Here are 10 fictional tube stations from TV and film

A Lego tube map, for some reason. Image: Getty.

When I wrote about the use of the tube in Doctor Who a while back, one of the stations which came up was Queen’s Arcade, seen in the 2005 season premiere Rose. This was mocked up on a Cardiff street – but rather than an attempt to replicate an existing station it was an unashamed fiction, with a made up name and a look not derived from any existing station (although it appears to be, like Fulham Broadway, a station the entrance for which is contained within a shopping centre).

Fictional tube stations aren’t uncommon in films and television set in the capital. So here in alphabetical order are ten of our favourites.

Crouch End

Shaun of the Dead, the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg zombie comedy briefly features signage for a Crouch End Underground station. There isn’t one. There was a Crouch End station, between 1867 and 1954, on British Rail: it was between Highgate and (the now also closed) Stroud Green. They were both part of the planned extension of the Northern Line/Edgware, Highgate and London Railway out into suburbs such as Bushey Green and even some places that don’t share two names with characters in Shakespeare’s Richard II

Hanover Street

1979’s Hanover Street is a not very good wartime romance film starring Lesley Anne Down and Harrison Ford, one of the half-dozen films Ford made at Elstree between the late seventies and mid-eighties, which led to him spending so much time in the area that he nicknamed the nearest suburb “Boring Wood”.

Directed by Peter ‘2010’ Hyams from his own script, much of the story’s action is set in and around the titular Hanover Street, near the the American Embassy and just off Regent Street. This area was mocked up on the studio backlot, not terribly accurately, and given a tube station of the same name. This is shown to be a Piccadilly Line station, although it looks like a High Barnet Branch Northern Line one. Quite what a Piccadilly Line station is doing on Hanover Street is anyone’s guess. If it’d been the Central Line, they’d have gotten away with it.

Hickory Road

Image: LWT.

LWT’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot (1989-2013) was largely set in the 1930s (although the books on which it’s based are set between 1916 and 1972). The 1995 adaptation of Hickory Dickory Dock, a story that centres on the fictional station of Hickory Road, filmed several scenes at the period-appropriate Morden Station, in the process expanding the story’s climax to feature the location more heavily .

Hobs’ Lane and Hobbs End

The 1958 BBC SF horror serial Quatermass and the Pit makes brief mention of a Hobs’ Lane station. (It is set in part on a street of that name.) When the serial came to be remade in colour in 1967 by Hammer Films, a renamed Hobs’ End station became one of the story’s major settings. Excavations for a new tube station of that name lead to the uncovering of an ancient spaceship which contains terrible truths about the history of the human race.

Quatermass writer/creator Nigel Kneale’s original story had been in part a reaction to the 1950s Notting Hill riots in West London which makes the film’s presentation of the Hobbs End as part of the then ongoing Central Line extension programme spot on. Hob (or Hobb) is a folkloric name for a spirit, generally used far north of London, and the variable spelling and punctuation of these locations, indicating singular or plural possessive, or no possession at all, are relevant to the story.

Image: Hammer.

The film, possibly the best thing ever made by Hammer, is frequently on Talking Pictures TV (Freeview 081) and the TV series is available for free on the BBC iPlayer. Both are very much worth your time.

Sumatra Road

Sherlock’s fictional Sumatra Road features in 2014’s The Empty Hearse, and is shown to be on the District Line between St James’s Park and Westminster. It’s named in reference to a joke in the canonical Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire, but there’s a real Sumatra Road (although not a Sumatra Road station) running parallel to the Thameslink track between West Hampstead and Cricklewood, and it's to that part of the capital that we need to look for the fictional station’s real inspiration: the never opened North End station, beneath Hampstead Heath.

Planned as part of an extension of what is now the Edgware branch of the Northern Line at the very beginning of the last century, a successful campaign by local NIMBYs against the housing estate the station was meant to serve meant that it was abandoned unopened in 1906, although it had been largely built. Much later, its depth meant that it was a designated Cold War control centre, a place from where tube tunnels could be closed to prevent water flooding into the system from the river, should any of part of it that passed under the Thames be breached by a bomb.

These days, it’s an emergency exit from the tube and easy to visit the outside – although never the inside – of, just by the Bull and Bush pub and the intersection of North End Road and Hampstead Way.


Union Street

Union Street is a setting for the quite stupid 2008 film The Escapist, about a man who leads a prison escape of unlikely suspects so he can visit his terminally ill daughter.

