I love The Tube.
blast! Films has put together a really fun, interesting series looking at the life both in front of and behind the scenes of London’s Underground railway. I’m coming at it as someone who’s rather fond of the Tube, and I can see that it might not appeal to everyone. But for the most part, like any good documentary, it’s just a story about people.
Episodes have focussed on ticket inspectors, drivers, station staff, track engineers and head office and many more. It’s slickly edited to give a broad view of the system over the course of a day, night or weekend, with lots of interwoven ‘stories.’
You can catch The Tube on BBC iPlayer. All episodes to date are still online. Episode one is here.
As a series of vignettes, I can’t help but find that it reminds me of HV Morton‘s series of essays, brought together in little volumes with titles like Nights of London, The Spell of London, or The Heart of London.
Although Morton’s London was studied and written about in the 1920s, the London Underground features regularly in his writing – as it will in most London stories from the 20th century onwards.
Morton’s writing is detailed and vivid – but not without humour. His observations are often as amusing as they are serious. One of my favourite things is that he writes about scenarios and people that you can still find in London today – just as much as he writes about ways of life that have all but vanished.
I love Morton’s books on London – it’s a joy to flip through slices of life from all over the city, all walks of life, from almost a hundred years ago. He also wrote books about travels in England and beyond.
You can read his 1936 book The Call of England online, and the chapter on Manchester is great. It opens with: “I came into Manchester over a road as hard as the heart of a rich relation,” and goes on to say: “I have been told that it always rains in Manchester. This is a lie; it had just stopped.”
Read the chapter (and the whole book) online, thanks to archive.org. (Tip: if you click the ‘i’ button, top right of the ebook reader, you can download the entire book in other formats.)