We Asked Tim And Siddy From Secrets Of The London Underground For Their Favourite Tube Facts

By M@ Last edited 8 months ago
We Asked Tim And Siddy From Secrets Of The London Underground For Their Favourite Tube Facts
Banner of Tim Dunn and Siddy Holloway in front of a secrets of the London Underground sign

We talk to Tim Dunn and Siddy Holloway, intrepid presenters of Secrets of the London Underground on Yesterday channel.

Ever wanted to visit an old abandoned tube station? It's not too hard these days, thanks to Hidden London tours from the London Transport Museum. But those occasional openings barely scratch beneath the surface. The 160+ year-old underground network contains countless little-known and little-visited spaces. More than enough to fill three series (and counting) of Secrets of the London Underground — the exceptional show from Yesterday channel that takes us into these dark, hypogeal realms.

Fronting that show are Tim Dunn and Siddy Holloway. Each week, they visit two or three abandoned spaces that few members of the public even know exist, before heading to London Underground's archives for deeper research. We picked their brains for their favourite tube secrets, and have some exclusive photos taken by Tim.

Let's start with the obvious one: Do you have a favourite underground station? If so, why?

Siddy: Oh that’s a tough one as there are so many that I love… I really like Elephant and Castle because it was my local station about 10 years ago. As for disused stations, probably Down Street because that place thrills me everytime I step foot inside it, even after all these years.

Tim: Baker Street. Every era of the Underground is on show.

Tim on a track walk to British Museum station
Tim inside a massive ventilation system at Archway.

Are there any secret, secret bits of the Underground that even you two aren’t allowed into?

Siddy: Oh plenty! Anything that is critical infrastructure or sensitive equipment we aren’t allowed into, such as signal switch rooms that are active, or electricity rooms… There are many places on the London Underground where only a select number of experts are allowed to access.

Tim: I know of a couple of places they’ve said “absolutely not” to. There are a few corridors that lead off various stations into parts of London that we’re not allowed to talk about; and there are some things around one particular station that I am desperate to explore but for many good reasons track access is almost impossible. Then there’s the long-disused Prince Albert line, which ran in a circle through Cockfosters and back, apparently. Or something. But we’ve accessed stuff in Series 3 that we’d never have got in Series 1, because now we’re trusted, we’re seen to be decent, careful and responsible. So who knows… I have three things I’ve still not been allowed to see…

Have you seen any ghosts down there, or met workers who have?

Siddy: I haven’t met any ghosts yet, but there have been places where I felt a little uneasy... I have met a few members of staff who swear they were in the presence of something supernatural, for example the brilliant Steve of Whitechapel in Series 1 Episode 5 of the show.

Tim: I’ve not seen any, and supernatural activity is not really something I think of seriously. I’m far more concerned about coming across a wild animal, person making a thankfully-rare break-in, or having to stand somewhere above a very deep drop. Heights scare me more than ghosts!

Even the most abandoned-feeling places on the tube will be secure... because they still playing a useful part in the network. That’s probably one of the biggest secrets of the London Underground: very little is disused, it’s just repurposed. There are, of course, anomalies, and one cannot help but feel aware of the past at St Mary’s, on the District line near Whitechapel. Here, a bomb killed several sheltering civilians; the flow of air through pipes makes the access door swing and bang in an irregular way and traffic rumbles irritatingly close to the ceiling.

Inside a dark tube tunnel
Filming the series

After three series… have you done it all? Are there enough secrets left to fill a fourth series?

Tim: Gosh yes! When I went to the production company with the idea of “The Architecture The Railways Built” (which then led to SOTLU as a spin-off) I went armed with a few hundred railway locations. And I go armed to each series kick-off with a list of things I want to see, or places that I have been but would really like to share with viewers. What we have is immense privilege in access, so I try to think of the places that will give back to every viewer. I reckon there are enough for another series – and maybe then broaden things out a bit.

Siddy: There’s more! There are places we haven’t been to yet and some really fascinating stories to tell – I guess we won’t be able to do it forever and ever, as much as I wish we could!

Could the series have spin-offs looking at other aspects of public transport?

Tim: Well, SOTLU was a spin-off of The Architecture The Railways Built (all of those 40 episodes I present are on UKTVPlay by the way, free to stream if you’re in the UK). There probably isn’t the broad mass appeal of those specific London networks that the tube has – none of them have the true pop culture integration of the tube – but there is a huge appetite by the Yesterday audience for historic transport of all sorts – and given I’m a historian of transport, I’m quite keen to tell the stories of many more (any production company keen, do get in touch!). But also places outside London too – because the point of transport is that it is about moving people and things between places. Still, nobody has commissioned my 74-part epic story of the hovercraft: “Hoverable Histories” and I can’t think why.

