Tube Map Rip-Offs: New Book Exposes The Best And Worst Offenders

By M@ Last edited 22 months ago
Tube Map Rip-Offs: New Book Exposes The Best And Worst Offenders

Is this the worst version of the tube map ever created? You could spend hours spotting the errors. And some errors aren't even visible because they're hidden within the scrunched up 'design'.

The 2011 map from a German travel guide is just one of dozens of examples from Maxwell Roberts's new book, Tube Map Travels. The book explores the phenomenon of imitation tube maps, dating back to the time before Harry Beck's famous chart, right through to modern computer-generated efforts.

Some of the maps will make Londoners queasy. Take this one, for example, published as recently as 2018, which even features the yet-to-open Elizabeth line.

This cluttered effort appears to be covered in dead beetles, along with many unsightly pointer lines at random angles. Yurrgh!

Then we have the rotten 1984 sample below, again from Germany, which is labelled as 'U-Bahnen in London'. It is, at least, economically laid-out. Pity that some of the labels intrude upon the tube lines. And what's with the colour? To follow the Thames from west to east is a guaranteed shortcut to a migraine. Try it.

Some quite reputable publishers will spin out their own versions of the famous map, rather than pay a licence to Transport for London (or its predecessor). The 1996 map below is from respected guidebook series Frommer's. The effort is not too bad, as these things go, but still suffers from crowding in the central section.

Maps like these raise immediate questions about copyright and trademark. TfL is notoriously keen to stamp out unauthorised use of its properties, such as the tube map and the roundel. How far must a design deviate from the original to avoid a letter from the lawyers? It's a topic that Roberts discusses at some length in his book.

He also explains the history of the tube map, and its imposters. Turns out that imitations have been rife since long before Harry Beck's famous 1931 map. Below is an example from 1907, created by a clothing company with noble patronage.

And just six years after Beck dispensed with a geographic map in favour of a schematic, this imitation from Millers Mutual insurance firm began to circulate.

The book contains many, many further examples reproduced at higher resolution, alongside more recent attempts by amateurs to rework and improve on the official Beck design.

Roberts is well-known in transport circles for his previous book Underground Maps Unravelled. This thoughtful sequel is a fascinating exploration of a little-appreciated aspect of tube cartography: when the underground map itself goes underground.

Tube Map Travels by Maxwell Roberts is out now from Capital Transport, on sale in all good book shops, including the London Transport Museum shop.

Last Updated 20 December 2019