Mornington Crescent (game)

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An enamel sign at the Mornington Crescent station, the game's namesake

Mornington Crescent is an improvisational game featured in the BBC Radio 4 comedy panel show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, a series which satirises complicated panel games.[1]

The game consists of each panellist in turn announcing a landmark or street, most often a tube station on the London Underground system. The apparent aim is to be the first to announce "Mornington Crescent", a station on the Northern Line.[1] Interspersed with the turns is humorous discussion amongst the panellists and host regarding the rules and legality of each move, as well as the strategy the panellists are using. Despite appearances, however, there are no rules to the game,[2] and both the naming of stations and the specification of "rules" are based on stream-of-consciousness association and improvisation.[3] Thus the game is intentionally incomprehensible.[4]

Origins[edit]

Mornington Crescent first appeared in the opening episode of the sixth series of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, broadcast on 22 August 1978. Although five episodes transmitted in 1974–1975 are still lost, Mornington Crescent seems to have made no appearance before 1978. It was played in every surviving episode of the sixth series.

The origins of the game are not clear. One claim is that it was invented by Geoffrey Perkins,[5] who stated in an interview that Mornington Crescent was created as a non-game.[6] Barry Cryer, a panellist on the programme since 1972, has said that Geoffrey Perkins did not invent the game, and that it had been around since the sixties.[7] According to Chairman Humphrey Lyttelton, the game was invented to vex a series producer who was unpopular with the panellists. One day, the team members were drinking, when they heard him coming. "Quick," said one, "Let's invent a game with rules he'll never understand."[8]

A similar game called "Finchley Central" was described in the Spring 1969 issue of the mathematical magazine Manifold, edited by Ian Stewart and John Jaworski at the University of Warwick. Douglas Hofstadter referred to the article in his book Metamagical Themas. The game is referred to as an "English game" in an article on "non-games" as follows:

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".[9]

Gameplay on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue[edit]

The objective was to give the appearance of a game of skill and strategy, with complex and long-winded rules and strategies, in parody of certain games and sports in which similarly circuitous systems have evolved. In general, Humphrey Lyttelton would describe special rules to apply to that session, such as "Trumpington's Variations" or "Tudor Court Rules", so that almost every episode featuring Mornington Crescent introduced a variant.

There have been many supposed variations. In one of them, supposedly first introduced in North Yorkshire, a player whose movement is blocked is considered to be "in Nidd" (named after a Yorkshire river) and is forced to remain in place for the next three moves. This tends to block the other players, putting them into Nidd as well and causing a roadblock. In one episode of I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue, every player ended up in Nidd and the supposed rule had to be suspended so that the round could continue.

Over time, the destinations named by the panellists expanded beyond the Underground. ISIHAC is recorded around the United Kingdom, and the game is occasionally modified accordingly. There have been versions in Slough and Leeds, as well as one in Scotland, played during the Edinburgh Fringe arts festival (where the name was changed to "Morningside Crescent").[10] In one episode, recorded in Luton, panellists named locations as far afield as the Place de l'Étoile in Paris, Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg, and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. However, a move to Luton High Street was ruled invalid for being too remote. In other episodes, an attempt was supposedly made to expand the territory to Manhattan (via Heathrow and JFK) but there was some disagreement as to whether or not the New York City Subway system was suited to the game. References have been made in various episodes of ISIHAC to international versions of the game, including "Mornington Croissant", supposedly based on the Paris Metro, and "Mornington Peninsula", the Australian variant. At least one full game of Mornington Croissant was played on air.

Lyttelton joked that the game predated the London Underground. "Tudor Court Rules" were described as "A version of the game formally adopted by Henry VIII and played by Shakespeare. At this time, the underground was far smaller than at present, and so the playing area also was more restricted, primarily due to plague."

