Tag Archives: the knowledge

Mr. Ormes’s parrot

This time of year many are nervously in the throes of examinations fever. It’s an annual ritual performed for generations. Today with nothing better I can think to write about I’ll return to being examined while studying ‘The Knowledge’. Unlike tests set by examining boards it was a rather fluid system with each Carriage Officer putting their own – and unique – interpretation on how the process should be conducted.

[U]ntil recently all appearances [exams] were held on a one-to-one oral confrontation with examiners putting their quirky slant on how the process should be conducted. A favourite ploy to test the mettle of candidates was to adopt the old practice of good cop/bad cop – well they were ex-police. Mr. Lippitt would be civility itself “Is your father in the trade?”/”Have you come far?” before giving you some apparently easy questions. Mr Ormes, his nemesis, would say on a subsequent appearance that your previous answers, with the implication that the questions were easy, were not up to his high standard.

John Mason Head of Transport for London’s Taxi and Private Hire recalls that examiners would place the chair in the appearance room facing the wrong direction so that the candidate was facing the wall and not the examiner, and would give an automatic fail to the student who dared to turn the chair around. I once was reprimanded for moving the chair closer to his desk when finding it positioned in the opposite corner of the room.

At an appearance you are given places in London [points] that you have to identify their exact location, if you give the correct answer you are invited to describe, road by road, the shortest route to be taken from one to the other. Dean Warrington who runs the WizAnn Knowledge School remembers one examiner who decided the start and end points of his questions by throwing darts into a map. Should the student feel this was unfair he would offer to let them throw the darts instead.

Another ploy was to be seemingly engrossed in some urgent paperwork leaving the hapless student waiting sweating wondering when (and what) the first question would be. As an alternative to that Robert Lordon recalls at View from the Mirror being asked a question in the corridor before even entering his office and on another occasion the examiner – Mr Ormes – walking so slow that he walked into his back and having to apologise for treading on his heels. The opposite would be the order of the day for Mr Price who one student recalls as putting his feet on the desk and proceeding to read a copy of The Sun.

Mr Ormes

A BBC Modern Times documentary focused on the climate of fear created by the examiners. And the most feared of all examiners was the aforementioned Mr Ormes who had a life size toy parrot sitting on its perch in his office. It was the stuff of legend that if the parrot was facing you Mr Ormes was in a bad mood. He was a lugubrious character with a bone-dry delivery, and in the documentary was seen asking one nervous candidate with a criminal record how to get to the Penal Reform Society.

He looked and sounded like a copper who had seen it all and didn’t believe your story. He once asked me The Adelphi Building to The Royal Society of Arts. When I queried that they were opposite each other on John Adam Street he replied: “It’s raining, I’m pregnant and I’ve got a wooden leg”.

When a Knowledge boy left his office he wouldn’t even remember his own name – a truly terrifying experience. “You can smell if people have what is needed”, Mr Ormes would say.

When I left Mr Ormes that day I couldn’t recall which way the parrot was facing either. Now the parrot has retired and now resides at another cabbie seat of learning the Knowledge Point School.

Fare grounds

Mirroring many traditional skills the cab trade is facing fierce competition, just as steel making and motor car manufacturing did in the 1980s the licensed London cabbie is under threat.

It is a sad fact that more than three times as many taxi drivers are over 70 years old as there are under 30 years old with an average age of 52 for London’s 25,000 Licensed Cab Drivers.

[O]lder drivers, research has shown, are 10 times less likely to work at night, with a consequence that since 2003 Private Hire companies have tripled in size at night time. This in turn has resulted in a huge over capacity of licensed cabs plying for hire during the day and the huge expansion of Addison Lee drivers filling shortfall during the night with under qualified drivers.

The benchmark qualification for driving a taxi in London is, of course, the coveted All London Green Badge of the London Cabbie, but the numbers coming into the trade to compete with Private Hire is diminishing.

The Knowledge of London was started 148 years ago and at any one time there are over 2,000 students undertaking the Knowledge of London of which for various reasons 75 per cent of the original intake will drop out.

They start by being given 320 routes (called ‘runs’), 80 of which must be completed within the first 6 months, when they return to be tested the pass mark is 60 per cent. At this stage students receive advice from the examiners. The remaining 240 runs need to be completed with 2 years including memorising the places (called ‘points) at either end of the run and in addition a written test has to be completed.

