Q: does Beck ever use a pick?

A: “If I break a fingernail, then I have to use a pick, but otherwise I never touch one.”

Pictured: the Yardbirds in 1966, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page on left.

Forgive my little diversion; the true subjects of this post are Harry Beck (1902-1974) and Frank Pick (1878-1941).

Frank Pick was the grandson of a farmer on one side, and a blacksmith and Wesleyan lay preacher on the other. Encouraged by his draper father, Frank graduated in law and was articled to a York solicitor, but did not apply for practice. Instead he became a British transport administrator, and was CEO and vice chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board from its creation in 1933 until 1940. He had a strong interest in design and its use in public life. Pick’s impact on the growth of London between the world wars led to him being likened to Baron Haussmann and to Robert Moses.

Pick was a strong supporter for the need for a green belt around the capital. His admiration for William Morris led him to adopt Morris’s favourite colour of green as his own, using green ink for the majority of his correspondence. He lived with his wife Mabel at Wildwood Road, Golders Green.

Frank Pick’s Wikipedia entry mentions his association with the typographer Edward Johnston in the development of the Underground Group’s posters and signage; also his association with the architect Charles Holden; and Pick’s involvement in the founding in 1915 of the Design and Industries Association.

Not mentioned is the technical draughtsman Henry Beck, who worked in the London Underground Signals Office and who, using his spare time, created the present London Underground Tube map in 1931. London Underground was initially sceptical of his radical proposal, an uncommissioned project, but tentatively introduced it to the public in a small pamphlet in 1933. It was immediately popular, and London Underground has used topological maps to illustrate the network ever since. Some sources report that Beck was never paid for the map, others that he was paid a fee of five or ten guineas.

After long failing to acknowledge Beck’s importance as the original designer of the Tube map, in the early 1990s London Regional Transport finally created the Beck Gallery, where his works are displayed, at the London Transport Museum. In March 2013, a blue plaque was unveiled on the house where Beck was born, in Wesley Road, Leyton, to mark the 80th anniversary of the Tube map.

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