Video: How Jimmy Savile helped revive rail travel
Thirty years ago, a new high-speed train - the InterCity 125 - helped to save British Rail and secure its future together with an advertising campaign fronted by Sir Jimmy Savile.BBC News: How Jimmy Savile helped revive rail travel
The nationalised rail industry had been suffering from a financial crisis, industrial relations problems and a poor public image.
British Rail had energetic new boss Sir Peter Parker who was determined to revive the railways with the help of advertising executive Peter Marsh.
The new train was launched with the help of a memorable advertising campaign, fronted by Sir Jimmy Savile, which announced the 1980s would be the 'age of the train'.
Watch the video feature on the BBC News website below.
The 'Age of the Train' gets on track
In 1977, British Rail had an image problem. To many, it seemed an out-dated, under-funded institution, struggling to adapt to changes in the British way of life.
That year, BR chairman Sir Peter Parker decided to re-brand the railways.
He went to see legendary ad man Peter Marsh, who kept him waiting 15 minutes in the ad agency’s reception. Marsh greeted Sir Peter with the words: "Well, chairman, that’s just what a lot of your customers suffer every day!"
Marsh’s agency pitched Sir Peter a new ad campaign – "This is the Age of the Train".
Sir Peter said yes, and Britain’s nationalised railways had their final taste of glory.
It centred on the futuristic InterCity 125.
Now, we take it for granted. But, in its day, the 125 was the fastest train in the world, capable of reaching more than 125mph.
On key long-distance routes, old-style compartment trains were swept away, replaced by an open-plan carriages.
For some London workers, the 125s transformed their daily lives, turning towns and cities like Grantham, Peterborough and Bristol into homes for commuters.
By the end of the 1970s, BR’s high-speed trains could claim to be the biggest success story among Britain’s nationalised industries.
It seemed like a new era for the railways which, at long last, felt able to compete with road transport and airlines.
BR hoped that a new Channel tunnel would link their 125s with Europe, creating an environmentally-friendly high speed network across the continent.
Then, in 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. It looked like the end for the UK’s publicly-owned railways. But Mrs Thatcher backed away from radical change, deciding that tackling BR would be "one privatisation too far".
So BR InterCity survived for another 14 years.
Mrs Thatcher even approved the building of a Channel Tunnel – a key link in the high speed train network - which had been vetoed by the previous Labour government.
It wasn’t until 1993 that John Major finally privatised the railways.
In the past 20 years, other countries have taken high-speed rail technology further. But, in the UK, the age of the high speed train still isn’t over.
Some 125s are still running today – and the UK’s biggest transport projects of the next 10 years are due to be on the railways, including the new fast rail line from London to Birmingham.
Re-branding the railways
By the mid-1970s, British Rail had become the subject of complaints by customers. The public perception was that trains ran late, and were old-fashioned. The British Rail sandwich was a frequent butt of jokes from comedians.
After nationalisation in 1947, the railways had suffered from a lack of investment.
In the early 1960s, the Beeching cuts had dramatically reduced the rail network. The introduction of diesel trains had failed to recapture the romance of steam.
Many travellers – for business and leisure – were taking to the roads. Cars were becoming more affordable, and the motorway network was expanding.
For British Rail bosses, the launch of the InterCity 125 was a chance to change the image of the railways.
In 1977, advertising agency Allen, Brady and Marsh won the British Rail account after a pitch against rival agency Saatchi and Saatchi.
Peter Marsh won the account for his agency, and the "Age of the Train" campaign, featuring Jimmy Savile, ran from 1977-84.
They were selling a new vision of the railways. These were open-plan trains with electric sliding doors. The buffet cars even had microwaves.
Best of all, passengers could speed to their destinations in comfort, insulated from the stress of increasingly-congested roads.
Passenger numbers on inter-city routes increased dramatically. For the first time since the 1930s, rail travel in Britain began to feel glamorous and sophisticated.
Long-distance commuting started to become commonplace. Towns on the 125 routes attracted workers from London.
The launch of the InterCity 125 also coincided with the introduction of the Student Rail Card, which offered cut price travel to thousands of young people who were studying at the expanding numbers of universities and higher education establishments across the country.
So students could also get a taste of luxury train travel.
Throughout the 1980s, while other nationalised industries were being privatised, the InterCity 125 continued to be the flagship of publicly-owned British Rail.
Designing the train
Kenneth Grange was the designer of the new high speed 125 train and its interior.
His sophisticated approach to design involved complex aero-dynamic testing of the train in a wind tunnel.
Grange also drew inspiration for the look of the train from the sleek design of racing cars from the 1970s.
- Richard Taylor
- Executive Producer
- Nicola Addyman
- Executive Producer
- Tony Parker