Mornington CrescentMornington Crescent is a street in Camden Town in north London, which gives its name to a nearby station on the London Underground's Northern Line. The station was closed for most of the 1990s for essential rebuilding work, and was reopened in 1998 by Humphrey Lyttelton. For many years it was open only on weekdays, and before 1966 many trains passed through without stopping. Since its 1998 reopening these limitations have now been removed in an attempt to relieve the pressure on the increasingly busy Camden Town station.
The street also features in the music hall song:
- "They made me a present of Mornington Crescent, and they threw it a brick at a time."
Mornington Crescent is also the name of a deliberately obscure game introduced by the BBC Radio 4 programme I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, in part as a parody of chess commentary.
Players successively name streets in Greater London or railway stations on the London Underground network. No player is disqualified and the first player to say "Mornington Crescent" wins. Although no player is disqualified, repeatedly saying the same station is disallowed, and players cannot move if they are in 'knip'.
During play, the panellists often invoke obscure but authoritative-sounding rules and names of gambits. These "rules" are randomly conceived and the more ludicrous sounding, the better. For example "we're stuck in a Dollis Hill loop", or "once Tooting Bec has been declared, this move is not allowed unless two or more players are in Knip."
The chair Humphrey Lyttelton often introduces variants and alternative rules, for example the French version ("Chateau d'Eau"), or the King Edward Rules. For a list see this I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue page
The game enjoys (or, possibly, suffers from) a culture of secrecy. Those in the know about the game enjoy pretending to others that all the rules are real, and that they really are in a rulebook. Of course the rules aren't real (perhaps the only rule is that panellists should be funny) and so the rulebook itself remains eternally elusive. Seasoned players encourage new-comers to watch a game for a few moments and they'll 'soon pick up the rules as you go along'. In an excessive form of this secrecy BBC Radio Four once broadcast the first of a 'two part documentary' on Mornington Crescent, which gave a history of the game through the ages. The promised second part, which would give an in-depth explanation of the rules, was naturally never broadcast.
Another part of the culture surrounding the game is the correspondence it generates from listeners: letters from Mrs. Trellis of North Wales, who is presumably fictional, and writes to express her bafflement by the game, are read out on the show.
For those who want to play the game of Mornington Crescent themselves, see the game of Mornington Crescent at York
Science fiction writer Michael Moorcock included a reference to the game in a comic book which he scripted, entitled Michael Moorcock's Multiverse. Since the comic was published in the US, the reference was clearly an in-joke for any British readers who happened to get hold of an imported copy.
In the 1980s postal gaming hobbyists invented a variant of Mornington Crescent for postal play. This is called Finchley Central and is essentially the same as the original except that 1) the target has been changed to Finchley Central for copyright reasons and 2) huffing is obviously impossible.