Mind The Gap: The Iconic Voice of London
London – Behind London’s most iconic phrase, the world famous tube announcement Mind The Gap, there is a love story which hit the news two years ago, and still does not fail to bring a tear to the eye of Londoners: the story of Oswald Laurence and Dr Margaret McCollum.
In the late 60s, Oswald Laurence (1921-2007), a British stage actor – known for Three Men in a Boat (1957), The Horror of It All (1964), and The Fiction Makers (1970) – recorded the Mind the Gap announcement, which was used on the northbound platform on the Northern Line, and gradually phased out, until only Embankment used it. Over the years, though, PA systems were upgraded, and in November 2013 Laurence’s Mind the Gap was eventually replaced by a digitalised recording announcing ‘Please, mind the gap between the train and the platform’. In the midst of confused Londoners, there was one woman, in particular, who felt shocked and devastated in hearing the new, digitalised voice: Dr Margaret McCollum, Oswald Laurence’s wife.
Ms McCollum met Mr Laurence in 1992 on a trip to Morocco, when he was working as a cruise company guide, long after his acting career was over. They married in 2003, and were together until his death in 2007. Since the day of Mr Laurence’s death, McCollum would often go to Embankment – often deliberately deviating her route – to hear her beloved husband’s voice. She would just sit at the station and wait for the next train, feeling reassured be the familiar Mind the Gap. When she found out her husband’s voice had been replaced, she asked TfL for explanations, and she narrated them her story. Contrary to all expectations, People at TfL were deeply moved by McCollum’s story, and recognising the enormous value Laurence’s Mind the Gap had for her, not only gave her a copy of the original recording, but also restored Laurence’s voice as the official Mind the Gap announcement on the northbound platform at Embankment station, where it used to be before the digitalised version replaced it.
This is a personal love story, but it is also a collective reminder of how technological development is changing our way of life in every aspect of our daily routine, sometimes colliding with a traditional sense of belonging, and a community still largely based on iconicisms from the past. As a matter of fact, Margaret McCollum was not the only person to be utterly shocked by the cancellation of the original, beloved human voice, as TfL received many enquiries about their choice. Mind the Gap has always been for Londoners an important symbol summarising the urban way of life of The City, so much as the red double-deckers, black cabs and red phone boxes, which soon became tourist attractions, to such an extent that red telephone boxes had not been entirely removed, although their function has enormously declined through the years.
The cultural significance of Mind the Gap, and Laurence and McCollum’s symbolic story is still vivid, to such an extent that one of the films presented at the London Film Festival 2015 tells the love story behind the Mind the Gap announcement: Luke Flanagan’s Mind The Gap was generally well received by the audience. As a sidenote, even Kingston made a commercial based on McCollum’s story as well, too bad for the actors’ improbable American accent.
There seems to be a nostalgia for the past hanging over these London icons, and stories like Laurence and McCollum’s one beautifully encapsulate it. Mind the Gap has been a London icon for the past 50 years, and Londoners do not have the slightest intention of discarding it.
Luke Flagan’s Mind the Gap https://vimeo.com/103459634
Kingston Commercial https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=An85r2IcauA