I Was Only Entertaining The Customers

In 1978 I became Area Manager Traincrews at Manchester Piccadilly and inherited many characters in the process, not least of whom was a senior conductor (Guard), who is still employed by a train operating company so let’s call him Mr Smith, a very dark shiny skinned gent of West Indian origin.

The Area Manager had advised me on taking up my appointment that complaints had been received concerning this person, and his habit of handing out religious tracts when collecting tickets, and suggested I pay him particular attention to ensure it did not occur again. I saw Mr Smith and warned him of the consequence of any further instances of this nature and in doing so found him to be a friendly person who radiated warmth and cheerfulness and it would be difficult not to like him and his beaming smile.

Some weeks later I received an irate phone call on from the Divisional Operating Superintendent (DOS) around 09.30, “Who is that idiot you have on the 08.30 Euston, the one playing a transistor radio over the PA system to the annoyance of first class passengers trying to work?” I said I did not know, would find out, and get back to him. “Do it right now and ring me back, immediately”.

I was not surprised when the Time Office confirmed my suspicions; yes it was Mr Smith. I rang the DOS with the information who immediately associated him with the earlier complaints concerning the religious tracts. He exploded, demanding that I interviewed him on his return, disciplined him and follow this up with a written final warning.

I met Mr Smith on his arrival back at Piccadilly and on seeing me on the platform his face lit up with that beaming smile and greeted me in his usual hearty manner. I asked, “What the hell have you been up to now?”. “What do you mean, boss” he replied “I have not given out any pamphlets since you told me not to”. “It’s not the pamphlets this time,” I said “It’s the playing of your transistor radio over the PA system to the annoyance of the passengers”. “Not me boss, I don’t have a transistor radio” he replied. “But the DOS who travelled on your train said that there was a radio playing over the PA system”. “No boss! Not anyone playing a radio”. He thought for a little while then said, “I know what it would be, it would be me playing my mouth organ, the passengers they like it, they never complain”.“You might have thought they liked it but they were a captive audience”. I did not want to be forced into a knee jerk reaction by the DOS so I told Mr Smith to give me a written report on the incident and walked away, hoping that he did not see me laughing. That night I told my wife about the incident and she could also see the funny side.

I was going on two weeks’ leave that Saturday and thought by asking for his report in writing it would put the incident into the system and may be on my return the heat would have gone out of it and a more relaxed view could be taken. I had no heart to comply with the Divisional Operating Superintendents specific instruction and issue a final warning, so before going on leave I put the report in my (too difficult basket) and told my deputy, much to his relief, to leave it there until I returned when I would decide on what action should be taken.

Returning from holiday in Interlaken and having travelled overnight we arrived at Euston in a somewhat dishevelled state just in time to catch 1200 Manchester to be greeted by the beaming smile of Mr Smith. Descending the concourse slope I said to my wife ”remember my telling you about the mouth organ incident, well that was the guard concerned”. We had just got seated when the train departed and the Mr Smith came to tell me that he had on board a TV camera crew and a female producer who were filming him undertaking his duties, and his singing to the passengers for a BBC Manchester local interest program.

As he collected tickets in our compartment he was pointing us out to the passengers and telling them that the boss and his wife were sitting lower down. We saw the producer hovering around and my wife insisted I went to the toilet and made myself more presentable by having a shave and tidying myself up. There must have been a lull in items of local news prompting them to film him and his exploits and I am pleased to say that the TV people only had eyes for the main turn, Mr Smith.

Returning to the office on Monday morning I could hardly wait to ring the DOS to acquaint him of my experience and discus with him the action he wanted taken in light of the latest developments. His outburst is unsuitable for publication but needless to say he left it to me to finalise as I thought appropriate.

Whilst I had always known that TV was a powerful medium, I never anticipated it influencing railway discipline procedures to the extent it did on this occasion.

Mr Smith transferred to Birmingham New Street just before I retired. Whether he still entertains the customers I have no idea, of one thing I am certain however, his cheery face and beaming smile will be lighting up some corner of the rail network.

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