Generally speaking it still takes on average 40 months to gain a Green Badge, longer than it takes most students to earn an undergraduate degree from Oxford University, but while the time taken to earn a degree has remained the same, it’s not the same for The Knowledge. In 1970 The Knowledge took a mere 11 months.

During the period July 2000 to September 2003 the net increase of Licensed cabbies was only 1,429, this at a time when the numbers of Private Hire was exploding.

In a city on the cusp of seeing the white indigenous population overtaken by ‘ethnic minorities’ shockingly as late as 5 years ago 95 per cent of London’s Licensed Taxi Drivers were white. For Private Hire the split is probably the polar opposite.

Naturally those, like me, who have spent approximately 9,000 hours gaining their coveted badge don’t want The Knowledge dumbed down but other incentives should be considered:

  • CCTV installed in all cabs for better security, encouraging drivers to work nights;
  • A direct panic button similar to that installed on buses;
  • Police to be more pro-active in dealing with criminal behaviour committed against cabbies, instead of resorting to the old tired and tested “It’s a civil matter”;
  • More marshalled taxi ranks in central London and the encouraging of taxi sharing by the marshal;
  • Greater advertising of the plethora of ways a black cab can be booked (Hailo, Get Taxi and the main radio circuit’s apps);
  • Road shows and financial incentives to attract young applicants to undertake the Knowledge of London.

Should you need information about undertaking The Knowledge a CD and accompanying book is available.

The Knowledge Alphabet

Today we have a guest post from @knowledgeboy10 whose blog London Taxi Knowledge records his journey that starts with buying a scooter to hopefully receiving his Green Badge so he can work as an all London taxi driver.

He invites you to share his highs and lows on the Knowledge as he works his way through the 25,000 streets and learn every point [places] on them.

I thought I would write about something a bit different and slightly light hearted as I am getting very stressed about my progress so far, I’m half way through book two and seem to have hit a brick wall with my calling over, I just can’t remember the runs, so I’m having a week off to re-charge my batteries and I thought this would be fun . . .

[A]ppearances. The meeting with the examiners when we find out just how much we know or don’t as the case may be, the joy of sitting in front of someone feeling very stupid and hoping all out hard work shows through.

[B]lue Book. Our bible, all 320 runs in a nice little book this is what our lives now revolve around!!!!.

[C]alling Over. The bane of our lives, we love being out there doing the runs visiting the points but then we have to call over either the BB or P2P hate it really hate it lol

[D]edication. As Roy Castle used to sing, if you haven’t got it give up now it’s gonna take years to do, gonna take over your whole life nothing else will matter – if you’re not dedicated then may as well not start.

[E]x. Ex wives/girlfriends, unfortunately many of us Knowledge of London peeps can end up losing our partners as they can’t put up with what we have to go through – I hope it doesn’t happen to you!!!!!!

[F]ifty-six. The start of it the appearances, once the map test is out of the way the real fun begins!!!!!

[G]reen Badge. Why we’re doing this, the Holy Grail lol

[H]elmet. A Knowledge of London boys best friend for the times that you come off the bike due to Addison lee cutting you up!!!!

[I]mpossible/Inspiration. How the Knowledge of London feels and what you need to get through it.

[J]ob. Something most of us have to do to pay the bills while doing the Knowledge of London, a few lucky sods give up work but for the rest of us we have to fit in the Knowledge of London around it.

[K]nowledge Schools. Somewhere to go to meet other Knowledge of London peeps and get help and advice, or somewhere to go to find out you know a damn sight less than you thought you did!!!!

[L]ost. We all do it, don’t deny it one of the pleasures of doing the Knowledge of London.

[M]aps. Second only to our Blue Book we love our maps we study them, write on them and when I’ve finished the Knowledge of London I never want to see another map again in my life.

[N]ew Friends. One of the joys of the Knowledge of London is meeting new people who are doing it, they are the people we can talk to about it and they understand what we’re going through, and even when they pass out we’re pleased for them even though we are soooooo jealous.

[O]ver and Over and Over. What we do when we call runs, visit points EVERYTHING OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER and eventually it sinks in ( we hope)

[P]oints. What we have to learn, all of them, every single bloody last one (for those of you that don’t know a point is a place of public interest, on any road within a 6 mile radius of Charing Cross. Could be a hospital, church, shop, club police station or government building or anything else, and yes there are lots and lots and lots of them!!!)

