Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Unsportsman-like comments

During my daily commute from north to south-east London this morning, I read in the Metro freesheet that Australia's Olympics chief John Coates's ungracious response to the British swimmer Rebecca Adlington's 400m freestyle gold medal was to say, "Great Britain seems to be getting there, for a country that has few pools and not much soap." Clearly we can put one half of that down to catty sour grapes, but the other half has an unfortunate ring of truth to it. With the UK population (60,587,300) being three times that of Australia (21,370,000), Metro's comment that, "Britain has 22 Olympic-sized pools, compared with Australia's 47," would be bad enough if it were true, but sadly it's not.

The UK currently has only five pools that are the full 50 x 25m Olympic standard - which allows for ten 2½-metres lanes, with only the middle eight being used in competitions - with three more currently under construction. There are a further twenty other 50-metre venues with sub-25-metre widths (nine planned or under construction), but not all open to the public, as they include the army's pool at Aldershot, and one at a private school (the one which - unsurprisingly - Duncan Goodhew went to). Three of these pools are currently under threat of demolition, and not all will be replaced with comparable new facilities.

In comparison, Australia has some 1,500 50-metre pools, and in many towns and cities the gripe is actually that they have "too few," not that - as in the UK - that they have none at all! Of this impressive total, 47 are indeed the full 50 x 25m Olympic standard. To turn these numbers around, if the UK had the same population:pool ratio as Australia, we would have 133 Olympic standard venues, and 4,119 other 50m pools, while if Australia had ours, they would have just two and seven respectively!

Of course, many people are apt to ask why 50-metre pools are so necessary. The reality is that while our plethora of 25m and occasionally 33.3m pools are adequate up to a point, the discipline of swimming in a 50-metre tank is quite different, and vital for competition training. After all, we would not expect our runners to excel if they could only practice on half-size tracks, so why should be expect world-class swimmers when we have so few suitable venues? This makes the success of Adlington and all her past, present and - hopefully - future team-mates all the more remarkable.


Friday, 8 August 2008

It's always Aldwych!

It's hardly surprising that the disused Piccadilly line station at Aldwych has appeared in more films, television programmes, or adverts than any other, clocking up over thirty separate productions. Even when it was still in passenger use, the station was closed at weekends, making it an idea media location, a situation that has also occasionally applied to the Waterloo and City line, especially during its Southern Railways/British Rail days (i.e. a non-Underground location could be used to represent the network, even when LU themselves couldn't or wouldn't play ball). Now that the Aldwych spur is closed, it is an even more attractive option, although the similarly-disused Jubilee line terminus at Charing Cross is gaining in popularity, especially when a more modern station interior is needed.

Some productions, such as the horror film Creep (2005) can run to both stations, while others either need only one, or use one to "stand in" for a number of others, and the recent heist film The Bank Job (2008) is a good example. In one scene shot on the platform at Aldwych as a train arrives, fake signage has it as Baker Street, while later on, the same platform is used to represent Tottenham Court Road. Finally, characters are seen traveling on a train on the Aldwych branch, arriving at Edgware Road, although the announcement that passengers should change for the Bakerloo line and the track diagram in the train being one for the District/Circle line, indicates it it is supposed to be one of the sub-surface platforms. In all, Aldwych "plays" three different stations, although there is a brief shot of the actual exterior of Baker Street.

An old 1972 Stock Piccadilly line train is permanently stabled at Aldwych, and is periodically run along the branch to both keep the trackwork in order, or for use in filming, as it was in The Bank Job. If needs be, however, this unit can be removed via the main network, and a suitable alternative then brought in. This was the case with the 2002 ITV drama Dead Gorgeous, which made use of the Aldwych ticket hall to represent that at Victoria, and the platform at both that station and South Kensington, along with a period 1938 Stock train. All wildly inaccurate for a journey supposedly on the sub-surface District/Circle line tracks, but at least the same vintage as the immediately post-WW2 setting!

It therefore rarely comes as a surprise when a new production featuring an Underground scene appears that uses Aldwych for this purpose, but there are also occasions when people are too ready to identify it as a location when it's not, even when it is not a real station at all! A prime example is the recent release of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, which saw rapid early Internet speculation that Aldwych was used to portray the Northern Line part of what is now Charing Cross, under its previous name of Strand (helped, no doubt, by the fact that that was Aldwych's original name, as well). It was in fact a studio set, the giveaways being that the platform is straight, as opposed to Aldwych's curve, and that the decorative tiling was shown on both sides of the track, rather than on just the platform side.

Such erroneous conclusions are nothing new, but occasionally one would expect better of the party making the error. I recently acquired a copy of Horton's Guide to Britain's Railways in Feature Films by Glyn Horton (Kettering: Silver Link Publishing Ltd., 2007), a supposedly exhaustive guide to the subject, including appearances of the London Underground. In the latter respect it has some startling omissions of well-known and by no means obscure films with extensive Underground scenes (e.g. Green Street and The Fourth Protocol), but there are also a number of quite appalling misidentifications, and the writer demonstrates an over eagerness to declare a station as Aldwych. He correctly states that An American Werewolf in London (1981) features one scene set and shot at Piccadilly Circus, but also that "Aldwych station was also used for some scenes." This is nonsense, as there is nothing seen that looks remotely like Aldwych, as opposed to looking exactly like Piccadilly Circus. Even more surprising are the following claims:
Quatermass and the Pit (1967)
"Most of it is a studio set, but some shots are believed to have been filmed at Aldwych station."

Wings of the Dove (1997)
"Includes scenes shot at Aldwych station on the London Underground."

Die Another Day (2002)
"Aldwych station was used for some scenes, interspersed with scenes shot on a studio set."
In fact, the Underground scenes in all three were entirely studio-based, with nothing at all shot at Aldwych, although it is known that the design team for Die Another Day did visit the disused station for research purposes.

Elsewhere, Horton makes a number of other inaccurate claims:
Billy Elliot (2000)
"Features a scene on the Jubilee Line extension at Canary Wharf station with 1970s tube stock (despite the fact that the station did not exist until 15 years after the film events took place!)."
Although the bulk of the film does cover the UK Miners' Strike up to and after its formal end on 3 March 1985, the scene in question is a post-script explicitly stated on screen as being set fourteen years later. Allowing for a generous rounding down, this just about fits with the opening of the Westminster station Jubilee line platforms - the actual location used - on 22 December 1999.
Runners (1982)
There are a couple of scenes at Underground stations, including Paddington (Praed Street entrance)."
Actually, it's Maida Vale.
Seven Days to Noon
"There are some scenes on the Underground at Piccadilly Circus station with 1938 Bakerloo Line stock..."
Right line, wrong station - a character is actually followed into the Cockspur Street entrance of Trafalgar Square station, which now forms part of Charing Cross. It also omits a later scene at track level at Edgware Road (Bakerloo), but then, I missed it first time around, as well....

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