Frank Pick (1878 – 1941)

Frank Pick was the manager who created what was probably Europe`s best urban passenger transport network of the first half of the 20th century.

The son of a Congregationalist draper from Spalding, Lincolnshire, he read law at the University of London before joining the North Eastern Railway as a management trainee in 1902. He came to specialise in statistics, and in 1906 followed his general manager to London to work for the Underground Electric Railways Co, of which he became commercial manager in 1912 and managing director in 1928. When the various bus, tramway and underground railway concerns in the capital were merged under the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933, Pick became the Board`s Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Office.

Pick was responsible for many of the characteristic features of life in London. He introduced destination blinds on buses and concrete bus-stops with panels for the display of timetables. On the Underground he was responsible for the first escalators, for scientifically-designed bifurcation signs directing pedestrians alighting from trains, escalators or staircases, for freestanding seats bearing station names, and station signs on platform walls. He introduced automatic coin-operated ticket machines that gave change in 1928.

He enthusiastically commissioned posters from leading artists and attractive but hard-wearing upholstery fabrics from the best textile designers. In 1913-16 Edward Johnson (1872-1944) designed for him the typeface that, in a modified form, is still used by the Underground authorities. It was Johnson who in 1918 designed the red Underground symbol. In 1933 Pick commissioned Harry Beck (1903-74) to design the well-known diagrammatic map of the Underground, based on an electric circuit.

Pick drew much of his inspiration from his travels in Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, and the photographic collection in the University of Reading of the Council for the Protection of Rural England contains several snapshots bearing his name that he took of what he regarded as good practice in the design of public transport facilities in Dusseldorf and Amsterdam.

He advised authorities in several European cities, including Moscow, on the development of their public transport. His most lasting memorials in London are the Underground stations that he commissioned from the architect Charles Holden (1875-1960), many of which were inspired by the work of the Dutchman Willem Marinus Dudok (1884-1974) that both men had seen on their travels. Holden`s most distinctive stations were on the western and northern extensions of the Piccadilly Line, including Hangar Lane, Arnos Grove, Boston Manor and Southgate, the latter retaining many detailed features.  

Pick`s last major task was the organisation of the trains which evacuated children from London to the provinces at the outbreak of the Second World War. He was recruited to the wartime Ministry of Information but his career there was cut short by his death.

Pick disdained all kinds of honours, and is commemorated by a simple blue plaque on the house in which he lived at 16, Wildwood Road, Golders Green. In 1942 Sir Nikolaus Pevsner called him the greatest patron of the arts whom this century has so far produced in England, and, indeed, the ideal patron of our age`. Pick was one of the ablest and most enlightened public sector managers that Europe has known.