The Curious Popularity of Mackerel Questions
Jeremy Clarkson, Swindon Town and Tubewhacking
06 April 2015
Which is the only London Underground station that has no letters in common with the word mackerel?
Your response might be: Who Cares?
But bizarrely, a surprising number of people do care about this question (the answer is at the end of the blog). Ever since a group of Cambridge students came up with it after an evening in a pub about 30 years ago, the mackerel-tube question has been a meme that refuses to die. In a list of 150 "Fascinating Tube Facts" published in the Daily Telegraph in 2013, the existence of a non-mackerel tube station was the very first item in the list.
It's a bit of trivia that has appealed to some prominent people, too. Back in 1999, in a trailer for his short-lived BBC chat show, Jeremy Clarkson* (remember him?) announced: "And I will be revealing the underground station that has no letters that appear in the word mackerel" His viewers must have been baffled when he then failed to mention the question or the answer during the show itself.
Meanwhile Victoria Coren Mitchell has said that it is her all-time favourite trivia question, which is quite a claim given that she is in charge of Only Connect, the most cerebral TV trivia quiz ever.
Why has this question proved to be so popular? One reason is that the British seem to love trivia questions about the London Underground. Several such questions go back decades, for example:
(a) Which is the only station that contains all five vowels exactly once?
(b) Which tube station's name has six consecutive consonants?
(c) Which four underground stations begin with 'Q' ?
(Answers: (a) South Ealing (b) Knightsbridge and (c) Queensway, Queensbury, Queens Park & Kew Gardens - yes I know, that last one doesn't work when it's written down.)
The other reason for the popularity of the mackerel/tube question is the word mackerel itself, which people seem to find funny in a way that other three syllable words like, say, overalls or violin are not.
The original mackerel question spawned a series of others. I claim responsibility for one of them: Which is the only non-mackerel football club? (To this day, supporters of Swindon Town wonder how their club acquired this bizarre bit of trivia.)
The pastime of finding tube stations with mackerel-like properties has now acquired a name: Tubewhacking. Google that term and you'll find a website where you can confirm that Pimlico is the only underground station that shares none of its letters with Badger, while Balham is the only station that is unsullied by Kevin Pietersen. Be warned, Tubewhacking can be addictive, and you will never get those hours back.
And the answer to the original question? St John's Wood is the only non-mackerel tube station, though that is only because Saint always appears as St, and because Hoxton is on the London Overground but not the Underground.
* My thanks to Michael Perry for pointing out that, by freak coincidence, Jeremy Clarkson's name contains all of the letters of the word mackerel.