For the love of The TubePosted: April 1, 2012
The Tube is a BBC Two television documentary which looks into the life of those who work and travel on the London underground. If you liked Airport or The Hotel and the fly-on-the-wall drama, you are in for a treat.
The series takes you behind the scenes of the London underground as it undergoes the biggest overhaul in its history, focusing on key members of staff and some of the problems they face.
Running a system built and designed in 1863 for the demands of the 21st century is an extraordinary feat. The upgrade will be done under immense pressure to keep lines open and minimise the length of station closures.
Cameras will go to the places viewers have always wanted to see – behind the hoardings to reveal the massive new engineering works, inside the command centre to see what running this most complex of train sets is really like and illuminating a hidden underground world that only comes to life at night.
The series will meet the people who run and use the tube, from obsessive MD Mike Brown down to the litter collector who walks miles every night collecting rubbish off the track.
And then of course there are the passengers – the tourists, the suburban commuters, the drunkards getting the last train home, the school outings, the buskers and the down and outs.
The series consist of six episodes, each with a different theme. However, the real stars are the people, particularly the members of staff. And just when the technical side of the upgrade gets a bit tedious, we meet the people who actually do the work and hear their thoughts on how you get attached to the old trains and why lifting a 90 meter railroad track in a curved tunnel is a bit like playing with a rubber band. There are far too many great characters to include everyone, but here are some of my favourites.
Control assistant Mark Davis and his deadpan customer service announcements are the stuff of legends.
When a train is cancelled “due to significant vomit in the carriages”, you tend to forget the inconvenience and appreciate the comedy value.
In his own words, his job is watching customers to make sure they don’t injure themselves, beat each other up or burn the place down. He is the all-seeing eyes of the station and, as such, isn’t afraid to make his customer information announcements personal. Drinking alcohol from an open container is indeed forbidden on all London underground stations, as I’m sure the gentleman with the brown leather jacket on the Westbound Central Line platform with a can of Grolsch can attest to.
Equipped with a sense of humour and excellent customer service skills, Mark tackles each situation with a genuine appreciation for his work. He compares the control room to a computer game where he controls the members of staff and puts them where they need to be in order to do the different tasks. Next time you go to Liverpool Street station, you might want to consider that Mark might be watching.
You can see Mark in action in episode 1, Weekend.
Diane McConnell and Denese Brunker are the Cagney and Lacey of ticket inspectors. They have worked together as revenue control inspectors longer than they can remember. Their tough but fair attitude to their customers and flair for spotting fare dodgers is all for the benefit of a better underground service. While fare evasion might not be crime of the century, it does cost the London underground £20 million a year.
You can see Diane and Denese in action in episode 2, Revenue.
Anne O’Grady drives the Bakerloo Line morning trains and is already a familiar voice to those of you who have taken her train or listened to Adam & Joe Show on BBC 6 music. Always cheerful and lovely, she can be often heard on the tannoy for customer service announcements. You can listen to her in action and see a few clips from the show here.
Ralph Costello is the head falconer, whose job is to deter the pigeons from the depot with the help of his avian partner. The hawk is called Toyah after Toyah Willcox. ‘Aw bless’ or ‘ew groce’, depending on your view on naming birds after women. Considering Ms Willcox’ affection for strange headwear with feathers it’s probably totally appropriate.
You can see Ralph and Toyah in action in episode 5, Rush Hour.
Also featured are Neringa Simiene, a professional competitive cyclist turned night shift cleaning supervisor from the former Soviet Union, who came to England in search of a better life; Mark Bennett, lost property assistant, who doesn’t want to go into details about the things he has found in women’s handbags; Paul Marchant, who manages the crowds with signage and is partly responsible for the new seat cover design; Frank Murphy, emergency response unit worker, who says you don’t tell the passangers what’s causing the delay (a dead fox on the tracks) and revenue inspectors Ben and James, who are part of a special taskforce whose mission is to catch the passengers using systematic scams to avoid fares. Their matching outfits are purely coincidental.
The tube is filled with interesting characters and these are just some of the employees.
Not to mention what the passengers leave behind.
London Underground’s Lost Property team of 40 staff catalogue the vast array of items left on the Tube, some 200,000 items. Every day over 1,000 people leave something behind on the Tube. The most popular losses are mobile phones (with many still left on). The video shows how the staff’s painstaking work reunites customers with their treasures. Each day 300 people get items back. But as you’ll see in the video people also claim back weirder things like broken crack pipes, samurai swords, gimp masks and worn underwear.
The Tube is equally entertaining and informative. It offers an interesting view to a world that is part of life for millions of people daily and yet there’s so much going on behind the scenes that the public never sees. The London underground, much like London Heathrow airport, is a hectic environment where even a minor disruption can turn into a disaster in a matter of seconds. As many of the workers point out, people only take notice when things go wrong and never when everything runs smoothly.
Episode 1: Weekend
If you’ve ever wondered what the numbers in the announcements mean, wonder no more. There is also a code 7, but you’ll have to watch the series to find out what it means.
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