London Tube Time Machine

Sir Alec Guinness, most famously known (to his chagrin) as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, was an accomplished actor regardless.  Pictured above is Guinness on the VHS cover of one of his over 50 movie appearances, The Horse’s Mouth.  If you had never heard of it prior, you’d not be alone — but it speaks volumes to Guinness’s talent: he wrote the screenplay for the firm and was nominated for an Oscar for that work.

The Horse’s Mouth debuted in 1958 and, at the time as is still true today, subway advertising an effective form of marketing.  Take the promotional poster, write a check to your local metropolitan transit authority, and grab the attention of thousands of commuters each day.   In this case, The Horse’s Mouth and other films of the time were advertised in the London Underground, specifically at the Notting Hill Gate tube station.   Normally that would be a pedantic point.  However, soon after the film’s release, part of the Notting Hill Gate station was made redundant by new construction.  Specifically, escalator service which began in 1959 made a series of passageways and elevators unnecessary; those passageways were sealed off shortly after the escalators were activated for duty.

Recent construction has necessitated that workers access the tunnels.  When they did, they found something both surprising and spectacular: dozens of old movie posters from 1958-9, including (of course) one from The Horse’s Mouth.  Because the tunnels are open only for construction, tourists and commuters are not welcome to view the posters, which have been kept in excellent condition, probably due to the utter lack of disturbance over the last fifty-plus years.   But via the magic of the Internet, you can see the posters, preserved at Notting Hill Gate, here and here.

Bonus fact: Late in Sir Alec Guinness, he claimed that it was his idea — not George Lucas’ — to kill off Obi-Wan in the first (yes, first) Star Wars movie.  (Lucas confirmed that the original script had Obi-Wan surviving, a fate which in retrospect Lucas preferred.)  Guinness, in making the suggestion to Lucas, argued that Obi-Wan’s death would make the plot and Obi-Wan character stronger.  That may be true, but Guinness later confessed his true reason for requesting the re-write: “I just couldn’t go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines. I’d had enough of the mumbo jumbo.”

From the Archives: The President’s Secret Train Station: A bit of lore about New York’s underground transit system.

Related: The Horse’s Mouth on DVD.

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