Those who asked for the rules were told "NF Stovold’s Mornington Crescent: Rules and Origins" was out of print. They were also advised that "your local bookshop might have a copy of The Little Book of Mornington Crescent by Tim, Graeme, Barry and Humph."

On one occasion, a "famous actor" purportedly came on to participate in the round but Mornington Crescent was declared at the third move before he had a chance to speak, with the chairman apologising (some sources say to Mr. Connery) but just stating that it these kinds of things happen sometimes. The BBC received over two thousand complaints for the ill-treatment of the actor, who of course was not actually at the recording at all.[citation needed]

Further popularity[edit]

Finchley Central and Mornington Crescent became popular in the United Kingdom as a play-by-mail pastime, and in the 1980s were played by post in a number of play-by-mail magazines. One format involved a series of elimination rounds, with everyone except the winner of the current round going forward onto the next. Mornington Crescent is now played widely online, in the spirit of the radio series. Games are played by fans on Usenet, in diverse web forums,[11][12][13] and on the London Underground itself. A Facebook application has also been produced.[14]

When Mornington Crescent tube station was reopened in 1998 after six years of closure for lift repairs, London Transport invited the Clue team to perform an opening ceremony. A memorial plaque to the late Willie Rushton, one of the show's longest-serving panelists, was installed at the station in 2002.

Spin-offs and publications[edit]

During the early 1980s, Radio 4 broadcast a special programme, Everyman's Guide to Mornington Crescent, a "two-part documentary" on the history of the game and its rules, presented by Raymond Baxter. At the end of part one (concentrating on the history), it was announced that part two (about the rules) had been postponed due to "scheduling difficulties".

Another documentary was broadcast on Christmas Eve 2005. It was named In Search of Mornington Crescent, and narrated by Andrew Marr.[15] This has since also been released on a BBC Audiobook CD.

Two books of rules and history have been published, The Little Book of Mornington Crescent (2001; ISBN 0-7528-1864-3), by Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Barry Cryer and Humphrey Lyttelton, and Stovold's Mornington Crescent Almanac (2001; ISBN 0-7528-4815-1), by Graeme Garden.

A board game (of sorts) variant has been developed by web developer Kevan Davis and its rules are available on his website.[16]

Cultural references[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Elizabeth Knowles, ed. (2006). "Mornington Crescent". A Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Oxford University Press. 
  2. ^ Pye, Annie (1995). "Strategy through Dialogue and Doing: A game of 'Mornington Crescent'?". Management Learning 26 (4): 445–462. doi:10.1177/135050769502600403. 
  3. ^ Vertesi, Janet (2008). "Mind the Gap: The London Underground Map and Users' Representations of Urban Space". Social Studies of Science 38 (1): 7–33. doi:10.1177/0306312707084153. 
  4. ^ Hendy, David (2007). Life On Air: A History of Radio Four. OUP Oxford. p. 188. 
  5. ^ The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The Original Radio Scripts, Pan Publishing. ISBN 0-330-41957-9
  6. ^ Loose Ends, BBC Radio 4, Saturday 22 March 2008
  7. ^ Radio 4 Today programme interview.
  8. ^ Hoggart, Simon (May 3, 2008). "Simon Hoggart's Week". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-05-18. 
  9. ^ Beck, Anatole; David Fowler (Spring 1969). "A Pandora's Box of non-games". Manifold (Warwick Mathematics Institute) (3): 31–34. 
  10. ^ I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, BBC Radio Collection #2, Volume 6. ISBN 978-0-563-49484-3
  11. ^ "Orange MC". 
  12. ^ "Improbable Island Enquirer". 
  13. ^ "Mornington Crescent In Outer Space". 
  14. ^ "Facebook Mornington Crescent". Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  15. ^ "BBC – Radio 4 – Comedy and Quizzes – In Search of Mornington Crescent". Retrieved 2006-11-12. 
  16. ^ Davis, Kevan. "kevan.org". Retrieved 10 March 2014. 

External links[edit]