Why the spoof radio game Mornington Crescent is called Mornington Crescent

(L-R) Graeme Garden, Willie Rushton, Barry Cryer, Humphrey Lyttelton, Tim Brooke-Taylor

I had always assumed the fake BBC Radio game Mornington Crescent was called that more-or-less at random. After all, there is no logic to any of it, so why not just choose a random tube station?

Wikipedia currently explains:

The objective of Mornington Crescent is to give the appearance of a game of skill and strategy, with complex and long-winded rules and strategies, to parody games in which similarly circuitous systems have evolved. The rules are fictional and its appeal to audiences lies in the ability of players to create an entertaining illusion of competitive gameplay.

The person who first names Mornington Crescent as being on a supposed London Underground route wins.

Our starting point… Finchley Central station

I knew Mornington Crescent was a version of a game previously called Finchley Central which dates back to at least 1969 when Anatole Beck and David Fowler mentioned it in the Spring 1969 issue of the mathematical magazine Manifold, in which they discussed A Pandora’s Box of Non-games.

They describe the rules of Finchley Central as:

Two players alternate naming the stations of the London Underground. The first to say “Finchley Central” wins. It is clear that the ‘best’ time to say “Finchley Central” is exactly before your opponent does. Failing that, it is good that he should be considering it. You could, of course, say “Finchley Central” on your second turn. In that case, your opponent puffs on his cigarette and says, “Well,… Shame on you!”

On BBC Radio, Mornington Crescent first appeared in the opening episode of the sixth series of comedy panel show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, broadcast on 22 August 1978 – nine years after the Manifold mention of Finchley Central. 

As I said, I assumed Mornington Crescent was chosen at random as the station at the centre of the new spoof game.

But, this morning, former TV & radio announcer/presenter and so much more Keith Martin told me this was not the case.

“The show used to be recorded at what was then the BBC’s Camden Palace Theatre,” he told me, “which, as you know, was directly opposite Mornington Crescent tube station. I used to go and watch it being recorded there. So it was the station everyone coming to the show arrived at.”

BBC Camden Palace Theatre could fit an entire orchestra into the studio

The Camden Palace had a life almost as varied as Keith Martin’s.

It opened as a music hall on Boxing Day 1900, became the Camden Hippodrome variety theatre in 1909, the Camden Hippodrome Picture Theatre in 1913, a Gaumont cinema in 1928, closed in 1940 and was then a key studio for the BBC Light Programme, becoming BBC Radio’s ” home of light music and comedy” between 1945 and 1972. (The BBC Light Programme was re-named BBC Radio 2 in 1967). The studios closed in 1972, but the building re-opened as a live music venue – The Music Machine – in 1977. It was re-named the Camden Palace (again) in 1982, closed in 2004 and re-opened as music venue KOKO.

“I used to watch The Goons there,” Keith told me, wistfully.

So there you are. I  took a circuitous route but…

Mornington Crescent.

I win.

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Filed under Comedy, Radio

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