Photo CC: by Matty Ring
A model of the InterCity 125 high speed train
This week I came across a documentary on YouTube that sparked my interest. Since watching it, I’ve done some research on the topic and found it incredibly interesting. (This might be a dry read to some, so kudos to you if you read it all the way through!) The documentary was on a company called British Rail, no longer in business but playing a huge part in England’s railroads throughout the better half of the 20th century. The company was founded in 1948, when the British government took control of the then “Big Four” railway companies throughout England: the Great Western Railway, the London Midland and Scottish Railway, the London and North Eastern Railway, and the Southern Railway. Steam locomotion was still in full swing in England throughout the 50’s and early 60’s, but it became a goal of the company in the 60’s to modernize and streamline its system, switching from steam to electric and diesel, and also closing thousands of miles of railway lines that weren’t turning a steady profit. However, by the time the 70’s and 80’s rolled around, the railway was in a sorry state. It’s lines weren’t maintained, and its locomotives and rolling stock were dirty, slow, and practically falling apart. It was because of this that it was highly unpopular with the general public, and as most of its revenue came from commuters, the company was losing money. On top of this, the company had to compete with the airline and auto industry. So in hopes of turning the company around, a businessman by the name of Peter Parker was hired as chairman of the railway board in 1976. He wanted to change the face of British Rail, so he, along with brilliant engineers, developed the country’s first high speed train, called the Inter-City 125, capable of traveling at 125 mph. However, despite this development, the company was still a joke. This new high speed train, along with the company’s new image, which was one of revitalizing the romance and luxury of train travel, needed to be sold to the public. This is where a man by the name of Peter Marsh came in. He was head of a highly successful advertising agency in Britain at the time, and utilized celebrities to promote their products. What he did was bring in a popular celebrity at the time, a man by the name of Jimmy Savile, a popular DJ. The campaign was centered around him, and was filmed riding the company’s new trains, talking them up, telling how he would prefer traveling by rail more than any other mode of transportation. He also highlighted the improvements the company has made, and also talked about how he believed in British rail, and how they were intent on modernization and customer service. The commercials also ended with a jingle: “this is the age of the train.” The “this is the age” portion was sung in an operatic style, while the “of the train” portion was spoken in a man’s voice. This campaign was an instant success. In the end, these men, Peter Parker, Peter Marsh, and Jimmy Savile, essentially turned the dying company around and made it profitable again. They also changed the country’s perspective of the company and on rail travel in general – an almost inconceivable feat. This was due to one thing, however, commercial advertising.
If you’ve somehow enjoyed this, then check out the documentary!