It’s great to see Gresley’s Flying Scotsman back on the rails this week – and in the news – following restoration. Spare a thought for Sir William McAlpine, who rescued the engine from San Francisco where she was stranded after a financially ruinous US tour in the 70s.
McAlpine, patron of the Gresley Society, liked the original Sir Nigel Gresley and Mallard statue design and in the summer urged the Gresley Society trustees to reconsider their decision to remove the mallard.
McAlpine (pictured, centre) said, in a letter to Chairman David McIntosh:
I was attracted by the statue with the duck, when it was first shown in the press. I thought it was interesting and appropriate as did many, who saw it.
The duck would attract attention to the statue, which presumably was what it was intended to do. I still think so.
The Godfrey brothers ….no doubt wish to show respect for the Great Man, but I think they have missed the point. The duck shows him as human and with interests other than railways.
Future generations will not know who Sir Nigel Gresley was, but would ask about the duck and would discover what he achieved.
But the Gresley Society trustees refuse to change their minds. Rather than heed the views of Sir William, one of heritage railway’s best loved and most respected figures, they will only listen to Sir Nigel’s grandsons.
Grandson senior, Tim Godfrey, is quoted in the press this week talking about the return of Flying Scotsman:
I’m really glad it is going to be running once more; it is about time, it’s taken long enough.
The Independent ran a story about the statue a couple of months ago, and an online poll. 94% of over 4,000 voters to date want the mallard on the statue.
Here’s a comment from the poll (which is still taking votes):
If they take the duck away, it will just be a statue of some old guy in a suit. There’s hundreds of them just in London, almost nobody will even notice it.
If they keep the duck, people will notice the statue. Then people will read the plaque to learn why there’s a statue of a duck; which means they will learn about Sir Nigel Gresley and his work. Plus, if he didn’t want to be associated with ducks, he shouldn’t have called his super-fast steam train the Mallard!
The great statue debate kicked off in March 2015 with a phone-in on BBC Radio London. The host, Vanessa Feltz, fielded call after call in favour of reinstating the mallard to Sir Nigel’s statue, and, saying she wasn’t supposed to take sides, was clearly baffled by the Gresley Society’s decision to remove the duck:
Which is the statue that you are going to take your grandchildren to see; which is the statue that you will make a pilgrimage to see; which is the statue that you will take a picture of yourself next to: the one with the duck or the one without it?
I’m 100% pro-duck.
Vanessa Feltz, BBC London 31.3.15
At a recent An Evening With Michael Portillo, the last question of the night was along the lines of ‘what do you make of all the fuss about the Gresley statue?’ He told the Bury St Edmunds audience:
Gresley was a fan of waterfowl; his most famous locomotive was named after a mallard. I think it’s entirely appropriate to have the mallard on the statue.
Portillo met sculptor Hazel Reeves in the summer, and saw the Sir Nigel Gresley and Mallard maquette.
Photo: Ed Sepple
The Gresley Society trustees, worried perhaps that the AGM earlier this month would be packed out with placard-waving ‘unbalanced duck fanatics’ decided at some point that the meeting would be for members only. They didn’t actually mention this fact (which is a change from previous years) in the notices for the meeting, in the Gresley Observer (the Society’s magazine), or on the GS website. One member had travelled from Gloucestershire with his wife to attend the meeting with her: she was singled out at the start of the meeting and asked to leave the room.
One new, partially-sighted member, wanting to bring his friend with him from Yorkshire, wrote to Membership Secretary Chris Nettleton prior to the meeting, thus:
I note that according to the website, meetings are ‘open’. Presumably if I’m not able to travel to the AGM with another or other members, would it be possible to travel with a friend who, because of my eyesight problem, helps me find my way whenever he can? He’s obviously not a member but is an engineer who knows about Sir Nigel Gresley and his achievements. I’ve told him about the AGM and he’s quite keen to attend if possible. I’m sure he could be persuaded to join the society.
Mr Nettleton replied as follows:
It may seem harsh, but as the forthcoming AGM may only be attended by members, Council regret your friend would not be permitted to enter the room. I am confident a fellow member (or myself) would assist you from the entrance to your seat. Your friend is welcome to attend the presentation by Paul Chancellor, after the AGM business has been completed.
Not sure ‘harsh’ is the right word here!
Here’s a Railway Magazine leader by Nigel Devereux from April that’s worth revisiting:
To a child, one statue looks very much like another, so when the Gresley Society Trust succeeded in persuading the authorities to let it place a sculpture of LNER chief mechanical engineer Sir Nigel Gresley on the concourse at King’s Cross, something was needed to make it stand out from the crowd and appeal to the many children who would pass it during the ensuing generations.
