Whether you’re a resident of London or just passing through, chances are the phrase ‘mind the gap’ has become ingrained in your memory. Regular commuters and tourists alike are well-acquainted with this familiar announcement, but what many public transport users may not realize is that the voice at Embankment Station carries a unique resonance.
There’s a touching story behind this distinct voice. For two decades, one woman made it a daily ritual to visit the same underground tube station, all in the hope of feeling closer to her late husband.
A few years ago, historian and journalist John Bull decided to shed light on this heartwarming tale through a series of tweets, describing it as a narrative of ‘London, trains, love, and loss,’ underscoring how even small acts of kindness can have a profound impact.
In London there is a woman who goes into the underground every day and sits on the platform just to listen to the announcement recorded by her husband back in 1950.— Fuad Alakbarov (@DrAlakbarov) June 7, 2022
Dr. Margaret McCollum after the death of her Oswald Laurence waits to hear the famous recording "Mind the gap". pic.twitter.com/gUCiPe4oGi
The story begins just before Christmas in 2012 when the staff at Embankment tube station were approached by a deeply distressed woman. She repeatedly inquired about the voice, asking, “Where has the voice gone? The man who says ‘Mind the Gap.'” The staff, initially perplexed, reassured her that the announcement voice had been updated to introduce different voices and more variety.
However, she remained visibly upset, revealing that the voice was no ordinary one to her; it belonged to her late husband. “The woman, a GP named Dr. Margaret McCollum, explained that her husband was an actor named Oswald Laurence,” John Bull recounted. Oswald, though never achieving fame, was the voice behind all the Northern Line announcements in the 1970s. Sadly, he had passed away in 2007.
Oswald’s death left a void in Margaret’s life, but hearing his voice every day during her commute was a source of solace. As John elaborated, “Sometimes, when it hurt too much, she’d just sit on the platform at Embankment and listen to the announcements for a bit longer.” This had become her routine for five years, a way to keep her husband’s memory alive.
Though the station staff couldn’t revert to the previous announcement voice, they apologized and promised to search for a recording of Oswald’s voice for Margaret.
But the story didn’t conclude there. In the New Year, as Margaret sat on Embankment Station on her way to work, she was greeted by a familiar voice over the speakers—the voice of the man she loved so dearly and never thought she would hear again. “Mind the Gap,” Oswald Laurence’s voice echoed.
It turned out that many people at Embankment, as well as within the London Underground and Transport for London services, had lost loved ones and harbored the same wish—to hear their voices once more. Recognizing this unique opportunity, they decided to make it happen for Margaret.
After delving into archives, restoring old tapes, and deciphering the announcement system’s code, they successfully brought Oswald’s voice back. In 2013, Margaret received a copy of the recording, providing her with comfort and a connection to her late husband whenever she needed it.
London Underground director Nigel Holness, speaking to the BBC at the time, said, “Transport for London were approached by the widow of Oswald Laurence to see whether she could get a copy of the iconic ‘mind the gap’ announcement her husband made over 40 years ago. We were very touched by her story, so staff tracked down the recording and not only were they able to get a copy of the announcement on CD for her to keep but are also working to restore the announcement at Embankment station.”
Although the story is nearly 11 years old, it endures, much like Oswald’s voice, thanks to those who are moved by its emotional significance.