[Q]uit. Out of every 10 people that start the Knowledge of London only 3/4 will get the Green Badge the rest quit. You can’t fail the Knowledge of London only quit it.

[R]ed-lined. What happens on appearances when you don’t get enough points, means you could go from 28’s back to 56’s happens to the very best of us.

[S]cooter. The Knowledge of London peeps best friend, what we use to take us around London in all sorts of weather and hopefully it doesn’t break down, I spend more time on my scooter than I do my missus!

[T]transport for London. The organisation responsible for putting us through this. Used to be the Carriage Office now TFL.

[U]nderstanding. What our Friends and family need to be while we have 3 years worth of mental breakdowns because we can’t remember whether it’s a right turn or a left turn.

[V]ictories. We have little ones everyday, we find a point we couldn’t or we finally work out how two roads link up, everyone of these is personal and no one else will understand just how great it feels when you get one.

[W]eather. Out on the scooter in the freezing cold or the pouring rain or when it’s boiling hot – we take on the weather and win because we are on the Knowledge of London.

[X] – XXXX. Pick any swear word you like, and you’ll say it a million times when you miss a turn, miss a point, come off your scooter or call over a run wrong, in fact if you don’t swear then you’re not doing the Knowledge of London right.

[Y] – Why? I ask myself this question everyday and it is a great motivator, we all have our reasons for doing the Knowledge of London, and we also ask ourselves why we put ourselves through it, but it’s worth it at the end.

[Z] – ZZzzzzz. Sleep, What we all seem to miss out on doing the Knowledge of London, and when we do finally go to sleep we’re thinking of the best lines to call or where a certain place is. How I wish for the days when I would fall asleep and just dream of me and the spice girls and a very large bottle of vodka.

I hope you enjoyed my light-hearted look at the alphabet, until next time stay safe and be lucky . . .

A little Knowledge

There are apocryphal tales of Knowledge students trying to learn about London from the top of a bus. Another tale has it that a student only studied the A-Z maps, but as the fictional Mr Burgess in Jack Rosenthal’s play ‘The Knowledge’ play said “You just have to get out and do the Bugger”.

In those days the guy sitting on a bus only knew about places along the bus routes, while the map reader, during examination said to turn right while crossing Blackfriars Viaduct little realising (because he hadn’t bothered to find out) that the two roads did not in fact intersect, but one was beneath the other.

Today’s modern technology has been of little help. Take Apple’s mapping released recently to help us as we travel around London.

Spot the difference

Guess which map to use?

Battersea Bridge

I think I’ll give Battersea Bridge a miss this time

Big Ben

Which clock is right on Big Ben?

London Eye

The London Eye has lost its spokes

Paddington station in Brisbane

Paddington Station in Brisbane


Clapham has acquired a new green park

Albert Bridge

After all that money spent refurbishing Albert Bridge all the superstructure has disappeared

Knowledgeable mnemonics


Knowledgeable mnemonics


By taking the first letters we have created:


The four streets that go from St. Leonard’s Terrace to South Kensington Junction – Walpole Street, Anderson Street, Sloane Avenue and Pelham Street.


Chelsea, Albert and Battersea Bridges.


The three respective roads they lead into said bridges – Chelsea Bridge Road, Oakley Street and Beaufort Street.


The following mnemonics can be used to help you remember the orders of certain London-based features.

We Have Water Below Moving Soft London Turds

Bridges across the Thames from west to east – Westminster, Hungerford, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Millennium, Southwark, London, Tower.

It was fortuitous that when they renamed the old Globe theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue to the Gielgud it didn’t spoil the mnemonic: Little Apples Grow Quickly Please; five theatres on the north side of Shaftesbury Avenue: Lyric, Apollo, Gielgud, Queens, Palace, and if you prefer, with a greengrocer’s apostrophe ‘s at the end you get the Shaftsbury Theatre.

Good For Dirty Women

Soho streets running north to south – Greek, Frith, Dean, Wardour.

London never admits court members bearing arms

The old gates of the City west to east Ludgate Newgate Aldersgate Cripplegate Moorgate Bishopsgate Aldgate.


The Dirty Dozen The twelve streets from Regent Street to Charing Cross Road that get you across Soho – well before they started CrossRail – Great Marlborough Street, Noel Street, Berwick Street, D’Arblay Street, Wardour Street, Hollen Street, Great Chapel Street, Fareham Street, Dean Street, Carlisle Street, Soho Square, Sutton Row.