London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

Our Politically Incorrect Taxi Driver - Part 1

29/01/2001, By Sean Farrell

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 14997 votes

A few years ago I was doing some work in an office for a cab trade organisation when I received a phone call from the Public Carriage Office. Now a phone call from these people can turn your average six-foot brick karsy (Editor: common name for a toilet, often also referred to as a shit house!) built cab driver into a quivering wreck.

The taxman once phoned me at another office that I had not been in for several months, wanting to know where his pound of flesh was.

I have no idea how they knew I would be there on that particular day, but they knew; and even that was not as intimidating as a phone call from “the Yard”.

The Yard is possibly a reference to Scotland Yard, as our licenses were issued from there at about the time Jack The Ripper was running rings round the police, the name seems to have stuck.

“Hello”, said the cheery voice. “Public Carriage Office here. Can I speak to Sean Farrell?”

I tried to think of a thousand and one excuses but none came to mind. The fact that I had been stuck in the office for several weeks and had not driven the cab in that time was of no consequence. Sheer panic clouded my thoughts.

“Speaking,” I replied, not without a slight shrill to my voice.

“Hello Sean, Bryan Phillips here, how are you?”

“Relieved” should have been my first answer, as Bryan was the big chief of the Public Carriage Office, and, if I was in trouble, it would have been one of his minions on the end of the line.

“I need a favour,” he went onto explain.

As much as I hate toadies and crawlers I jumped at the chance.

Next time one of his inspectors pull me up in the road and say something like “You’re right up shit street my son” (which one actually did), I’d be able to show my Get Out Of Jail Free card and tell them to go take a running jump (as if!).

The favour was all to do with a South Korean television crew, who were making a film about the making of a London cab driver, i.e. “The Knowledge”.

They had been in the Carriage Office all morning and although initially disappointed when they were told that they could not film a candidate during an examination, an examiner took the part of a student and they filmed a mock “appearance” as the ordeal is described.

There is no way, however, that they can re-create the sheer fright when you are sitting in front of a man who has your future in his hands.

An “appearance” then, although the format has changed slightly since, consisted of a number of questions.

These questions would consist of two points in London, an office block, restaurant, residential flats, theatre, alleyway etc and the would be cab driver would first have to identify the two points, by giving their location; he would then have to run the route.

The accepted format was to begin “leave on the left Oxford Street, left turn Regent Street, comply Piccadilly Circus and so on."

The route had to be the shortest distance between the two points, allowing for such quandaries as the Thames, parks and one way systems.

The fact that the average passenger wants to get across town the quickest way, and not the shortest way, is of no help to the would-be cab driver. He has to show he knows the shortest way.

Sean Farrell

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Re: Our Politically Incorrect Taxi Driver - Part 1

By Zoe 09/01/2005, (Rating: 2.9 from 13886 votes)

Hi Sean,

This is a bit off-topic but I wonder if you can help me - i understand you know a bit about Frederick Hitch? I wondered if there was any chance you could help me out, as i think he might be a distant relative of mine and i am compiling my family tree.


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Re: Our Politically Incorrect Taxi Driver - Part 1

By Sean Farrell 06/06/2007, (Rating: 2.9 from 13229 votes)

I've only just found this... where have I been the last two years? If you are still reading this Zoe contact me at

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