Thursday, 2 July 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to the Father of Trainspotting, Ian Allan


Allan, who started his business career at the age of 20 with a one shilling book of locomotive engine numbers in 1942, sparked a 'trainspotting craze' and developed a portfolio of activities which, over the years, included publishing, book and model shops, travel agents, garages and hotels, has died at the age of 92.

What you possibly didn't know about Ian, that he :

* was born in Burgess Hill, Surrey at the Tudor founded, Christ's Hospital School in 1922, the son of Mary and George Allan, Clerk to the Governors, responsible for the administration of the funds of the Foundation.

* was a young, railway enthusiast with a model railway in the attic who made  regular visits to the signal box at Christ’s Hospital Station, whose education from the age of 11, was at the independent, Tudor founded, St Paul's School for Boys, Hammersmith, London, where Clement Freud and Nicholas Parsons, were in the year below him and at a time when his 'boyhood ambition was to be station master, Waterloo, graduating to general manager, Southern Railway'.

* in 1937, according to an article he wrote in the Guardian in 2004 : 'I lost my left leg when I was 15, during exercises with the Officer Training Corps', but his son, Paul, talking to BBC Radio Surrey in 2014, was of a different opinion and said that "he was a normal guy until the age of fifteen when he lost his leg. They found a carcinoma and took his leg off" and either way, as a railway enthusiast, Ian recalled :  'I did wonder how I was going to ride my bicycle to go and look at trains, but I was up, about and on my bike within six weeks.'

* in 1939, at the age of 17, having relinquished his ambition to run Waterloo Station : 'No general managership for me. They needed at least the two legs, they said', but with the still undaunted ambition to work for Southern Railways, started at Waterloo, as a 'Temporary Grade 5 Clerk' in the Office of the General Manager on 15 shillings a week, initially planning advertisements for excursions which stopped with the outbreak of the Second World War and was moved to the Publications Department, where he began to learn how to organise the print and production of the 'Southern Railway Magazine'.

* recalled in 1968 : "being the only person in the Department who had any interest, even knowledge of locomotives, it landed to my lot to handle all the enquiries we had to answer - details of locomotive names, numbers, dimensions and eventually, to save myself the work, I suppose, I suggested we produce a book."

* found that : "The Railway point of view was that their job was to run railways, not publish books. So I asked if they 'had any objections to producing it on my account ?' and they had no objections and so I produced my first book" having raised £50 for production costs in 1942, which sixteen pages long "hadn’t been hard to put together. I knew all the Southern engine details by heart.”

* placed a small classified advert in 'Railway World Magazine' and soon had 2,000, one shilling postal orders, which, after all expenses were paid, to his surprise, produced an unexpected profit and found that a reprint with the new title, 'The ABC of Southern Locomotives' authored by 'Ian Allan' and not 'I.Allan', in 1943, sold out within weeks and followed suit with books on the 'Big Four' Railway Companies : the 'Great Western', 'London, Midland Scottish' and 'London and North Eastern Railway.'

* lived for the duration of the War with his parents at East Lodge in the grounds of Christ's Hospital and when in London ryely remarked that he 'had to be careful at Waterloo, though, crossing the 650 volt tracks during the blackout; if I'd brushed the electric rail with my tin leg, that would have been the only bit left of the young Ian Allan ' at the same time, in order to keep up with orders for his books, enlisted friends, colleagues and neighbours to help with dispatch and extended into road transport with 'London Transport' covering trolley buses and buses, in addition to the Underground and saw the 20,000 print run sell out in days.

* saw the birth of 'trainspotting' : and later observed that it flourished during the War because : 'you could never, ever mistake a railway enthusiast for a spy. Railways have never been state secrets in Britain; we published our first guides during the Second World War. Spotters went everywhere at the time, taking numbers. On the continent they would have been arrested.'

* knew that, as a consequence of the new craze, significant numbers of children were going down to the tracks and sitting on bridges over tunnels, with the 'News Chronicle' newspaper in 1944 reporting : 'The rage among boys for collecting train numbers is "sweeping the country" according to a police inspector giving evidence at a Tamworth Juvenile Court, when several Birmingham lads were accused of railway trespass. "During the school holidays", he said, "as many as 200 boys at a time went to Tamworth from places as far away as Bristol and Crewe, because it was an important rail centre crossed by two main lines. They sometimes got out of hand and to relieve boredom, ran about the permanent way, putting pennies on the lines, which they afterwards collected as souvenirs."

* with his Department approached by the Railway Companies to come up with 'rules of behaviour', created 'Ian Allan Locospotters Club', with Mollie Franklin, who he married in 1947, acting as Secretary, which provided its members with a pencil, a book for recording engine numbers and a badge, with members signing a pledge 'not to interfere with railway working or trespass on railway property' and subsequently saw membership rise to 260,000 and told the News Chronicle that he was starting Spotters Clubs all over the country : "Girls are becoming as keen as boys and my correspondents range from boys of six to men of ninety."

