Hislop’s on the right line
BROADLY speaking, a railway line functions in one of three different ways. Namely, underground, overground or – particularly popular in the Seventies –Wombling free. But it’s the first of those systems we’re looking at tonight – specifically, the Underground in London – in episode two of IAN HISLOP’S TRAINS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD (Channel 5, 9pm).
Now, I know what you’re thinking.You’re thinking: “Don’t we already have Secrets Of The London Underground going out on the Yesterday channel? Doesn’t that tell us all we need to know?” Well, indeed. But for some it may be a tiny bit too niche.This week, for example, its theme was forgotten stations on the District Line. Next week, I believe, it’s seat patterns on the Piccadilly, 1964-67.
What Hislop offers here is more of an overview, looking at key points in the Underground’s history but viewing these in the broader context of rail travel’s evolution.
It also reminds us what this revolutionary transport system was designed as an alternative to – namely, London’s increasingly congested streets of the mid-19th century, dominated by the horse and cart.
“An eye-watering 37,000 tons of horse dung were dumped on the streets every year,” we’re told, although it’s not revealed who was keeping count with such precision.
We also hear how hard it was to convince some people an underground system would work. Some considered it “against nature”, fearing it would be “an evil and scary place”.
I think I’d have been one of those. I think I still am.
Earlier, back above ground, a pal of Hislop’s is heading to Somerset in this week’s MOTORHOMING WITH MERTON &WEBSTER (Channel 5, 8pm). Comedian Paul and wife Suki, I must concede, have been making this whole motorhoming experience look quite appealing. But only quite.
That tiny toilet, tiny kitchen, tiny bedroom – it’s fine if you’re a Borrower but I’m still not convinced it’s for me.
Also, how awkward must they feel when driving through those winding country lanes, forever causing a tailback.
Maybe you just have to laugh it off, as they do whenever one of these frustrated motorists eventually gets to overtake.
“Ooh, look, there’s a very angry driver going past,” Paul chuckles. “And there’s another!”
It’s as if he just doesn’t care. I’ll tell you what, if I were one of those passing drivers, do you know what I’d do? I’d wind down my window and yell at the top of my voice. “Hey!” I’d cry, “you’re an absolute... oh, hang on, you’re that Paul Merton off the telly. Pull over and give us an autograph, will you?”