One of the perks of having a father who works for British Rail is the opportunity to roam the country for free. We’re fortunate that, in his youth, Andrew Martin was unconventional enough to eschew the Kyle of Lochalsh and Dawlish Warren for London, where he clattered around on tube trains all day, savouring the ozone, memorising the announcements and, later, as an Evening Standard journalist, penning the ‘Tube Talk’ column in ES Magazine.
He is adamant that ‘Underground Overground’ is a proper history of the network, and so it is, but it’s so dense with fascinating facts that a Londoner can dip in at almost any point and get a new insight to enrich their experience of the city. We hear about the design heroes; Frank Pick, Charles Holden, Leslie Green and Harry Beck, but also about the American rail tycoons and endless dithering governments. We hear about ‘ghost stations’ like Aldwych, but also Kentish Town South, British Museum and Down Street, about suicides, lost property, and licensed bars on platforms and trains. Did you know that the only place you can still hear the classic pronunciation of ‘Mind the gap’ is on the northbound Northern Line platform at Embankment?
The Underground system not only deserves a social history, it is one in itself, the distinct character of each line encapsulating London’s changing state of mind over a politically and technologically frantic 140 years. If you live in London, it has shaped your life more than you realise – a fact poignantly illustrated by this fine tribute. Kevin Younger