It was 1980 and a BBC director rang me one morning after hearing me enthuse about railways on a radio chat show. “I’m looking for presenters for a new series called Great Railway Journeys Of The World”, he said. “Like where ?” I asked. “Oh”, he said, ” Across India, America, Australia, the Zambesi.. ” I interrupted him very smartly “You’re on !” I gushed, with great excitement.
But he hadn’t quite finished. “Trouble is, they’ve all been taken, and there’s only one left”. “And where’s that ?” I asked. “London to Crewe”
Well it turned out to be a lot further than that – from London, via my home town and early trainspotting base, Sheffield, right up to the end of the network opposite the stunningly beautiful Isle of Skye.
In hindsight, my participation in the Great Railway Journeys turned out to be one of the best career moves I’ve made. It showed the BBC that I was not just a silly person from Monty Python but that I could present a documentary too. And seven years later, this led to them offering me Around The World In Eighty Days.
And, just for old times’ sake, I presented a second Great Railway Journey, round Ireland, from Derry to Kerry, in 1993. On the way, I celebrated my 50th birthday. And what better place to celebrate than Ireland in midsummer.
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