Siddy: Sounds great to me!

Looking back towards Holborn station
Looking back towards Holborn station on a track walk to the remains of British Museum station

Are you planning on writing a book to accompany the show? We’d buy it!

Tim: The short answer is no, sorry! But the longer answer is what the alternative is. That’s because the exciting thing about SOTLU is that it covers so many aspects of the tube: the abandoned bits, unbuilt designs, artworks, social history, niche objects, current staff thoughts and odd diversions, too. The audience ranges from proper tube nerds and historians through to younger children, so we’d have to appeal to all: and that’s tricky.

But I think of SOTLU as a gateway to other things – and there are so many books on those specific subjects already, it means that the next obvious step is for someone interested in, say, the posters to go buy an existing book on London Underground posters. And loads are available at the LT Museum shop, so the show is hopefully supporting existing authors, publishers and the shop by bringing new audiences in. In every episode we hopefully inspire people to go and investigate a niche that resonates.

Siddy: There is a book that covers the subject called ‘Hidden London: Discovering the Forgotten Underground’ which came out in 2019, which I co-authored. We currently don’t have plans to write a book for the show. However, a follow up from the 2019 book is something myself and colleagues at the London Transport Museum have been discussing, so watch this space!

There’s the old urban myth that the Queen/King had their own entrance to the Victoria line at Buckingham Palace, for quick escape in emergencies…is there any possibility that this could be true, or is it all bunkum?

Siddy: It is…. not true. Sorry! I have it on good authority from one of the Emergency Response Managers, Roy, who has literally walked the entire Underground (fans of the show will remember Roy from Charing Cross in Series 2) and he told me that there is no such thing. I wouldn’t mind checking for myself though, so maybe a future project?!

Tim: You can find out for yourself if you take the Victoria line there – and look for a difference in the sound or the side of the tunnel lining. You tell me!

Loads of tube ephemera on a table
"This is an example of the fun stuff I get to see in the depot - here’s one of many small objects cabinets full of promotional ephemera. Keep the stuff you are given in tote bags - one day it’ll be a museum piece!"

Have you ever been tempted to attempt the Tube Challenge (visiting every station in the quickest time possible)?

Siddy: I can’t say that I have been tempted, mostly because I get terribly competitive and I think it would stress me out too much. I am amazed at all that have done it though!

Tim: No. I’ve left that for my old friend Mr Geoff Marshall. BUT! A secret I learned about doing it came from the artist Mark Wallinger, when I interviewed him for this series. He designed all the labyrinth tube art (the circular “mazes” you see on the wall somewhere in each station) and he numbered them 1 to 270. Turns out that if you follow them in order from 1 upwards, that is the exact route you need to take in order to do the Tube Challenge. That is the mark of an artist who loves his subject.

If you could bring one ghost station back to life, which one would it be and why?

Siddy: Maybe York Road… that station is just north of King’s Cross, and after the regeneration of the area I think it would be very useful for commuters today. Unfortunately, to return that station to working conditions is nearly impossible.

Tim: Brill. I would like to take the Brill Tramway, briefly part of the Met, from Quainton Road along the lane on the footplate of Number 23, returned to steam from current display in Covent Garden. We’d pass slowly over crossings, scatter hens at the farmyard, round the corner at Wootton House estate and – as our steam shook the leaves of overhead oak trees, we’d pull in to Brill – the unlikely timber terminus of a tiny village far from the smoke. And yet by bizarre quirk of fate, HS2 will now pass within earshot.

Looking trhough a tube tunnel

If the London Underground were to be built from scratch in 2023, what would the network look like?

Tim: Well, for a start it’d have bigger tunnels for bigger trains, and more tracks to enable capacity increases and also allow for maintenance closures whilst the route stays open. But given the existence of tube lines is what has enabled parts of London’s growth, it probably wouldn’t look too different: perhaps more spokes and more orbitals though. Where did I put my crayons…?

Fantasy tube line… If you could magic into being a tube route that connects any two (or more) places, where would it go?

Tim: It exists: it’s called the Met! It connects all the places I go, and where my family lives. Except I’d like services to extend to me in London Bridge and then up along to Beaconsfield where Bekonscot Model Village is. And it’d have dining cars again. But hourly. I’ll write to the Treasury and see if they’ll fund it.

Secrets of the London Underground, Series 3 from Yesterday channel streams for free on UKTVPlay.

All photos credit Tim Dunn/UKTV.

Last Updated 30 August 2023