13 Nov, 2013 @ 06:30
2 mins read

Michael Portillo misses the boat

algeciras gibraltar railway original timetable
Algeciras Gibraltar Railway original timetable

THERE he stood on top of the Rock, Bradshaw’s Guide in hand: Michael Portillo, resplendent in one of his signature Technicolor ensembles, talking to camera for his new series of Great Continental Railway Journeys.

With Spain spread out like a map below him, Portillo traced the route of Mr Henderson’s Railway from Ronda to Algeciras with his finger, telling 2.4 million viewers, “Early 20th century travellers would then have taken a saloon steamer across here to Gibraltar.”

Cue interview with a direct descendant of Captain Louis Lombard, the unsung Gibraltarian merchant ship owner who masterminded that vital sea link, without which Mr Henderson might never have built the railroad. It was a connection the Spanish didn’t want over their own dead bodies that’s super-topical today, given the current border debacles…

Former-Gibraltar-Mayor-Tony-Lombard
Tony Lombard

Did you miss that bit? So did I. What a shame not one of BBC2’s researchers looked up the good Captain’s great nephew, former Gibraltar Mayor Tony Lombard, who lives a cable car’s ride from where Mr Portillo was standing.

The railway may be named after its wealthy British financier, Sir Alexander Henderson; but it was Captain Lombard who brought the plan to fruition and persuaded Henderson to invest in it.

Portillo missed the boat on that one.

“I could have told Mr. Portillo a story or two, and shown him a rare 1909 timetable of the railway, printed whilst it was still privately owned,” said Tony Lombard, when I asked him how he felt about his great uncle’s story being shunted into the sidings yet again. “Sadly, the programme represented a missed opportunity by a team of professionals who should have known better, and that is a view shared by others.”

As Portillo began his journey in Madrid there was a lot of ground to cover and much of it probably ended up on the cutting room floor. But he might have mentioned that Mr Henderson’s great grandson, Lord Faringdon of Oxfordshire, flew to Spain this year with three generations of his family to ride the train for the first time. You can read the stories Portillo missed and download a Trip Planner to do the journey yourself on my website.

Captain Louis Lombard
Captain Louis Lombard

On the plus side, the aerial photography was amazing (that surreal view of Cordoba cathedral wedged into the Great Mosque like a cuckoo in the nest). Portillo was also memorable for his:

Sartorial elegance The dapper train buff dazzled with his rainbow wardrobe of jackets and shirts in shades that should never be seen together on a grown man: sky blue with baby pink, powder blue with lilac, lime green with cyclamen…

Classic remarks “So some poor politician has to make the decision,” commented the former politician on the government study into the closure of the Algeciras-to-Ronda line, and others, in Spain. Did the Beeb’s Politically Correct Department not tell him that, in the current climate, ‘poor’ is not the best adjective to use in connection with a Spanish politician?

Sense of priorities At the historic Reina Cristina Hotel in Algeciras, we saw Portillo signing in – but none of the rather more famous signatures (Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the King and Queen of Spain) displayed on brass plaques beside the reception desk.

Animal magnetism Britain’s former Defence Secretary ‘danced flamenco’ with an Andalusian thoroughbred for nearly five minutes of the programme. Oh well – he’s not the first ex-government minister, and he won’t be the last, to make a horse’s derrière of himself in public!

Algeciras Gibraltar Railway original timetable
Algeciras Gibraltar Railway original timetable

Belinda Beckett (Columnist)

Belinda Beckett is a qualified journalist and freelance writer based in the Campo de Gibraltar, specialising in travel & lifestyle features and humour columns.

3 Comments

  1. Well I couldn’t agree more that Portillo like most politicians is a horses derriere… That said he’s making up for his time as a far right reactionist under Thatcher by at least promoting some of the more charming (and tragically endangered) corners of Spain…..

  2. Only his father was a Republican Stuart. All six of his Spanish Portillo uncles were far right reactionaries, who wore Franco’s uniform during the civil war…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

text books
Previous Story

Civil war recipes published in modern format

george osborne aga c
Next Story

Hooker: George Osborne and Nigel Havers were clients of mine!

Latest from Belinda Beckett: Mistress of Sizzle

First Commercial Christmas Card

Requiem for the Christmas card

I DON’T know about you but I’ve got three solitary Christmas cards to display on my mantelpiece this Christmas. It’s nothing like ye old yuletide’s
malaga christmas lights

Christmas comes early in Spain

TINY turkeys, trimmed-down Xmas puds, Rule of Six-sized boxes of crackers … Mini-mas, as COVID  Christmas 2020 has pessimistically been coined, was shaping up to
Be More Bear

Bears do it

THE dental check-up, check. The farmacia for winter meds, check. The Gibraltar shop for Marmite, mint sauce and Coleman’s Mustard Powder, check. Six months supply
Go toTop

More From The Olive Press

Gibraltar Brexit treaty latest: Spain says ‘no deal’ until after the UK general election on July 4

Gibraltar Brexit treaty latest: Spain says ‘no deal’ until after the UK general election on July 4

SPAIN’S foreign minister, Jose Manuel Albares has ruled out closing

Fabian Picardo blasts Jacob Rees Mogg for ‘not even starting to understand’ the impact of Brexit on Gibraltar

CHIEF Minister Fabian Picardo has blasted right-wing Conservative MP Jacob