerful "Mind the Gap!" reminders when approaching the (stationary) subway car.
  • Broken Sword 2 had a section set in the defunct station underneath the British Museum. There's a ghost. And a train comes even though the game acknowledges it's an abandoned station. It's all a bit weird.
    • Most of the abandoned stations on the Underground, including British Museum, are closed stations on still-open lines, so it's normal for trains to come through them every few minutes.
  • Uncharted 3 has the heroes escape from an underground base in London by breaking out into an abandoned tube station.

Web Comics Edit

  • Gunnerkrigg Court has a subway system. While the Gunnerkrigg Underground is clearly a distinct system (the trains all use magnetic levitation), both the sign and the general design of the station are unmistakable Shout Outs to the London Underground.


Web Original Edit

  • Geoff Ryman's hypertext novel 253 is a description of all of the passengers on a Bakerloo Line tube train, leading up to a disastrous crash (based on the real-world Moorgate disaster of 1975).



Western Animation Edit

  • Underground Ernie is a little-kids CGI cartoon starring Gary Lineker (former footy star and now Match of the Day presenter) as the driver of a train-with-a-face on the fictional "International Underground" which is clearly modeled on the London one, complete with London Transport logo, and the living trains being named after Tube lines.
  • Tube Mice was a cartoon in the 1990s about a group of mice living in the London Underground. Notable mainly for the villains being played by George Cole and Dennis Waterman, in a clear parody of their Minder characters.
  • One episode of Thunderbirds invovles Scott and Virgil having to use abandoned London Underground Tunnels in order to get into the Bank of England's Vault.
    • This is suprisingly realistic as the Central line in Central London (i.e., from Shepherds Bush to Liverpool Street) features many sharp curves to follow the streets above and avoid the basements of the many buildings already there when the line was built. One of the buildings it curves to avoid is the Bank of England, served by Bank station.

Notes

  1. They used to italicise the "for"
  2. This is a interesting bit of human behaviour relating to personal space, very closely related to the Uncomfortable Elevator Moment - but much longer, and going sideways. Normally, people -- or at least Brits -- would keep a bit more distance from each other, but that's just not practical in a packed tube carriage, so instead they retreat into the mind and ignore it.