Obituary: Alan Pegler OBE, businessman
Ebullient businessman Alan Pegler saved the Flying Scotsman locomotive from the scrapheap, but his enthusiasm for his beloved engine ultimately brought financial ruin. Maintaining the 120 tons of mighty machinery – and taking it on a glamour tour to North America in 1970 – lost him a family fortune.
Born: 16 April 1920, in London. Died: 18 March, 2012, in London, aged 91.
The Flying Scotsman, possibly the most famous steam locomotive in the world, was destined for the scrapheap in 1963. Built in 1923, it set a new world record within five years for the longest non-stop run by a steam engine over the 393 miles from London to Edinburgh; and in 1934, became the first engine to record 100mph.
Horrified that such a chunk of national heritage should be cut up, Pegler wrested the loco from a reluctant British Rail for £3,000, and then proceeded to lavish tens of thousands of pounds on her repair and upkeep.
In their heyday, with Pegler on the footplate in locoman’s jacket and greasetop cap, the Flying Scotsman covered every corner of the UK, visiting Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow and even such tiny stations as Locharbriggs on the long-forgotten branch line from Lockerbie to Dumfries. Pegler’s visits to Edinburgh were memorable: the giant loco in LNER green, whistling her way into Waverley, with a double tender carrying precious extra water over a system now completely dieselised.
In Edinburgh in 1968, I interviewed Alan Pegler, who along with the inevitable leggy lovely on his arm, capped our meeting in the North British Hotel by asking if I’d like to accept the offer of a spare footplate pass south.
For the next few hours, I hung on for dear life at 80mph on a rollicking swaying footplate, alighting at Newcastle, bearing the grime of an era that’s dead but won’t lie down.
In 1959, when the Flying Scotsman was still in BR ownership, Pegler squirreled himself aboard that same footplate. On a long ascent in Devon, he offered the driver £1 for every mile per hour over 50 he could coax out of her. Alan cheerfully parted with a tenner at the top.
Alan Francis Pegler was every inch the ultimate railway showman – but he blamed a chance encounter on a rail special in 1950 with the Scots peer Lord Northesk for his passion. Told by Northesk of a plan to reopen the tiny narrow-gauge Festiniog mountain railway in North Wales, Pegler turned up trumps twice – he assumed lead role in putting the Festiniog back into service (it vies with Caernarvon Castle for the title of biggest attraction in North Wales), and decided to run his own special train.
This was in 1952, and catering for the 480 top-end passengers aboard the luxury special required every knife and fork owned by BR Eastern Region. This escapade, plus his business experience combined with chairmanship of a now- successful Festiniog, caught the eye of BR, and he became a part-time board member.
As owner of the Flying Scotsman, he persuaded a reluctant BR to allow him to play at trains, and in the face of an all-UK steam ban, his beloved locomotive became the only steam engine allowed on BR tracks.
He persuaded his artist friend Terence Cuneo, the royal portraitist, to paint the Flying Scotsman on the Forth Bridge.
Only Pegler could have persuaded the then BR Scotland general manager W G Thorpe to allow the Flying Scotsman to occupy the bridge for three days.
Master of the grand gesture, Pegler conceived the notion in 1969 of taking the Flying Scotsman to the US to head an exhibition train promoting UK exports. However, the sponsor was killed in an air crash; water points were not always available; a driver failed to turn up at one point, and Pegler himself took the controls. Initial success was hit by a rash of rail restrictions, and eventually the Flying Scotsman was sidelined to a dockyard site in Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco.
Flat broke, Pegler worked his passage home by lecturing about trains and travel aboard an Atlantic liner. Shortly afterwards, he was made bankrupt, and from a large house complete with butler and Rolls-Royce, ended up in a room over a shop in Paddington.
The showman in Pegler almost relished the challenge and, buoyed by the success of his mid-Atlantic lecturing, bravely created a new life as a P&O cruise lecturer, mediaeval impersonator in the Tower of London, and tour guide on James Sherwood’s recreated Orient Express.
Alan Pegler was honoured far too late in years, when in 2006, at age of 86, he was made OBE.
Married four times, divorced and widowed twice, he is survived by a son and a daughter
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 12 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: East