Get IOL's cool new iPad app...
After the Tube train had disappeared into the tunnel, you could still find Dr Margaret McCollum sitting on the platform bench, lost in thought.
A few minutes later, another train would arrive. “Mind the gap!” said the voice on the loudspeaker to disembarking passengers, and Dr McCollum smiled... and still she stayed.
For although that announcement became familiar to millions travelling on the London Underground at Embankment station, the voice had a special significance for Dr McCollum, a recently widowed GP.
The voice was her husband’s, and in countless, poignant moments since actor Oswald Laurence died in 2007, she has remained on the platform just to hear him speak.
Then in 2012, Transport For London finally brought the curtain down on Mr Laurence’s only remaining stage - the northbound Northern Line platform at Embankment - in favour of a bland, digitised announcement.
But the delightful love story that threw Dr McCollum and Mr Laurence together for 15 “blissfully happy years” is about to get a happy ending. As the Daily Mail reported on Saturday, TFL bosses are working to return Mr Laurence’s voice full-time to Embankment after Dr McCollum wrote to them asking for a recording of her husband’s announcement.
It first aired in the late 1950s but few had any idea who Mr Laurence was; fewer still what he looked like.
Until today, that is, after the Mail tracked down his widow and uncovered the identity of the man whose voice made him “Mr Gap”.
“He was never very far away in my head and in my heart,” she said. “And knowing that I could go and listen to his voice was simply wonderful. It was a great comfort. I would go and sit on the platform, and sometimes miss a couple of trains just so I could hear it. Although he could do accents, it was his natural speaking voice - clear, precise, authoritative. His announcement didn’t say ‘please’ - it was perfectly minimalist. So that was what I would do, right up until last November, until one day, I heard a different voice.”
Dr McCollum, now 65, wrote to TFL to ask for a recording of the announcement, and to her delight, a CD arrived just before Christmas.
Then London Underground’s unpublicised plan to reinstate Mr Laurence at Embankment was revealed after it was broadcast once again on Thursday. Train buffs and internet sites excitedly reported Mr Gap’s return. But who was he? Mr Laurence was a wartime evacuee who joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at the age of 17.
The dashing young actor went on to secure a string of roles in films that included Three Men In A Boat, a 1956 comedy starring Laurence Harvey, Jimmy Edwards, and a young Kenneth Williams playing a bit-part; The Dirty Dozen; and TV episodes of The Saint, starring Roger Moore.
Ironically his voice reached a far wider audience than any of those films. It also helped to win him a wife. Dr McCollum, who spent 39 years in the health service, regularly commuted by Tube from her north London home, as did her future husband.
They did not meet until 1992 when she was flying out of Heathrow on a guided tour holiday - with Mr Laurence as tour guide. She heard ‘the most gorgeous voice’ behind her and the pair were instantly attracted.
They later became partners and married in 2003 after more than 11 years together. She kept her maiden and professional name but “adored” being Mrs Laurence.
Mr Laurence lost his battle against long-term cardio-vascular problems nearly six years ago when he was in his 70s.
“Knowing he was going to die gave a kind of intensity to our last years together,” she said. “But I always knew that even when he was gone, I could go and listen to him whenever I wanted.”
On Sunday staff at the station said there had been technical difficulties broadcasting Mr Laurence’s recording over a new PA system, which was why commuters heard the old and the new intermittently. - Daily Mail