The original Mind the Gap returns ...
London Underground and the recording engineer's widow
Wonderful news from the northbound platform of the Northern Line at Embankment Tube station. London Underground have reinstated the original Mind the Gap announcement - just so that the widow of the man who said it can go and hear his voice.
The story of how Peter Lodge came to record the message in the late 1960s is quite well known to Tube fans. An actor had already done a version, but his agent was demanding royalties every time it was played. London Underground replied, understandably, that it was going to be aired thousands of times a day across the system, and they couldn't possibly afford it. So someone from their office who had a nice voice was dispatched to do another version. As the studio engineer, Peter Lodge, waited for him, he recorded himself saying it, just to get some microphone level. When Mr London Underground arrived Lodge played him the recording, and got the reply ‘that's as good as anything I could do, let's just use that'.
Over the decades Lodge's ‘Mind the gap, please' became a world-famous catchphrase. But times change, and so gradually new recordings were introduced across the system. Eventually the Northern Line's northbound platform at Embankment was the only place left where you could hear Lodge's original. Mentioning this at a talk a couple of months ago, I added that I hadn't actually checked it for a while - did anyone in the audience know if it was still true? A woman told us that sadly, no it wasn't - even there a new recording had been introduced. We all groaned in disappointment.
Last night I used the platform for the first time since then. I got talking to a member of staff, and said how sad it was that Lodge's voice had gone forever.
‘It had,' he said.
‘They did replace it. But then they got a letter from his widow. She said that after he died she used to come here just to hear his voice, and now she couldn't. So they decided to put it back for her.'
The guard smiled. ‘I know. That's what I thought. And what's more, they're planning to reinstate it on some more platforms too.'
A minute later the train pulled in. The guard and I were respectfully silent, then Lodge's voice rang out: ‘Mind the gap, please.' Which, of course, I did.
So thank you, Mrs Lodge. Not only have you brought back a piece of the Tube's history, you've given it an even stronger presence than it had before. Here's to your late husband, and the icon he created.
*UPDATE: Slight change to the story - it turns out that the widow in question is actually that of Oswald Laurence, whose recording is the one London Underground are reinstating. The TFL press office don't seem to have much information about Laurence - any Tube buffs out there who know about him? (FURTHER UPDATE: More info now found - details here, including a lovely interview with his widow.)
I had the pleasure of talking to Peter Lodge's son yesterday, who confirmed that his mother sadly died a few years before his father, so couldn't have been the widow in question. But it was fascinating to hear him talk about his father's work with such pride - and of the time in the 1980s when his brother (Peter's other son) took his children to London. When they heard the ‘mind the gap' announcement they shouted out ‘Grandpa!'
And of course the other story I should have mentioned was that of Tim Bentinck, who I interviewed for ‘Walk the Lines'. As well as being David in The Archers, Tim was also the ‘mind the gap' voice on the Piccadilly Line for a few years. He too was gradually phased out, until his last remaining station was Russell Square. This just happened to be the station that his wife used for work. Judy told me that whenever she heard the recording of her husband telling her to mind the gap, she'd think: ‘Thank you darling, I will.'