So it's better trains and a Virgin birth

There was a time when we saw that walking logo Richard Branson – key features a Viking beard and a woolly pully – on a daily basis. He'd be flying around in balloons, or dragging up for Virgin Bride, he'd be tsar of this for the Tories or that for New Labour. He'd be fighting for the lottery gig or telling young entrepreneurs that they should be turning Japanese. Insiders reckoned that RB's profile saved Virgin tens of millions in paid-for advertising and "communications" and helped it go on looking distinctive even when it was a middle-sized, middle-aged corporation.

But over the last two years Virgin has known sorrow, and there's been less of RB around. And it all started with trains. Where was the Virgin-ness on those trains? What single "hard" or "soft" factor distinguished them from the other operators or would lure a single passenger into travelling with them? Punctuality and price aside, the worst thing was the rolling stock. Like all the operators, it had bought a job lot of clapped-out old trains that made Virgin-watchers think it had stretched the brand into a sector where it was going to struggle to create that Virgin-added value. The one Virginish thing it did was to say the trains weren't its fault and it was ordering lovely new ones with all mod cons.

Years passed and nothing happened because everything in railway land was hell. But now here's a steward, a Patrick Kielty lookalike in burgundy H-list celebrity tone-on-tone kit, striding through white carriages past happy shiny people; no seat without an aircraft business-class range of buttons and read-outs, no passenger without a laptop or palm pilot. And as he goes it's action-movie music. We're on Air-Force One. Then we've got another purposeful steward grabbing the public address phone: "Is there a doctor on board?" There're a dozen, of course; this is a very nice class of train. Soon they're all clustered round the woman in labour, plugging this year's model of home delivery kit at the usefully available power point.

So there's light at the end of the tunnel and this is the age of the super-fast train. It's new beginnings, they say, new trains are rolling out across the country. It's a high-glam expensive-looking production, with 60-second slots, targeted at the macho managerials, the airport business-book crowd. But something's missing: you're expecting that lady passenger with the strangely bearded vulpine grin.

peter@sru.co.uk

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there