Was it difficult editing it down to just one book?
It was really difficult to edit down. But we knew this was about Transport design in all its contexts, from typography to uniforms, so I had to sample the best exemplars and put in information which was newly discovered. In the end we added thirty-two pages and refined the text many times to tighten it up.
Why do you think there’s been such a resurgence in interest in British Rail design recently? Is it mainly nostalgia, or is it something else?
The book determinedly avoids nostalgia. Nostalgia could not work, because the whole ethos of all the designers who worked for British Rail was modernity: not looking back. Yes, there are many people in their early fifties like me who remember, and want to access the design rather than the train numbers. There is also a generation around thirty years old who recognise the high-quality work undertaken across so many sectors of modern British design which were manifest on the railways.
What were the overriding factors which contributed to the success of British Rail’s overall design ethos?
From 1956 there was a very small team at British Railways who practised what we now call design management. It would not be encouraged now perhaps, but these mainly men knew each other in a small circle of emerging industrial designers, and shared the commissions. Some had been architects; some designed car bodies; some were experts at lettering design. The intensity of working in the period 1956-76 was extraordinary.
Do you think that Jane Priestman’s contribution has been somewhat overlooked?
Absolutely. Jane made her way in a world of male civil servants who, to a greater or lesser extent, felt they were railway-men. Jane was neither. Her recognition of the need for excellent commercial design upset some of the old guard. Her astute design management abilities were not always tempered with the sort of persuasion that entrenched colleagues could warm to. Jane's achievements with her team remain outstanding exemplars of transport design.