Obituary: Robert Adley

Robert James Adley, politician and writer: born 2 March 1935; MP (Conservative) for Bristol North East 1970-74, Christchurch and Lymington 1974-83, Christchurch 1983-93; Chairman, Conservative Transport Committee 1991-93; Chairman, Select Committee on Transport 1992-93; books include British Steam in Cameracolour 1962-68 1979, In Search of Steam 1981, The Call of Steam 1982, In Praise of Steam 1985, Wheels 1987, Out of Steam 1990; married 1961 Jane Pople (two sons); died London 13 May 1993.

ROBERT ADLEY was one of the most endearing, enthusiastic, and idiosyncratic of men. He had a multitude of interests, but there is no better example of his individuality than his justifying his concern with Chinese politics on the grounds that the mainland Chinese government still ran steam-powered trains long after most of the rest of the world had gone over to the use of diesel fuel. Trains were his great passion, and he once observed that the only civilised form of transport was by rail.

Some years ago I happened to be passing an antiques shop in Fulham. In the front window I saw two delightful model steam engines. My home was just around the corner. When I got there I rang Adley. I had no expertise in the matter, but I told him that he might think it worth his while to have a look. The following day he rang to thank me: he had bought the model engines and proclaimed them to be perfect. Rail transport was his main passion, and it is fitting that when he died he was chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport. He never lost the zest of those little boys who sit in railway stations and collect train identification numbers.

Born in London in 1935, Robert Adley went to school at Falconbury and Uppingham. His was a reasonably wealthy family: his father was one of the founders of the employment agency Pearl & Dean. In later life, however, he abandoned his Jewish origins and was thereafter - alas somewhat stridently - opposed to Zionism.

Adley was always above all a rebel. Some of his critics accused him of an almost manic inconsistency in politics. When he entered the House of Commons as MP for Bristol North East in 1970 (having served as a councillor in Slough, and fought a hopeless parliamentary seat) he was an enthusiast for Edward Heath. In 1975 he was an enthusiast for Margaret Thatcher. Indeed, he entertained Conservatives who were in doubt as to whether they should vote for her in the leadership election of that year. He soon turned against her; and his last comment on her was to describe her as 'a fishwife from Finchley'. He was, however, strenuously on her side during the 1984 miners' strike, though, with equal passion, against her on proposals to privatise British Rail.

Nobody who knew Adley, however, could attribute his various changes of allegiance to ambition or frustration. He was very much sui generis. In 1968 he supported Enoch Powell on the matter of immigration. He then visited South Africa (at the invitation of the then government of that country), and promptly came out most strongly against apartheid. He was ever his own man. He made his judgements according to the merits of an issue as he saw it. But no Tory Whip approached Adley for a vote except in trepidation.

His manifold interests included Eastern Europe (and especially Hungary), the Middle East and Africa. But his first love remained, to the end, rail transport. He wrote a string of scholarly books on that subject, and illustrated them with his own photographs. The last of them, Countdown to 1968, on the last days of steam on British Rail, will be published in July.

Earlier I used the word 'enthusiastic' about him. Nobody, I believe, who spent more than a few minutes in his company could fail to be infected by that enthusiasm, or come away without a feeling that they had been in the company of a most loveable man.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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 People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits