Mornington Crescent (game)

Mornington Crescent appears to have first made its appearance as a game featured in the BBC Radio 4 comedy panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. The game, whose rules are never explained, seems to satirize complicated strategy games, particularly the abstruse jargon involved in such games as contract bridge or chess.

A game consisted of each player in turn announcing a landmark or street, most often a tube station on the London Underground system; the winner was the first player to announce "Mornington Crescent", a station on the Northern Line.

The humour of the game, as depicted in the show, was that while its rules were invoked and argued on the show, they were never explained.

However, despite its early satirical presentation, Mornington Crescent has become quite popular and is currently played regularly both on and off-line.


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 1974-75 are still lost, Mornington Crescent makes no appearance before 1978 but was played in every surviving episode of the sixth series.

The originator of the game is not clear. One claim is that the game was invented by Geoffrey Perkins, and he has stated in an interview that Mornington Crescent was created as a non-game. According to chairman Humphrey Lyttelton, the game was invented to vex the series producer, who was unpopular with the panellists. One day the team were drinking when they heard him coming. "Quick," one said, "Let's invent a game with rules he'll never understand. Another story is that the game did have real rules when it was first broadcast, the joke being that the audience weren't told what they were. But these rules were abandoned in favour of merely pretending the game had rules.

Barry Cryer, on Radio 4's Today programme stated that Geoffery Perkins did not invent the game, which he said had been around since the sixties. In The Guardian dated 06/09/08, Bunny May, a contributor to the letters page, claims that he (along with John Junkin and David Clime) invented the game in 1970, in an actors' club on Shaftsbury Avenue called Gerry's, in order to infuriate and bemuse patrons whom they found boring or boorish.

Gameplay on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue

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 games and sports in which similarly circuitous systems have evolved. In general, Humphrey Lyttelton (Humph) would describe special rules to apply to that session. For example, 'Trumpington's Variations', or 'Tudor Court Rules'. This meant that almost every episode of Mornington Crescent introduced a variant.

Over time the destinations expanded beyond the Underground. ISIHAC was recorded around the United Kingdom, and the game was occasionally modified; such cases included a version in Slough, as well as one in Scotland played during the Edinburgh Fringe arts festival. In one game, recorded in Luton, moves ranged as far 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.

Lyttelton joked that the game predated the London Underground. 'Tudor Court Rules' were described as "A version of the game formerly 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."

Modern Gameplay

Although some might say that the game started as satire (not of an original Mornington Crescent game but of other complicated strategy games) the game undeniably exists now. Games are played by fans on Usenet, in diverse web forums, and on the London Underground. A Facebook application has also been produced.

Many specialized variations of the game have also been developed. For example, a lively ongoing game with occasional aviation references is played on the Professional Pilots' Rumour Network Many other games such as Cress have also evolved from variations on the game.


In the 1990s, Radio 4 broadcast a Christmas special: Mornington Crescent Explained, a "two-part documentary" on Mornington Crescent, part one being a history of the game and part two the rules. At the end of part one it was announced that part two had been postponed due to "scheduling difficulties".

Part two was eventually broadcast on Christmas Eve 2005. It was named "In Search of Mornington Crescent" and narrated by Andrew Marr.

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.

Cultural references

  • Item #101 of the 2005 University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt was for one player on each team to "participate in an email adaptation of the classic game Mornington Crescent", using the CTA rail system. Participants were warned, "We shall follow the standard Thurgood-Hamilton conversion algorithm, but banning semi-lateral shunts.
  • After the death of Willie Rushton, one of ISIHAC's long-time participants, in 1996, his life was commemorated by a blue plaque in the ticket office of Mornington Crescent Tube Station in 2002. ("Willie Rushton: Satirist")
  • In the alternate reality game Perplex City, card #140 in the blue hex set is entitled "Mornington Crescent". The puzzle is to determine the proper play based on stations in Perplex City. The card does not explain the rules, claiming that it would insult the player's intelligence. In fact, naming any station on the Perplex City tube map was acceptable.
  • The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks mentions the game as a creation of fictional company Wopuld Ltd., described as "a game based on the map of the London underground with a complicated double-level board".
  • Douglas Hofstadter, in his book Metamagical Themas, references a game called Finchley Central, as described by Anatole Beck and David Fowler. The game is identical to Mornington Crescent except for the named underground station. It is unclear which version is the original, but Hofstadter tellingly phrases his reference "… the game they call Finchley Central", perhaps indicating he already had heard of the Mornington Crescent version.
  • In the novel Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction by Sue Townsend, the protagonist writes to Radio 4 demanding a copy of the rules as he has trouble following the game.

See also


External links

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