It’s one of those things that’s been around so long it’s hard to imagine a time when it didn’t exist.
But, 30 years ago, train travel between the main cities of the country consisted of the chugging wheels and stuffy carriages we only see now in screen adaptations of everything from Sherlock Holmes to Harry Potter.
The InterCity 125 - the best of British...
And then it arrived, in a burst of glory. The Intercity 125, the vision of one man, British Rail chief, Peter Parker.
This programme was one of those best type of telly documentaries – the inside track (whoops) on a subject everyone knows a tiny bit about already, but illuminated by insiders – Sir Norman Fowler, then Transport Secretary - and enthusiasts who really know their stuff… step forward Peter Snow, with your very own Inter-City train track in your house. Sooo British.
We learnt how what casual non-spotters might have thought was just a train was in fact a triumph on many fronts. The Inter-City 125’s advanced technology brought trips between most of England’s major cities to a manageable 90 minutes, bringing new daily commuters from far beyond London’s traditional business walls.
These travellers could sit in comfort and feast on breakfasts, fry-ups dripping in eye-watering 1980s cholesterol. No touchy-feely bircher mueslis back then judging by the archive footage, so it was a relief to meet again one travelling trio alive and well in their reunion for this programme.
The InterCity 125 remains a stalwart of the track, 30 years later
I hadn’t realised the open-plan carriages we take for granted today were such a diversion from the norm. Evidently they made female passengers feel safer - all except Margaret Thatcher, who bemoaned the loss of privacy.
Ah, Mrs T, whose shadowy presence was felt throughout this programme, as she frowned on Peter Parker’s great train passion, and kept her hand hovering constantly over the privatisation button.
But somehow, the Inter-City 125 saw her off, as it did its great rival, the tilting Advanced Passenger Train, and the threat of strikes by rail-workers late on Parker’s watch, to remain the king of the track, a position it holds to this day.
Of course, the best thing about this whole ride down memory track was reliving one of the advertising world’s greatest decisions – to take a flaxen-haired pop presenter with a penchant for tracksuits and put him at the helm of the entire media campaign.
In a stunning triumph of branding, it was the sight of Jimmy Savile with a variety of haircuts but with his thumbs always aloft that persuaded us it really was “the age of the train”. Altogether now, cue choirboy…