Geoff Marshall is on his way to becoming a YouTube sensation.
Marshall, a video producer by trade, turned his enthusiasm for the London Underground’s unnoticed oddities and long-forgotten historical anecdotes into a video series for the website, Londonist.
Titled “Secrets of the Underground”, the videos follow Marshall as he explores each station on London’s Underground network, while pointing out out unique features that most commuters or visitors to London wouldn’t notice. Eight of the 11 lines have been documented and uploaded to Londonist’s YouTube channel, with three more videos to come.
A video about subways isn’t the first subject matter that pops to mind when you think of what usually makes a runaway YouTube hit, but Marshall’s engaging delivery and genuine zeal has helped “Secrets of the Central Line” top 100,000 YouTube views – not bad for a guy whose production entourage is made up of a single videographer.
But there’s more to Marshall than videos – he holds the 2013 Tube Challenge world record for traveling the entire London Underground in the shortest time possible, a record he previously held between 2004 and 2006.
Then there’s the spoken word show he’ll be performing at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe called ‘Tubespotting’, based on his 25 Tube Challenge attempts. And don’t forget about the award-winning travel app called Station Master he co-created with friend Matthew Frost. Oh, and he also wrote a book that will be published in May 2013, based on a 2009 road trip around the 48 mainland states of America, visiting 48 cities that share a name with a London tube station.
I spoke with Marshall, London’s Lord of the Underground, about the Secrets of series, tube etiquette, and what he thinks about living in London:
Where did your interest in London’s Underground start?
I remember my Grandad having an ‘A-Z’ street atlas of London, and on the back cover there was a tube map, which drew me in and fascinated me. I wanted to go to all the places on the map and see what they were all like. It’s an OCD thing, I suspect – I knew my local station, but I wanted to see what everyone else’s local station was like too!
Secrets of the Underground has become a very successful YouTube video series. Where did the idea come from, and how did it make its way to Londonist?
Because I badgered Matt, the editor of Londonist, into letting me do it!
Many of the tube’s facts and secrets had been banded around for years, but no one had ever put them all into a video. The secrets are quite often things that Transport for London and London Underground don’t like to advertise, so the internet and YouTube was a perfect medium to get them broadcast. We almost can’t believe how popular they’ve been – people are asking for more, and want to know if we’ll bring out a DVD with all the cut/extra bits on! Don’t worry – we are.
What’s the weirdest tube station secret you’ve encountered? Personally, I was a little surprised to learn there are swastikas on the floor at Upminster station…
Ha! Bear in mind it’s a REVERSE swastika at Upminster East, and not the same one that that the Nazi party used! But to your question, there’s nothing ‘weird’ per se, there’s just a lot of secrets and oddities that people don’t often see because they’re in the commuter, “MUST. GET. TO. WORK. MODE”. That’s what our videos are about – pointing out the things they walk right past every day. I do like the ‘walk around the buffers’ ramp at Ealing Broadway station though. Hardly anyone ever walks down there, and you get a great view that you’d otherwise never see. Go find it!
I watched Secrets of St. Paul’s Cathedral a few weeks ago. Is there a new series revealing the secrets of London’s famous buildings in the works?
Not specifically, it just came up. Londonist are frequently asked to go to places like St. Paul’s Cathedral, and more and more I’m tagging along with my video camera. There’s no series planned, but something could come up tomorrow which we’ll just go and randomly do.
Most visitors to London will stay in central London. What secrets should they be looking for at, say, Oxford Circus or Westminster stations?
At Westminster, find the secret entrance to Portcullis house! It takes you into the Houses of Parliament, and again, London Underground doesn’t like to advertise that it’s there. Sadly, nothing too interesting at Oxford Circus, but at Tottenham Court Road there is the circular-mosaic room which acts as a brilliant echo chamber, at Green Park you’ve GOT to take notice of how the tiles turn from blue to silver as you change between the Piccadilly and Jubilee lines!
Londoners take tube etiquette very seriously. What tips would you give visitors who are using the Underground for the first time?
Aside from “Stand on the Right!” on escalators, the simple one is to let people off the train first! I’m amazed by how many people don’t do this. Just stand to the side and let them off quickly, and you’ll then get on the train more quickly – everyone benefits. I’ve been known to nudge people with my elbow on purpose (yes, I do!) if they get on before I’ve got off – just to remind them that I’m there.
How would you explain what it’s like to live in London to someone who had never been there before?
Well, London *is*actually the best city in the world. I’ve been to all the other major cities, like Sydney, Rome, Moscow,and New York (I’m not trying to brag!), and London is amazing because it has such a varied history that different societies over time have contributed to. And that’s the only way to explain it.
It’s a combination of different people at different times adding their mark to the city, and so you can literally turn a corner and discover something new and different. You can’t judge it from one film or book, you have to come here to experience it yourself.
You’ve lived in a lot of different places within London. Which part of the city do you care about the most?
Well I born south of the river, and grew up in the suburbs of the south and south-west. I see myself as a South London boy, so I like that area the most.
I have £10 to spend on lunch. Where’s the best place to eat on the cheap?
But if I tell you, everyone will go there! There’s a Noodle bar chain called “Wok to Walk” and you can get fed for just under £6 – I swing by there at least once a week. It’s fast and tasty, and has a healthy selection too.
What would you suggest as a day out for families visiting London with kids?
Try a bike ride along the canal network – the canals are almost as secret as some of the things in the Underground!
Based upon the ‘secrets’ in the Londonist videos, Marshall leads walking/tube tours around London roughly once a month, where he points out the unusual, fun, secret and historical things about the tube. Tours last just over 2 hours, and normally run on a weekend afternoon. Email [email protected] for details.