Scenes at the wholly fictional Union Street were shot at Aldwych (née Strand) Station which closed for the final time in 1994, and is now a listed building. Surrounded by buildings owned by the Strand Polytechnic, otherwise known as King’s College London, its platforms and corridors are the most frequently used by films and television series needing to set scenes in or around a tube station, real or otherwise.

One platform still presents a post outlining the benefits of Britain joining the EEC. Don’t everyone burst into tears at once.

Vauxhall Cross

The fortieth anniversary James Bond film, Die Another Day (2002) was Pierce Brosnan’s final appearance as 007. As part of the character’s traditional mission briefings with both M (Judi Dench) and Q (played here for the only time by John Cleese), we see Bond access the secret, and fictional, Vauxhall Cross Station via a public doorway on the south side of Westminster Bridge, just underneath old County Hall.

You would, of course, expect Vauxhall Cross to be in Vauxhall rather than Westminster. But that’s only the beginning of the oddities. The fictional station is on the Piccadilly Line, according to its signage, and at one point we can see from a map behind Q that it’s the next station after Hyde Park Corner, where the line also terminates. Which would make Vauxhall Cross part of a fictional spur off the line, like Mill Hill East off the Northern Line, and one that goes almost in a loop in order to reach a point off the Thames almost entirely unrelated to its name. This somehow manages to be an even less plausible Picadilly Line station than Hanover Street. Well done everyone.

Walfords East and West

The Borough of Walford has two tube stations, Walford West, which has never been seen but is occasionally mentioned in dialogue, and Walford East. East was once, like West, spoken of but never seen. But the mid 1990s expansion of the soap’s exterior set at Elstree studios allowed the station to be built, with London Underground cooperating with the BBC to provide genuine items such as ticket barriers to serve as set dressing.

Image: BBC.

Signage on the exterior set indicates that the station is a single branch station on the District Line, and close examination of the map and timetables mocked up for it shows that Walford East sits in position on the tube map that Bromley-by-Bow does in reality. The set itself is a superb evocation of a Leslie Green designed station, although that’s technically wrong: Green’s work is seen only the Bakerloo, Piccadilly and (some of) the Northern Line, the lines that were part the pre-nationalisation Underground Electric Railways Company.

The set has no platforms and therefore no trains, and on the rare occasions when platform based scenes have been needed they’ve been shot on location at the Northern Line station East Finchley, which is a good match for Walford East’s brickwork, and a not inconvenient distance from Elstree.

In more recent years, the increasing cheapness of CGI has allowed special effects to put trains through the station. This is something that links Walford East nicely to Queen’s Arcade, philosophically if not geographically. The first time a train was seen passing through Walford was on Children in Need night 1993 as part of a baffling skit called Dimensions in Time, which combined EastEnders sets and characters with appearances by the five then living former Doctors Who and loads of their assistants.

The circle line may not be a circle anymore, but everything loops back to Doctor Who in the end. 

 
 
 
 

How the pandemic is magnifying structural problems in America's housing market

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Long before Covid-19, the United States suffered from a housing crisis. Across the country, working class and low-income Americans struggled to pay rent, while the possibility of home ownership receded into fantasy. In hot markets, affordability became a struggle for even the middle class: In California, 41 percent of the population spends over a third of their income on housing costs. 

The coronavirus pandemic will only make these trends worse as millions are unable to work and the economy dives into a recession. Building could slow down in the medium term, as construction loans (risky bets in the best of times) become harder to come by. Unsubsidised affordable housing is often owned by small landlords, who are more likely to struggle during recessions, prompting flips to home ownership or sales to rental empires. 

New York Times reporter Conor Dougherty documented America’s longstanding housing crisis – and California’s efforts to battle it – in his book Golden Gates, which debuted just before the pandemic hit. “My sense is that right now coronavirus is magnifying a lot of things that were already happening,” Dougherty says.  


While Covid-19 adds new pressures, he says that many of the same issues we were facing still loom over the issue, from developers crowding the higher end of the market, to escalating construction costs, to stagnating wages and vulnerable service-sector jobs that leave ordinary Americans struggling to keep a roof over their heads. “That’s my larger message,” Dougherty says. “I think the structural problems continue to be a much bigger deal than the cyclical problem in housing.”

CityMetric spoke with Dougherty about how his thinking has changed since Covid-19, Donald Trump’s pro-suburban rhetoric, and the apparent exodus from San Francisco. 

I’ve really been struck by how strong the housing market seems to be despite the epic economic crisis we are facing. Costs seem to be higher everywhere. I've heard realtors talk about bidding wars like they haven't seen before in Philly, where I live. But perhaps that's just pent up demand from the big shutdowns?

