A 1956 tube stock mystery

1958picfi - A 1956 tube stock mystery

A special post about the 1956 tube stock. Piccadilly Circus station staff sent a tweet (one of their earliest ones) in February of this year asking for information on a picture of a train at the station itself. Its a photograph I have seen before – but not in colour and certainly not at such a scale. Its a lovely photograph but obviously not one taken off the cuff. Also the year it was taken is interesting. Nevertheless no-one replied to the station thus I thought I’d see if I could! And do a post about it too lol!

picccircfeb2019 - A 1956 tube stock mystery

Piccadilly Circus’ tweet

The 1956 stock was a prototype (3 built) and used to develop the 1959, 1960 and 1962 tube stocks. It was a development on from the 1938 tube stock, except the bodies were aluminium instead of steel. The design was also a little less modernist despite the unpainted aluminium look (compared to the more futuristic R stock.) The most instant means of identifying the 1956 stock was the grilles on the top of the front cab and the five light code indicator (which was seen as superfluous and reduced to two in the later designs.)

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The full picture! Source: Twitter (Piccadilly Circus)

The photograph itself interests me greatly because its obviously not a train in normal service. Its a posed shot taken on the westbound platform of the tube at Piccadilly Circus. There isn’t anything wrong with the train destination, its how far the Piccadilly Line went in those days.

The quality of the image is too high, too sharp. There’s so much detail. I am guessing medium format. I don’t think 35mm would have achieved this level of quality. By the way I think its also a printed version of the original (the fold – or join – gives an indication) thus the original would have been of even higher quality.

The passengers are clearly posing. The station master is placed in such a position to hide a particularly nasty shadow caused by the lights. There is a light coming from the side of the photographer towards the train (one can see the reflections on the front of the train) but this has created that harsh shadow.

The driver has been asked, obviously, to put his face closer to the window. Look at his pose! Normally a tube train driver sits or stands in a position fairly well back where their face is considerably obscured, and with their arms stretched out towards the controls. This one, his face is too clear. Whats more in other publicity shots of the tube trains over the previous thirty or forty decades, the drivers are often seen in these quite pretentious poses!

If one really wants to know how faked this picture is, the most obvious thing is the driver’s NOT even driving the train – its not even moving! If it was one would at least be able to see the guy’s hands on the controls, Instead he’s sitting with his face right up to the window, his hands obviously on his lap. If one looks at other shots of the 1956 (or 1959, 1960, 1962 tube stock) the driver position, the controls, and their hands can clearly be seen placed on the controls.

There is no hand on the deadmans handle either ( the power controller if you like – which should be kept pressed down otherwise the train will suddenly lurch to a halt) nor does he have his hands on the brakes (which should be clear to see if the train is actually entering the station and he is bringing it to a slow and then a stop. Take this photograph, below, of the 1962 tube stock (cab layout is same as 1956 etc) that now performs as a rail adhesion train – look at the driver’s position…

London Underground - 1962 Tube Stock - Train 721 - Sudbury Hill

1962 tube stock at Sudbury Hill. Source: Flickr

In terms of the photograph at Piccadilly Circus, studio lights have also been employed. The light fall from the station lights themselves do not match the pools of light on the platform. From the way these pools of lights have formed and how they are spread out across the platform onto the train itself, studio lights have without a doubt been used.

Shadows are also another indicator of the use of studio lights. The first passenger along the platform has his shadow projected so strongly onto the train itself its hard to see how the source could be from one of the fluorescent lights on the station tunnel’s ceiling.

1958picbw - A 1956 tube stock mystery

All the light pools and shadows that should not be there!

In this and other photographs showing the same scene (which can be seen at the LT Museum website) the shot is carefully composed to ensure the studio lights are kept out of sight. The station does not have cross passages at all in this location so its clearly not light falling through those.

The London Transport Museum has details on this particular picture which tells us it was taken on 30 December 1958 – a Tuesday – and thats certainly a bit odd unless they were doing an all night shoot which is possible. But why that date?

Was it connected to the launch of the 1959 tube stock? Possibly but why use a 1956? The 1959 stock wasn’t even big news at the time. Two years earlier the big news had been made – LT had secured the orders to build the 1959 tube stock which were to be built in Birmingham.

If had indeed been taken at that time the work may have been linked to publicity of some sort or another rather than the launch of any new trains. Quite possibly its meant to be a preview shot of the new 1959 tube stock that would be on the tube soon? The only problem is its not really a specific train sort of shot either – one of those posh shots showing nice new trains because these often exclude passengers.

The fact it has passengers may have been to sort of convey the idea of how the tube would look in the future. After all this was still the age of the painted tube train and unpainted stock so far had thus far been restricted to the District Line which had its first unpainted R stock in service from 19th January 1953.

With the R stock in service (both painted and unpainted) certainly the Piccadilly Line looked very archaic in the fifties with its fleet of standard (1924/27/30/31) tube stock. This photograph for example shows the same kind of tube train (Central/Northern/Piccadilly) when compared to the new unpainted modern R stock.

Quite possibly the photograph in Piccadilly Circus tube station’s posession could have been used for publicity to illustrate the future of the Piccadilly Line, because after all, the District Line’s new trains were outshining the Picc’s older tube stock all the way from Baron’s Court down to Hounslow West and they had been using those new R stock trains for the past five years to advertise the District Line!

Maybe someone knows more?

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One Response to “A 1956 tube stock mystery

  • The studio lights are even causing the florescent tubes (quite a rare sight at that time) to cast a shadow on the ceiling.

    Other observations: The station looks quite recently redecorated, and it’s unusual that the posters fit within the tile ‘cant rail’ on the wall (they were originally lower, and the posters were often pasted over them in a lumpy manner). My hunch is that it’s about as clean, tidy, and modern a scene as they could muster at that time for a general stock publicity photo representing the deep tube.

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