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Ernest Marples: The Shadow Behind Beeching

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The Inland Revenue was demanding that he pay back nearly 30 years’ back taxes on his residence in Eccleston Street, Belgravia, London, as well as Capital Gains Tax on his properties in Kensington. Nearly seventy car marques – including Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC – had bicycling beginnings. Following this initial work on the collection, additional material was donated to the Archives Centre in February 2020.

The closure of the Severn Valley Branch began before the creation of the BRB and the appointment of Beeching. On balance, it seems that Marples was a “bit dodgy” in his business dealings and had enormous conflicts of interest as M. The Beeching cuts, or "Beeching Axe" that followed resulted in the major closures for both stations and lines. Part political biography, part railway history this is the first book to examine the life of the man who appointed Doctor Richard Beeching to make recommendations on the future of British Railways. Marples Ridgway’s subsequent contracts included building power stations in England, a dam in Scotland, roads in Ethiopia and England and a port in Jamaica.

Following the scandalous “Profumo Affair”, Marples was caught up in the investigations which aimed to discover any wrongdoings in the upper echelons of the Conservative Party. It was he who introduced the 70mph speed limit in November 1965 in response to rising road fatalities.

I also didn’t like references and citations being placed throughout the text, rather than separately at the end or as footnotes, as this breaks up the reading too intrusively. Questionable business practices caused his 1975 flight to Monaco hotly pursued by the Inland Revenue. Except Labour only won a majority of four seats, but it was enough, and Ernest Marples at last left the Ministry of Transport to be replaced by Tom Fraser. By the end of the year Fraser was on the backbenches and in 1967 he quit politics altogether to become Chairman of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board.The real vilification of Ernest Marples did not really begin until the upsurge of rail use in the 21st century, when serious questions about the loss of rail capacity in the 1960s began to be asked by people who were not rail enthusiasts. This led to accusations of a conflict of interest in his subsequent responsibility for decisions on the relative merits of road and rail transport. I was interested to discover that the much-maligned Beeching never had the actual power to close railway lines, although this is what he is now associated with.

The diaries reported the transport minister's fetish for being whipped while dressed in women's clothing, as described in great detail by one of the prostitutes who had provided these services to Marples, and confirmed at the time by her detailed knowledge of the interior of Marples' home where the events took place. It shows that Beeching’s recommendations were a logical response to the financial situation and based upon evidence, although the methodology for gathering that evidence may have been questionable. This book gives quite a lot of Marples’ personal story but also goes into quite some depth on the background of the railways at this time. It’s very much a book by two authors with different styles: the first six chapters cover Marples’ life and career prior to his promotion to Transport Minister in 1959. In this role he oversaw the introduction of subscriber trunk dialling, the Atlantic cable and Premium Bonds.He was director of AHA International (London campus of the University of Oregon, now GEO London), 2004-14. His ribbon-cutting speech was probably considered twee even at the time, and it was certainly ignored. Marples lived a colourful life, and this excellent book tells the whole story – not just the Beeching/motorway episode, but the equally eventful periods either side.

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