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Henry Charles Beck (4 June 1902 – 18 September 1974), known as Harry Beck, was an engineering draftsman best known for creating the present London Underground Tube map in 1931. Beck drew up the diagram in his spare time while working as an engineering draughtsman at the London Underground Signals Office. London Underground was initially sceptical of Beck's radical proposal — it was an uncommissioned spare-time project, and it was tentatively introduced to the public in a small pamphlet in 1933. It immediately became popular, and the Underground has used topological maps to illustrate the network ever since.

London Underground map

Before Beck

Prior to the Beck diagram, the various underground lines had been laid out geographically, often superimposed on a roadmap. This had the feature that centrally located, stations were very close together, and the out of town stations were spaced apart. From around 1908 a new type of 'map' appeared inside the train cars; it was a non-geographic linear diagram, in most cases a simple straight horizontal line, which equalized the distances between stations. By the late 1920s most Underground lines and some mainline (especially LNER) services displayed these, many of which had been drawn by George Dow. Some writers have postulated that these in part inspired Beck.

Beck's concept

But it was clearly Beck who had the idea of creating a full system map in colour. He believed that passengers riding the trains were not too bothered about the geographical accuracy, but were more interested in how to get from one station to another, and where to change. Thus he drew his famous diagram, looking more like an electrical schematic than a true map, on which all the stations were more or less equally spaced. Beck first submitted his idea to Frank Pick of London Underground in 1931, but it was considered too radical as it did not show distances relative from any one station to the others. After a successful trial production of 500 copies of Beck's map in 1932, the map was given its first full publication in 1933 (700,000 copies) and the reaction of the travelling customers proved it to be sound design; it immediately required a large reprint after only one month.


A physical anomaly is that the City Branch of the Northern Line actually passes to the west of Mornington Crescentmarker on the West End Branch; Beck's original map showed this correctly, but later versions show the City Branch to the east of Mornington Crescent.

The map after Beck

Beck continued to update the Tube map on a freelance basis, but the future Victoria Line was added in 1960 by the Publicity Officer, Harold Hutchison. Many other changes were also introduced to the map without Beck's approval.

Beck struggled furiously to regain control of the map, but responsibility for the map was eventually given to a third designer, Paul Garbutt. Garbutt changed the style of the map to look more like Beck's maps of the 1930s, and also introduced the "vacuum flask" shape for the Circle Line. Although Beck preferred this version to Hutchison's, he wasn't completely satisfied. He started to make a new map, based on both his earlier works and Garbutt's ideas. When this version too was rejected, despite its simplicity and ease of reading, Beck realized London Transport would never publish any map in his hand. Nevertheless he continued to make sketches and drawings for the map until his death.


1947, when he was not fully employed (having left London Transport) he began teaching typographics and colour design at the London School of Printing and Kindred Trades.

After long failing to acknowledge Beck's importance as the original designer of the Tube map, London Regional Transport finally created the Beck gallery at the London Transport Museummarker in the early 1990s, where his works can be seen. A commemorative plaque was put up at Finchley Central tube stationmarker. Beck's home at 60 Courthouse Road, Finchley was marked with a plaque by the Finchley Society in 2003. Since 2001, Transport for London has also started to credit Beck for the original idea on the modern Tube maps.

In March 2006, viewers of BBC2's The Culture Show and visitors to London's Design Museummarker voted Harry Beck's Tube map as their second-favourite British design of the 20th century in the Great British Design Quest. The winner was Concorde.

In January 2009, the Royal Mail issued a set of postage stamps celebrating British design classics, among them was the contemporary version of the London Underground diagram.


Beck's idea has been emulated by subway, bus and transit companies around the world and many urban rail and metro maps use his principles. His creative genius was featured on a BBC2 series called Map Man in 2004.

Other works

In 1938 he produced a diagram of the entire rail system of the London region (as far as St Albansmarker in the north, Ongarmarker in the north east, Romfordmarker in the east, Bromleymarker in the south east, Mitchammarker in the south, Hinchley Woodmarker in the south west, Ashford in the west, and Tringmarker in the north west). It included both the Underground and mainlines. It was not published at the time but was seen in Ken Garland's book, first published in 1994, and it took until 1973 until any official attempt was made to replicate a rail diagram for the entire London region.

Beck produced at least two versions of a diagram for the Paris Métro. The project which Beck was never commissioned to do, may have been begun, according to Ken Garland, as early as from before the start of World War II. A version dating from approximately 1946 is published in Garland's book. His second version is published for the first time in Ovenden's book about the Paris Metro (see below) and is on display at the London Transport Museummarker.


  1. Finchley Society Newsletter June 2003.
  2. [1]

Further reading

  • Ken Garland. Mr Beck's Underground Map. Harrow Weald, Middxmarker: Capital Transport, 1994. ISBN 1-85414-168-6.
  • Max Roberts. Underground maps after Beck. Harrow Weald, Middxmarker: Capital Transport, 2005. ISBN 1-85414-286-0
  • Mark Ovenden. Paris Metro Style in map and station design. Harrow Weald, Middxmarker: Capital Transport, 2008. ISBN 1-85414-322-0

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