BY THE age of 22, Tony Marchington owned his first steamroller. A decade later he headed a collection that included 25 traction engines, two ploughing engines, six steamrollers, the world’s first armoured road vehicle and a steam tugboat. At age 40, he bought the Flying Scotsman, the world’s most famous steam locomotive – and had plans to base her in Edinburgh.
Along the way he graduated three times from Oxford, and, with a doctorate under his belt, used his entrepreneurial skills to become a millionaire. But the cost of running the Flying Scotsman ultimately ruined him.
A large, characterful man who never appeared to the world less than bluff and bouncy, the immensely likeable (and intelligent) Tony Marchington fitted no ready-made pigeonhole. The same man whose showbiz flair saw the Flying Scotsman appearing on a low loader as the centrepiece of a fairground in Derbyshire with the owner brashly declaring to the crowd: “I’m saying to myself: ‘Marcho, you’ve arrived!’” was also someone who by 31 was marketing manager for ICI for South America. By 1986, he headed his own companies in intellectual property, drug discovery and biotechnology. His most famous business was Oxford Molecular Ltd, in which he was partnered by his one-time tutor Professor Graham Richards, and which at its height was worth £450 million. His many interests included medical diagnostics and development of breath analysis for screening of diabetes.
While at Oxford, Marchington became friends with Walter Hooper, last personal secretary to the writer CS Lewis. Their friendship and professional relationship prospered, with Marchington and Hooper sharing speaking engagements, and collaborating on the scholarly Through Joy and Beyond, the documentary life of C S Lewis.
Tony’s business nose ensured a stable contract for his beloved Flying Scotsman, the same locomotive which once daily hauled Edinburgh-London expresses, with the 130-ton engine regularly appearing at the head of the Pullman train of the Venice-Simplon Orient Express. In 2002, Marchington proposed grand plans that included a “Flying Scotsman Village” linked to the main line in Edinburgh, creating revenue from associated branding for Flying Scotsman plc, floated that same year.
Marchington bought the Flying Scotsman from previous owners Sir William McAlpine and Pete Waterman for £1.5 million in 1996.
To him, the engine was the jewel in his crown, and he considered it to be a “national treasure”, stating at the time: “It’s quite something to be remembered as the guy who saved the Flying Scotsman.” For the next seven years, he ran the engine at the head of touring trains all over the UK.
His visionary scheme for the most famous steam locomotive in the world included the creation of a “Flying Scotsman Village” in Edinburgh, with the locomotive and special carriages on display in between outings. But the scheme failed to gain approval from Edinburgh City Council.
The cold shoulder from Edinburgh plus an overhaul that proved to be wildly over budget bankrupted Marchington, a situation not helped by the purchase and sale of Bittern, a further mainline steam locomotive. The affair bore resonances of the financial ruination suffered by Alan Pegler, who originally bought the Flying Scotsman from British Rail in 1963, and famously overstretched himself in taking it on a North American rail tour.
The Flying Scotsman was effectively put up for sale, and after a high-profile campaign, was bought for the National Railway Museum in York. Marchington’s time with the locomotive was featured in two television documentaries, the BBC’s A Gambol On Steam and the Channel 4 programme A Steamy Affair.
Anthony Frank Marchington was ferociously intelligent and more. At the age of 16 in 1971, he passed his motorcycle test, having learned to ride on his father’s 1914 Bradbury motorbike.
He met his second wife Caroline after he and his father offered her a lift on their steam traction engine to the local pub. Alongside this was his time at Brasenose College, becoming fellow of St Edmund Hall, and being appointed honorary professor in entrepreneurship at the University of Derby.
“Marcho” took even bankruptcy in his stride, bouncing back as an after-dinner speaker, and as a lively leader of entrepreneurial sessions, generously sharing his knowledge of business experience with emerging growing companies.
Away from academia, business and steam, Marchington’s passion was freemasonry.
Initiated into Oxford-based Apollo University Lodge 357 in 1991, he went into the chair five years later, and at the time of his death was a Provincial Grand Steward and Assistant Provincial Grand Master for Oxfordshire.
Dr Marchington married twice, and is survived by his second wife Caroline, their two children, plus two children from the earlier marriage. GORDON CASELY