Modernising the Railways: British Rail, Marketing and People 1963-1997

Wednesday 8 July 2020

Lewis Smith

In the early 1960s, British Railways had a serious image problem: cars were making the railway look increasingly old fashioned and out of date and the general public (along with many politicians) thought that railways were grubby, unfashionable, slow and expensive. The railway needed a radical image change – this was captured as the Modernisation Plan, enacted in 1965, which sharpened the image of the railways to British Rail, with a sharp new logo, striking colours, brand new trains, and an emphasis on speed and efficiency.

This talk takes you through the history of the post-Beeching Railway and British Rail’s attempts to update their image. Through Wilson’s ‘White Heat’ of technology to Thatchers crusade of privatisation, advertising created the impression that the railways were ‘open to everyone’, but in reality reflected stagnant views about the nature of women and business. These advertisements frame how the image of clumsy modernisation in our railways today.