Train talk

Posted by on April 18, 2016 in Blog, Living today | 0 comments

DieselDemon/Mind the Gap, Day 231 of 365/Flickr

DieselDemon/Mind the Gap, Day 231 of 365/Flickr

Sad news that Phil Sayer, the voice behind the ‘mind the gap’ announcements on the London Underground, died from cancer last week. His wife, Elinor, wrote on their Facebook page: “we are sorry to announce that this service terminates here”.

His recorded ‘gap’ message is unlikely to be re-recorded due to his demise, it is as relevant and effective as when it was first heard, but that doesn’t mean that train bosses are equally up-to-the-minute.

Travelling through Earl’s Court yesterday I was invited by the recorded announcement to “alight for Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre”. Good luck with that, chaps, you’ll be confronted with scaffolding or a pile of rubble as a new multi-million pound housing development emerges.

And while we’re talking about this particular announcement, who the hell says ‘alight’ any more, unless referring to the Queen?

Language is only part of the problem that I currently have with such announcements: there is the issue of consistency, too. Travelling back from Farringdon recently, I hopped on to a Wimbledon-bound train which then changed its signage and said it was bound for Ealing. The recorded announcements on board said the same, but then moving on from Earl’s Court we found ourselves heading for Wimbledon – and a trainload of unhappy punters found themselves having to head back when they ‘alighted’ at West Brompton.

I find myself wondering: who I trust more, male or female announcers? There seems to be a definite gender demarcation line between the topics they cover.  I seem to recall a woman’s voice announcing:

  • “let the customers off first please”;
  • “please leave the train”;
  • “please note that this train will not stop at the next station”;

But now that I think about it, you only hear a man for the occasional:

  • “mind the gap”;
  • “sorry for the delay, we are currently being held at a red signal. We should be moving again shortly”;
  • “there will be engineering work this weekend and the line between X and X will be closed. “

So is London Underground more likely to use women to order people about, while men serve to relay information? Well, at least they’re polite about it, although it was a woman who led me astray at Farringdon by telling me the wrong destination (you can tell I’m the sort of person who bears a grudge). Or there again, maybe it’s my memory at fault and LU has male/female versions of each announcement and just alternates.

But being misled when travelling on LU is nothing new, and can be as a result of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. Visit the Going Underground site, and you’ll be treated to bits of information about etiquette, what can be found behind seats (you don’t want to know), and yes: announcements.

Its author tells the tale of a similar wayward train at Earl’s Court, which prompted the following message over the loudspeaker: “The train at Platform Three is not going to Parsons Green but to Richmond.  The train approaching Platform Two is also not going to Parsons Green but to Ealing Broadway. These trains are not going to Parsons Green despite what the signalmen think.”

Sayer would probably have taken it all in his stride: his voice was heard on most of the automated PA systems on railways across the UK. “As a result,” he said in an interview with the BBC, “I’m heard saying sorry quite a lot.”

With London Underground it seems to go with the territory.

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