Enjoy a trip down memory lane
In 1965, Burt Bacharach had a Top 5 hit with “Trains and Boats and Planes” and in 1967 Peter, Paul and Mary were riding high in the charts with “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, but was public transport then really worth making a song and dance about?
We travel back to the ’60s and ’70s to find out, so hop on board and enjoy the trip down memory lane.
In the ’60s travelling by train in Britain meant travelling on the nationalised British Railways rail system, rebranded in 1965 to become British Rail. By 1968, all steam locomotives had been replaced by diesel and electric engines, with only 1 narrow-gauge exception in Wales making train travel a less sooty affair, but not necessarily guaranteed to get you there any faster.
Roads were rapidly taking over from rail as the transport method of choice, leading to the shutdown of around a third of the existing network.
In 1976, the introduction of the Intercity 125 diesel-electric train saw many journey times shorten and upgrades to interiors made seating more comfortable. With passenger numbers in decline, you were pretty much guaranteed to get a seat back then. TV adverts promoted train travel with the sing-a-long slogan, “This is the age of the train”.
Here are a few things you may or may not miss about train travel in the ’60s and ’70s:
- Compartment seating
- Smoking compartments
- Windows that open (and opening the door through the window)
- Inter-City Savers fares (London to Birmingham £8 return, for example)
- Clunky tracks that made a safe return from the buffet car a virtual impossibility!
In the ’60s air travel was beginning to take over from sea travel but you could still travel to the continent by rail and boat on the Night Ferry, taking passengers from London to Paris.
The journey took 11 hours, competition from airlines saw the end of the Night Ferry in 1980.
The roll-on-roll-off Sealink car ferry service operated from 1970 into the ’80s, but cross-Channel journeys via Hovercraft also became possible in 1968. Passengers could “fly” over the Channel in as little as 30 minutes compared to 90 minutes on the ferry. There was little in the way of comfort en route however – the vibration rattled your fillings and getting a drink to your mouth was a challenge. The Princess Margaret and Princess Anne made their last “flights” in 2000, with the Chunnel taking over.
Other aspects of boat travel in the ’60s or ’70s you may or may not miss include:
- Not having to pay £200 to take your kids and your car on holiday to the Isle of Wight!
- The opening of the Skye Bridge in 1975 ended the days of a “bonnie boat” being the main mode of transport onto and off the island. Tip: for a nostalgic trip “over the sea to Skye”, try the 600m Glenelg to Skye ferry crossing. First operated in 1969, it’s the last of its kind.
The ’70s were an exciting time for air travel as Concorde took to the skies in 1976, cutting trans-Atlantic journey times down from 8 hours to 3 and a half.
A ticket on the inaugural flight from London to Bahrain cost £395 with first-class tickets on other airlines costing around £309 at the time, and by 1980 they cost £1000.
If you missed out on the experience of supersonic travel and the champagne, caviar canapes, and Havana cigars that went with it.
Here are a few other things you may or may not miss about standard air travel in the ’60s and ’70s:
- Noisy planes and lengthy take-offs that made everything rattle and shake
- Glamorous, unmarried stewardesses who had to abide by strict weight-to-height ratios
- Smoking or non-smoking seats
- Relaxed security
- Meals, drinks, headphones and a blanket; all part of the deal on long-haul flights.
No article on ’60s and ’70s travel in the UK would be complete without mentioning the National Express. Still going strong today, the intercity coach operator dominated the market in the ’70s and is now considered a “British institution”.
Prickly velvet seats have been replaced with leather seats and on-board entertainment such as free WiFi, and power sockets for phones & laptops. Hostesses no longer offer tea and sandwiches from a trolley – sandwiches they buttered and filled en route in the on-board kitchen which was essentially a tiny cupboard at the back.
As the Divine Comedy so bluntly put it in the 1999 hit single “National Express”, there were no strict weight-to-height ratios for hostesses to abide by…
“Mini-skirts were in style when she danced down the aisle, back in ’63, but it’s hard to get by when your arse is the size of a small country.”
Ah, those were the days, rumbling around without seatbelts and sweltering in traffic jams without air conditioning.
What are your travel memories of trains, boats, planes or any other mode of transport from back in the day?