Mind the Gap. If you’re lucky enough to have traveled to London and rode the Tube (London’s underground subway system), you certainly heard those words. And while in most Tube stations today that safety warning comes from a digitized voice, one station retains a 50-year-old version by actor Oswald Laurence.
If you’re not familiar with the term, mind the gap is a warning for passengers to pay attention to possible gaps between the train and the platform edge. Having traveled on the Tube many times over the years, I can attest that some stations have substantial gaps, which you should very definitely ‘mind’.
The Mind the Gap announcement recording has, over the years, been voiced by different people, and in the 1970s actor Oswald Laurence recorded the phrase for the Northern line. Oswald, born in Germany in 1929 was a theatre actor who lived in London with his wife, Dr. Margaret McCollum until his death in 2007 at the age of 78.
Margaret was devastated by the loss of her husband. But she knew there was one place she could always go to hear his voice – the platform at Embankment station. Margaret said she used to frequently travel via Embankment and loved hearing her husband’s voice, even when he was alive. After his death she would sit and wait for the next train until she heard his voice.
Then one day in November 2012, she made her regular visit to the platform and Oswald’s voice was gone, replaced by a digital voice on an updated PA system. She approached station personnel, upset, asking where the voice had gone. She explained her personal connection to that old recording. They explained a new system had been installed, the old tapes were gone.
Margaret wrote to Transport for London asking them to reinstate her husband’s recording. It seemed like it might be impossible to find the tapes, but there’s a happy ending. Touched by her story, Transport for London staff tackled the challenge and ultimately found, restored, and digitized Oswald’s recording. They provided a copy of the recording to Margaret and restored it to her local station. To this day, if you visit the Northbound platform of the Northern line at Embankment station, the voice you hear reminding you to Mind the Gap is Oswald Laurence.
I love London and have loved the phrase Mind the Gap since I first heard it there so many years ago, so this story touched my heart. It is a good reminder that so many things we take for granted – like a safety announcement – can have a sweet story behind it and hold such special meaning for someone else. And if you would like to hear Oswald Laurence’s announcement, you can find it here.
Written by Michelle O’Brien, Manager of Marketing & Communications