* stated that the 'Raison d'etre' of the Club 'is to further interest in locomotive and general railway matters. It is also to try to make enthusiasts realise that interest in engines is not merely a matter of number taking, but something much more fascinating and enthralling. We all know there is something "alive" about steam locomotion; that it has individuality and even personality, but the whole field of railway is equally a hobby-timetabling, train operation, electric trains, dock, freight handling and a score of other subjects are well worth the trouble of "reading up".

* at the end of the War in 1945 and at the age of 23, was approached by the General Manager of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, Terry Holder, who asked him to help its post war relaunch with 'a big splash' and, as related by his son Paul : "Went up to the London Palladium, talked himself into the dressing room at the theatre, spent three hours talking to these two guys, drinking lots of scotch, which he didn't do. Came away, persuaded them they should help with the relaunch" and had a "wonderful photograph of the day with my Father and the Mayor of Romsey, Terry Holder and Laurel and Hardy. They came down for nothing."

* with his books attracting the attention of bookshops at railway stations and the book chain, W H Smiths, left Southern Railways, at the age of 23, founded 'Ian Allan Ltd Publishers' and took over a bomb-damaged office on Vauxhall Bridge, with his Father, George, installed as Financial Director.
*  in 1946 published his first magazine, 'Trains Illustrated', followed by : 'Locomotive Railway Magazine' and 'Railway World' and began to play a role in the organisation of  'Loco spotters’ Excursions' and two years later, with friends, bought 'Hastings Miniature Railway' and went there when he "felt the need for steam."

* in order to avoid the time and cost of commuting from his home in Staines to Waterloo, bought a building at Hampton Court in 1951 and relocated his offices there with profits reinvested in printing machinery operated in the basement which led to his creation of 'Ian Allan Printing Ltd' in 1955.

* in 1964, with the offices now too small, at the age of 42, bought some land at the end of the line at Shepperton Station with a view to building new offices for the company, now the 'Ian Allan Group,' and in order to furnish them with a grand board room, bought the 1921 Pullman carriage, ‘Malaga’, used by King George VI in his 1948 Royal Tour, had it lifted onto its own piece of track and constructed the offices around it.

*  maintained that he fell into the business of travel agency by 'serendipity - the happy circumstance of chance', having already opened an office for people to organise travel on 'Enthusiasts Tours' and handle enquiries to buy rail and bus tickets and having a safe full of Cunard Miscellaneous Service Orders for transatlantic travel, made the decision to open his first shop in 1964.

* saw the number of his shops rise to 34 and become a major Travel Agency chain in the South and West of England over the next 26 years, before he sold them to W.H.Smiths in 1988, by which time his son Paul was in the driving seat who said : "I was very much involved in the travel side of things and I felt the more professional way forward was the corporate market and that's where I steered the business."

* with his belief that : 'Railway enthusiasm is classless' in 1974 published a biography of 'Bill Hoole: Engineman Extraordinary' which 'sold jolly well', believing that : 'The great heroes of the steam age were not just legendary locomotive designers, nor great company bosses, but engine drivers like Bill Hoole, LNER/BR Eastern Region and held the post-war record for British steam, 112mph' and reflected 30 years later : 'Don't think anyone would be interested in the life of an engine driver today, unless he or she happened to be an off-duty mad axe murderer.'

* in 2004, at the age of 82 wrote : 'Now, in my eighties, I'm Chairman of the Great Cockcrow Railway, Surrey. All two miles of it. The tracks are 7.25 inches apart, but, all up, the trains weigh the mainline equivalent of 425 tonnes, and run at scale speeds of 70mph. It's a microcosm of the real thing. Except, our trains are always clean, and we haven't had an accident worth reporting since we opened 35 years ago.'

* warned : 'Never retire: it's the best way to get ill, depressed or drop off your perch prematurely. Engine drivers would, famously, die shortly after they collected their carriage clock. How could you go from the footplate of the Golden Arrow one week to moping about the house the next? I'm in the office at Shepperton five days a week. My sons run the Ian Allan Group these days, but I like to do my bit.'

* in 2012, at the age of 90, saw his company celebrate 70 years in the publishing business, during which time it had grown from a small producer of books for train enthusiasts and spotters to a dedicated transport publisher producing high quality illustrated titles on a range of largely transport related subjects.

* was convinced that : 'Trainspotting and religion go together like the number 4472 and the Flying Scotsman. I'm dedicated C of E ; come from a long line of clerics. . Eric Treacy, late Bishop of Wakefield, was one of the great railway photographers. His mitre used to hang in the palace hall alongside an oily engineman's cap.'

* believed that with the railways  : 'If there was anything like a Golden Age, it was between 1900 and 1920, before the car got into its stride' but remained optimistic about the future when he said :
 'Never put the mockers on the next generation. There may be better times around the corner. Who knows, we might even begin to learn to love our mainline railways again.'

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