Beck, Henry (Harry)
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Henry Charles Beck, known as Harry Beck, was born at 14 Wesley Road in Leyton on 4 June 1902. His parents were Joshua and Eleanor Louisa Beck.
During the 1920s, Beck worked as an engineering draughtsman at the London Underground Signals Office. In 1931, he proposed a radical new design to illustrate the rapidly expanding Underground system. The Underground Group's draughtsman, Fred Stingemore, had been finding it increasingly difficult to squeeze new lines and stations into his map. Beck could see that the network had become too big to represent geographically, and worked on a solution to the problem in his own time.
'Looking at an old map of the Underground railways', he said, 'it occurred to me that it might be possible to tidy it up by straightening the lines, experimenting with diagonals and evening out the distance between stations'.
Beck's solution was to map the network schematically, using a system based on electrical circuit diagrams. The Underground's publicity department initially rejected his proposal, thinking it too radical. However, after he made a series of modifications, the design was approved. A trial pocket version was published in 1933, just before the Underground became part of the London Passenger Transport Board.
On Beck's map, all lines were represented vertically, horizontally or at 45. Diamonds indicated interchange stations. Because this new system did not rely on street plans, the crowded central area could be enlarged to accommodate its many stations. Similarly, the outlying areas with fewer stations could be compressed. No streets were shown, only a schematic representation of the River Thames.
Beck continued to refine and update the map for London Transport until 1960, during which time he also designed a series of publicity posters.
In 1947 Beck took up teaching typographics and colour design at the London School of Printing and Kindred Trades. He continued teaching until his retirement. Beck died on 18 September 1974 in Southampton.
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