After travelling the world by train, Chris Tarrant comes home to explire Britain’s railways
Why did you want to do the show?
Because I had done so much travelling with my other series Extreme Railways, and knew so much about railways from all over the world, I suddenly realised I knew nothing about the British ones.
What do you love about railways?
My great granddad was a railwayman.
They changed everybody’s lives in this country. Until railways, most people lived and died between 20 miles from where they were born. Fish and chips would have never got to Birmingham and Manchester, and people wouldn’t have holidayed by the seaside.
My great granddad was a railwayman
Why were they so influential during wartime?
They transported armaments and soldiers right up to the front.
A train brought my dad back in 1945 after he was blown up by a land mine; he was lucky to be alive. He never spoke about the war but he did say coming back on that train from Germany was the worst journey of his life, surrounded by injured and dying young men.
What did you discover whilst filming?
The Minister of Transport in 1959 was a guy called Ernest Marples. He opened the M1 motorway, which was the railways’; biggest competitor. What I found out was that he had a separate company called Marples Construction that built all the roads, so he kept commissioning more motorways and ignoring the trains, which consequently made him millions. Even Donald Trump wouldn’t get away with that now.
You drove the first train ever built…
I drove the Puffing Billy which went at five miles per hour. When it was first invented everyone was paranoid the train guard was going to be killed by the force of the wind because of its speed.
What’s the fastest train you have been on?
In Japan we travelled on the bullet trains which travel at 200 miles per hour, but they were so still that you didn’t spill your coffee, and they were silent. If we got these, it would change our country.
What’s next for you?
I am going to take a long holiday in the Caribbean. I am writing a book at the moment on heroes. It’s a knock-on from a book I wrote about my Dad.
You had a stroke on a plane in 2014 – has that impacted on your travelling?
It was very scary at the time, but once I had done my first load of physio I felt much stronger.
My wife suggested a short flight to Spain to ease me back into flying. When I returned to the airport it was very strange because the last time I was there was on a stretcher in an ambulance.
I just got on with it, and it was fine. It has not stopped me travelling – I’m very strong-minded.
The Railways That Built Britain with Chris Tarrant, Monday, 9pm, Channel 5