Knowing that the great man will forever be associated with his world-record breaking A4 Mallard, the trust’s members came up with the idea of placing a mallard duck down at his feet. This, it was felt, would encourage children to go over to the statue and perhaps ask their parents to explain what the bird was doing there. The parents would then use their smartphones to scan a QR code on a plaque on the wall and, hey presto, another young citizen is aware of the Gresley story.
However, the trust has now reluctantly had to tell the sculptress to leave the duck off… because Sir Nigel’s two grandsons don’t consider it to be appropriate. What a shame!
Their decision is all the more difficult to fathom given the fact that their grandfather was a keen ornithologist!
In its ‘management’ of the statue debacle, the Gresley Society Council (its committee of trustees) has given a master class in how not to do things. The once highly respected charity is a ‘laughing stock’, according to Steam Railway’s David Wilcock, whose trustees have ‘lost the plot‘.
It would be a great pity if all we have learnt over the past few months were to be forgotten. So as a service to authoritarian regimes, juntas, secret societies and old boys’ networks the world over, we bring you the Gresley Society Guide to Running a Charity (as told to @gresleyduck)
Here’s the first extract:
4.2 Public relations.
If you have plenty of money in the bank, like we do, there is absolutely no need to bother with public relations. It’s just not important what anybody thinks of the charity, and you should take every opportunity to make this point.
For example, in 2015 our chairman successfully insulted thousands of people, in a sustained campaign against anyone who disagreed with our unpopular decision to remove the mallard from Sir Nigel Gresley’s statue. A few of our members resigned as a result, but the sort of person who would resign on a point of principle really isn’t suited to membership anyway and it’s best to be rid of them.
We have found it is good to repeat a catchy phrase when describing those who disagree with you – in our case “unbalanced duck fanatics” worked well to draw attention and to highlight the strength of our argument.
The (aptly named) BBC1 programme Pointless this week had a round on ‘famous Nigels’. Sir Nigel Gresley was easily the most obscure Nigel – only 5 out of 100 people said they had heard of him.
How many more people have heard of Mallard? When BBC Newcastle did a feature on the statue story recently they carried out a straw poll to find out how much ‘people in the North East’ know about Gresley (including customers of the city’s Flying Scotsman pub).
Nobody had heard of Gresley, but about half had heard of Mallard.
So, against all the evidence, the Gresley Society trustees insist that Sir Nigel is so famous that people will see the statue and instantly know – and care – who it depicts. They won’t. That’s why Gresley needs the symbolic mallard at his feet.
What on earth is preventing the trustees from seeing sense? They have taken this peculiar stance – which is completely at odds with public opinion and the views of respected figures in the railway preservation movement. Why?
Gresley is pictured here (second from right) on the footplate of Flying Scotsman. Doubtless you, GresleyDuck reader, recognise him – but would the average King’s Cross commuter?
According to the Government’s guidance for charities, the aim of the Annual General Meeting is to provide the trustees the opportunity to explain their management of the charity to the members. It also “provides the members of the charity with an opportunity to ask questions before voting on business items on the agenda”.
Unfortunately the Gresley Society trustees weren’t in the mood for answering our questions at their recent AGM, which was a shame, because there were a number of things we were keen to ask. 105 things actually.
Q86. A straw poll for BBC Radio Newcastle ascertained that nobody knew who Sir Nigel Gresley was. By contrast 50% knew what Mallard was. What does this tell you about the value of a mallard on the statue?
People who believe the mallard should be reinstated to the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley include:
- Sir William McAlpine
- Michael Portillo (pictured with sculptor Hazel Reeves)
- Jeremy Vine
- Vanessa Feltz
Leading railway magazine editors:
- Robin Jones (Heritage Railway)
- Nigel Harris (RAIL magazine)
- David Wilcock (Steam Railway, Founding Editor)
- Nick Pygott (formerly Railway magazine)
Best-selling railway authors:
- Don Hale OBE
- Michael Williams (pictured)
- Christian Wolmar
- Richard Derry
- Colin Boocock
Top railway artists:
- Malcolm Root FGRA
- Philip D. Hawkins FGRA
- Jonathan Clay GRA
- Matthew Cousins GRA
Leading figures in heritage railway including:
- Andrew Scott, former Director of National Railway Museum
- John Scott-Morgan, founder of the British Overseas Railways Historical Trust
- Julian Birley BEM, Chairman of The North Norfolk Railway & The Bala Lake Railway Trust (pictured)
- Ian Atkinson, former MD Steamtown Carnforth
- Carole Cuneo, Cuneo Society President