What you have is an economy that has bifurcated. You have fewer middle-income jobs, more lower-income service jobs, and more higher-end jobs in software and finance. That's how our economy looks and that's a problem that is going to take the rest of our lives to solve. In the meantime, we have this housing market where one group of people have so much more money to spend than this other group. Cities reflect that. 

What's important about this bifurcation isn't just that you have gross inequality, but that these people have to live next to each other. You cannot be someone's Uber driver and telecommute. You cannot clean someone's house remotely. These lower-end service workers have to occupy the same general housing market as the super-high-end workers. 

All the pandemic has done is thrown that even more out of whack by creating a situation where one group of people is buying and expanding homes or lowering their home cost by refinancing, while another group are at income zero while trying to live in the same housing market with no demand for their services. When you see home prices booming and an eviction tsunami coming in the same newspaper, that tells you the same thing the book was trying to show you.

Does America writ large have the same housing shortage crisis as California and the Bay Area more specifically? There are other super hot markets, like New York City, Boston, or Seattle. But in Philly, or in Kansas City, is there really a lack of supply? 

There are three kinds of cities in America. There are the really out of control, fast-growing, rich cities: the Bay Area, Seattle, New York. There are declining Detroits and Clevelands, usually manufacturing-centric cities. Then there are sprawling Sun Belt cities. This book is by and large concerned with the prosperous cities. It could be Minneapolis, it could be Nashville. But the housing crisis in places like Cleveland is much more tied to poverty, as you pointed out. 

Those kinds of cities do have a different dynamic, although they still do have the same access to opportunity issues. For instance, there are parts of Detroit that are quite expensive, but they're quite expensive because that's where a lot of the investment has gone. That's where anybody with a lot of money wants to live. Then you have Sun Belt cities like Dallas and Houston, which are starting to become a lot more expensive as well. Nothing like the Bay Area, but the same forces are starting to take root there. 

I think that the Bay Area is important because throughout history, when some giant American industry has popped up, people have gone to Detroit or Houston. Now tech, for better or for worse, has become the industrial powerhouse of our time. But unlike Detroit in its time, it's very hard for people to get close to and enjoy that prosperity. There's a certain kind of city that is the future of America, it has a more intellectual economy, it's where new productive industries are growing. I think it's an outrage that all of them have these housing crises and it's considered some insane luxury to live there. 

A recent Zillow study seemed to show there hasn't been a flood of home sales in the pandemic that would signify a big urban exodus from most cities, with the glaring exception of San Francisco. Do you think that could substantially alleviate some of the cost pressure in the city proper?

On the one hand, I think this is about the general economy. If unemployment remains over 12% in San Francisco, yes, rent is going to be a lot cheaper. But is that really the reality we're all looking for? If restaurants and bars that were key to the city's cultural life remain shut, but rent is cheaper, is that what everyone wants? I bet you when this is all over, we're going to find out the tech people left at a much lower rate than others. Yes, they can all work from home, but what do you think has a bigger impact on a city: a couple of companies telling people they can work from home or the total immolation of entire industries basically overnight?

I don't want to make predictions right now, because we're in the middle of this pandemic. But if the city of San Francisco sees rents go down, well, the rent was already the most expensive in the nation. It falls 15%, 20%? How much better has that really gotten? Also, those people are going to go somewhere and unless they all move quite far away, you're still seeing these other markets picking up a lot of that slack. And those places are already overburdened. Oakland's homeless problem is considerably worse than San Francisco's. If you drive through Oakland, you will see things you did not think possible in the United States of America. 

Speaking of markets beyond San Francisco, you have a chapter about how difficult it is to build housing in the municipalities around big cities – many of which were just founded to hive off their tax revenues from low-income people.

That’s why you see Oregon, California, or the Democratic presidential candidates talking about shaking this up and devising ways to kick [zoning] up to a higher level of government. We've always done this whenever we've had a problem that seems beyond local governance. Like voting rights: you kick it to a higher body when the local body can't or won't solve it. 

But for better or for worse, this suburban thing is part of us now. We cannot just undo that. This notion of federalism and local control, those are important American concepts that can be fiddled with at the edges, but they cannot be wholesale changed. 

