This BBC archive newsclip shows the North London Line in 1981 – when bad people wanted to turn it into a road

Broad Street in 1983. Image: Ben Brooksbank/Wikipedia.

The BBC Archive is a selection of social media accounts that do exactly what the name suggests: post video and audio clips from decades past, most of which serve mainly to enable us to marvel at the accents of yesteryear.

It did once have a website, but ironically, it’s been archived:

Anyway. Over the weekend, one of its old tweets caught my eye thanks to our occasional rail correspondent John Band. The tweet dates from July 2016, and the news clip it features from 1981. But it paints a vision of a dystopian future so horrifying, that I felt it was worth bringing to your attention, simply to show what a close shave we had. Honestly, it gives me chills just thinking about it.

Back in 1981, reporter Bill Kerr-Elliot (amazing accent) tells us, the North London Line was “so underused that you can often have a carriage to yourself”. Unlike latter incarnations of the largely orbital route, it ran into Central London, terminating at the late lamented Broad Street station:

Broad Street station is no longer with us: it closed in 1986, and was demolished, to be replaced by the Broadgate Office complex. Already by 1981, though, it was, Kerr Elliot tells us, a place of “Victorian splendour, now sadly down at heel”, before adding, in a marvellously portentous voice that you just don’t get in news reports any more, “No one quite remembers when the station master left.”


A blurry screenshot from the BBC film clip. Image: BBC.

At the time, it looked like the line it served (just 95p for a return to Richmond!) might be able to go the same way. The news clip features an interview with Andrew Warren of roads lobbying group “Movement for London” demanding the powers that be tear up the tracks and build a new road, on the grounds that everyone loves cars (no) and people would definitely use it (well, yes).

Another interviewee had a rather different vision for the line. David Thomas, chair of the North London Line Action Committee, we are told:

“has called on British rail to incorporate the line into a complete ring route around London, to operate more closely with London Transport, to advertise service more aggressively and to smarten up the stations”.

This, in the end, is exactly what happened. Okay, the line had to be diverted to Stratford and North Woolwich, and rebranded as “Silverlink” for a few depressing years. But in 2007, it was transferred to the new privately-operated but TfL-owned London Overground network.

The Overground in 2010, shortly before the North London Line Action Committee vision was realised. 

The new owners gave the line a deep clean, raised the profile of the system by advertising it as “London’s new trainset” and, over the next few years, hooked it up to the East, South and West London Lines to create a new loop around London. TfL, in other words, did literally everything that the North London Line Action Committee had asked for, even if it took 30 years.

So: the road lobby lost, for once. Which is nice. God, though, imagine if they hadn’t.

If you fancy watching the full clip, and seeing just how miserable London looked – and just how fruity BBC reporters sounded – in 1981, then you can do so here:


Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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How can we stop city breaks killing our cities?

This couple may look happy, but they’re destroying Barcelona. Image: Getty.

Can’t wait to pack your bags and head off on holiday again? It used to be that people would look forward to a long break in summer – but now tourists have got used to regular short breaks through the year. We love to jet off to the world’s glittering cities, even if only for a day or two. The trouble is, binge travelling may be killing the places we visit.

You may even have seen some “tourists go home” graffiti on your last trip, and it’s not hard to see why. Barcelona is a good example of how a city can groan under the weight of its popularity. It now has the busiest cruise port, and the second fastest growing airport in Europe. Walking through the Barcelona streets at peak season (which now never seems to end) flings you into a relentless stream of tourists. They fill the city’s hot spots in search of “authentic” tapas and sangria, and a bit of culture under the sun. The mayor has echoed residents’ concerns over the impact of tourism; a strategic plan has been put in place.

It is true though, that cities tend to start managing the impact of tourism only when it is already too late. It creeps up on them. Unlike visitors to purpose-built beach destinations and national parks, city-break tourists use the same infrastructure as the locals: existing systems start slowly to stretch at the seams. Business travellers, stag parties and museum visitors will all use existing leisure facilities.

‘Meet the friendly locals’, they said. Image: Sterling Ely/Flickrcreative commons.

Barcelona may only be the 59th largest city in the world, but it is the 12th most popular with international visitors. Compared to London or Paris, it is small, and tourism has spiked sharply since the 1992 Olympics rather than grown steadily as in other European favourites like Rome.

Growth is relentless. The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) even speaks about tourism as a right for all citizens, and citizens are increasingly exercising that right: from 1bn international travellers today, we will grow to 1.8bn by 2030, according to UNWTO forecasts.

Faced with this gathering storm, just who is tourism supposed to benefit? Travellers, cities, residents or the tourism industry?

Market forces

Managing the impact of tourism starts by changing the way destinations market themselves: once the tourists arrive, it’s too late. Tourism authorities need to understand that they are accountable to the city, not to the tourism industry. When the city of Barcelona commissioned the University of Surrey to look into how it might best promote sustainable development, we found a series of techniques which have been incorporated, at least in part, into the city’s 2020 Tourism Strategy.

In the simplest terms, the trick is to cajole tourists into city breaks which are far less of a burden on the urban infrastructure. In other words, normalising the consumption of sustainable tourism products and services. In Copenhagen, 70 per cent of the hotels are certified as sustainable and the municipal authority demands sustainability from its suppliers.

Higher than the sun. A primal scream from the world’s cities? Image: Josep Tomàs/Flickr/creative commons.

Destinations must also be accountable for the transport impact of their visitors. The marketing department might prefer a Japanese tourist to Barcelona because on average they will spend €40 more than a French tourist – according to unpublished data from the Barcelona Tourist Board – but the carbon footprint we collectively pay for is not taken into account.

Crucially, for the kind of city breaks we might enjoy in Barcelona, most of the carbon footprint from your holiday is from your transport. Short breaks therefore pollute more per night, and so destinations ought to be fighting tooth and nail to get you to stay longer. It seems like a win for tourists too: a few extra days in the Spanish sun, a more relaxing break, and all accompanied by the warm glow of self-satisfaction and a gold star for sustainability.

Destinations can also target customers that behave the most like locals. Japanese first-time visitors to Barcelona will crowd the Sagrada Familia cathedral, while most French tourists are repeat visitors that will spread out to lesser-known parts of the city. Reducing seasonality by emphasising activities that can be done in winter or at less crowded times, and geographically spreading tourism by improving less popular areas and communicating their particular charms can also help reduce pressure on hot spots, much like Amsterdam is doing.

Turnover is vanity, and profit margins are sanity. No city should smugly crow about the sheer volume of visitors through its gates. If tourism is here to stay, then the least cities can do is to sell products that will have the greatest benefit for society. Whether it’s Barcelona, Berlin, Bologna or Bognor, there should be a focus on locally and ethically produced products and services which residents are proud to sell. Tourist boards should work with small businesses that offer creative and original things to do and places to stay, adding breadth to the city’s offering.

The ConversationWhether Barcelona will introduce these ideas will depend on the bravery of politicians and buy-in from the powerful businesses which are happily making short-term profits at the expense of residents and the planet. It is possible to do things differently, and for everyone to benefit more. It may be that the tipping point lies in the age-old mechanics of supply and demand: bear that in mind next time you’re booking a quick city break that looks like it’s only adding to the problem.

Xavier Font is professor of marketing at the University of Surrey.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.