The London Underground was the World’s first rapid transit system and underground railway. The Metropolitan Railway opened in 1863 and is now part of the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines. Another first was the London Underground map: Designed in 1931 by the civil servant Harry Beck it was revolutionary in that it wasn’t an exact geographic representation to London above it.
52% of the Underground now runs above ground, but Londoners still refer to it as ‘The Underground’ or ‘The Tube’ – after the shape of the tunnels. Other countries/cities have adopted different names; Paris – Metro, New York – Subway, San Francisco – BART. The name ‘Metro’ seems most popular across Europe and is even used for the underground system in Washington DC. If you call the London Underground/Tube, ‘Metro’, you may be criticised by locals. You could retort that as the London Metropolitan Railway was the first underground railway, the British invented the metro name as well, making it valid – this should appeal to local pride and get you off the hook. ‘Subway’ in Britain means an underground pedestrian road crossing – so don’t use that!
Another Tube first was ‘Thought for the Day’. In 2004, Oval Station customer services manager, Anthony Gentles, started writing inspirational quotes on the station noticeboard The quotes were from his favourite book Tao Te Ching.
The idea was soon replicated at other Tube stations. Many of the notices were pretty funny.
Then in January 2018, a staff member at Dollis Hill posted this:
The singer Lily Allen was ‘outraged’ by the message as she saw it as a celebration of colonialism. It was soon wiped off the board.
And Transport for London (TFL) wrote:
We apologise to any customers who were offended by the message on the whiteboard at Dollis Hill today.
Our staff across the network share messages on these boards, but in this instance the message was clearly ill-judged. We are speaking with our staff to remind them of what is and isn’t acceptable.
It’s very easy to cause offence these days – especially with internet users who are never slightly upset, but always outraged or appalled.
In February 2018, a staff member at Colliers Wood station posted this:
Clearly a joke, albeit in bad taste, but the internet went crazy. Ms. Evelyn Clegg wrote on Twitter:
Is this supposed to be funny, @tfl? Well this humourless feminist is genuinely appalled. Incredibly short-sighted & a waste of an opportunity for celebration.
And Transport for London (TFL) wrote:
This message was wrong and inappropriate in multiple ways, and completely unacceptable.
We apologise for the offence caused and the message has been removed as quickly as possible.
An investigation is underway in to who thought this was a good idea, and the appropriate action will be taken.
We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and actively work to create more opportunities for women in our industry and celebrate those who fought for the rights of women.
Things calmed down and a series of sanitised messages, such as ‘Please Mind the Gap’ and ‘Please be careful on the escalators’ appeared on station notice boards. Then on Saturday April 22nd April (the hottest April day for 70 years), a staff member at Blackhorse Road station posted this:
Killjoy and, of course, Twitter user Michael Hawkes was quick to post:
Way to body shame @TfL
and other’s who were outraged and appalled were quick to jump on the bandwagon.
Transport for London (TFL) wrote:
We apologise unreservedly to customers who were offended by the insensitive message on the whiteboard at Blackhorse Road station.
Our staff across the network share messages on these boards, but in this instance the message was clearly ill-judged and it has been removed.
An investigation is underway to establish who thought such an unacceptable message was a good idea, so that the appropriate action can be taken.
So looks like three station staff have received warnings this year. I’m sure other staff are frightened to try and brighten passenger’s days with the odd joke. For example, this children’s joke:
What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back? A stick.
Would no doubt be tweeted by someone who was ‘appalled’ at the insensitivity shown towards the plight of the Australian aborigine.
I wonder if we’ll see anything but sensible messages on Tube notice boards now – and that for me is a shame.