The first time I ever met Sonja Trauss [a leader of the Bay Area YIMBY group], she told me she wasn't super concerned about passing new laws but that the larger issue was to change the cultural perception of NIMBYism. We were living in a world where if you went to a city council meeting and complained about a multifamily development near your single-family house, you were not accosted for trying to pump up your property values or hoard land in a prosperous city. You were seen as a defender of the neighbourhood, a civically-minded person.

What is significant about YIMBYism is that the cultural tide is changing. There is this whole group of younger people who have absorbed a new cultural value, which is that more dense housing, more different kinds of people, more affordable housing, more housing options, is good. It feels like the tide is turning culturally and the movement is emblematic of that. I think that value shift will turn out to have been much more lasting than anything Scott Wiener ever does. Because the truth is, there are still going to be a bunch of local battles. Who shows up and how those places change from within probably will turn out to be more important. 

As you said, we've been seeing a lot of Democratic candidates with proposals around reforming zoning. How does Joe Biden's plan compare to the scope of the ambition in the field? 

There are two big ideas that you could pull from all the plans. First, some kind of renter's tax credit. It is obscene that we live in a country where homeowners are allowed to deduct their mortgage interest, but renters aren't. It is obscene that we live in a world where homeowners get 30-year fixed mortgages that guarantee their house payment pretty much for life and renters don't. If we think that it's a good idea to protect people from sudden shocks in their housing costs, that is as good of an idea for renters as it is for homeowners. 

I tell people that in this country, homeowners are living in the socialist hellscape of government intervention and price controls. Renters are living in the capitalist dream of variable pricing and market forces. Homeowners think they're living in this free market, but actually they're in the most regulated market – there are literally price controls propping up their market mortgages. 

Then there is Section 8 housing. Right now homeowners get access to the mortgage interest deduction. That programme is available to as many people as can use it, yet only about a quarter of the people eligible for Section 8 can get it. I think rectifying that is hugely important and a lot of the plans talked about that. 

The second big idea is using the power of the purse to incentivise people to more robustly develop their regions. You should have higher density housing in fancy school districts, near job centres, near transit. We're going to use the power of the purse to incentivise you, within the bounds of your own local rules, to do this right. Of course, that’s what Donald Trump is running against when he talks about Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). 

When I was a local reporter in Philly, the city went through with that AFFH regulation despite Trump and HUD Secretary Ben Carson not being interested in enforcing it anymore. The city produced a fat report that maybe a few people read, but I don't think it changed policy. It's this phantom that Trump is running against, an ideal version of the policy that did not exist. It's also a phantom no one's heard of until Trump started tweeting about it. 

It’s been bizarre to watch. But Trump does seem to recognise that suburban politics don’t neatly fit into a red or blue construct. People who live in Texas and claim to want a free market system will turn around and erect local regulation to make sure nobody can build apartments near them. People in the Bay Area who claim to be looking for a more diverse place will use different logic, anti-developer logic, to keep apartments being built near them. 

People like that regardless of how they feel about things nationally. The bluntness with which Trump is doing it is discordant with the electorate and quixotic because people don't know what he's talking about. But the basic things he recognises – can I make voters feel like their neighbourhoods are threatened – he's onto something there. As with many things Trump, his tactics are so off-putting that people may ultimately reject them even if under the surface they agree.

You hear people on the left say the scary thing about Trump is that one day a good demagogue could come along. They're going to actually tax private equity people and they're actually going to build infrastructure. They're going to actually do a lot of popular stuff, but under a racist, nationalist banner. I think the suburban thing is a perfect example of that. There's a lot of voters even in the Bay Area who [would support that policy] in different clothing.

The world has changed completely since Golden Gates debuted just a few months ago. Has your thinking about housing issues changed as a result of the seismic disruptions we are living through?

The virus has done little more than lay itself on top of all of the problems I outline in the book. Whether we have an eviction tsunami or not, a quarter of renters were already spending more than half their income on rent. There's a chapter about overcrowded housing and how lower-income tenants are competing with each other by doubling, tripling, and quadrupling up for the scant number of affordable apartments. We now know that overcrowded housing is significantly more of a risk [for Covid-19] than, say, dense housing. If you live in a single-family home with 15 people in it, that's a lot more dangerous than 40 apartments in a four-story building.

Housing is just a proxy for inequality, it's a way of us building assets for one group at the exclusion of another. It is an expression of the general fraying of American society. I don't feel like that larger message has been affected at all, it's only been enhanced by the pandemic. With the caveat that this can all change, it just doesn't seem to me like there's some uber housing lesson we can learn from this – other than having a bunch of people crowded together is a really bad idea. 

Jake Blumgart is a staff writer at CityMetric.