Home > Art, Sculpture & Photography, Design, People, Things I Like..., Transport, Videos > The Blue Pullman : How to design a train, the Bill Mitchell way…

The Blue Pullman : How to design a train, the Bill Mitchell way…

A quick post to capture some thoughts on a fascinating conversation I had with my friends Bill & Joy Mitchell a week or so ago, and the barely believable story that Bill helped designed a train, and not just any old train. The famous Blue Pullman luxury train that set speed records between London & Manchester throughout the mid 1960’s and 70’s.

It all started apparently when Bill was approached by George Williams who at the time was the chief designer for British Rail. He asked if Bill would be interested in developing some full size mock ups for a 125mph train and a 250mph version. Bill decided that he was and after a fact finding trip up to Derby (the main fact uncovered being that there were hardly any drawings available to work from) set about finding a space big enough to make the mockups.

The answer was found in three sheds on the Woolwich Road where Bill and his team set about forming GRP into an engine unit and a carriage. He told me that the finished versions were in polished silver GRP and not blue, and that they looked very futuristic, shining like stainless steel bullets…

To get these huge things out of the studio once finished required the removal of an end wall to get them onto a lorry to take down to Marylebone Station, and it was at this point that Bill remembered someone had rung up the local police to tell them they’d been a train crash on the Woolwich Road, a story that apparently made the local papers..

As well as the overall shape of the train, including the instantly recognisable twin windowed front nose, Bill told me he designed the round cornered windows (versions of which are still used to this day), the little table lights, the adjustable seats (“borrowed” from a Russian train) the galley kitchen, the overhead parcel racks (“borrowed” from a VC10) a non touch lavatory flush system and all the door ironmongery. He also designed the individual inlaid timber panels at the end of each carriage, one of which can just about be seen on the above video at about 13 seconds, and another at the top of the image below…

When I asked how as an artist, he had managed to interpret and ensure compliance with all the design briefs, H&S standards and rules that I assumed must surely play a part in designing something as serious and potentially lethal as a diesel-electric train, Bill just said “No, we didn’t bother with any of that business, they just wanted something that looked good and wanted it quickly…”

If only it were that simple today…


  1. John Turner
    January 24, 2018 at 11:49

    This refers to your “Blue Pullman” article:

    Your lead image of the two Blue Pullman cars at Paddington is the joint copyright of Peter Brumby (the photographer) and me (the licensee), and yet neither of us have any record of approval having been given to you permitting the the use of this image.

    The only licensed use of this image can be found at: https://flic.kr/p/6KNQ7j

    We require an immediate apology and removal of the image from your blog, alternatively a non-negotiable reproduction fee of GBP50.00 is payable.

    Your comments would be appreciated.

    John Turner / Peter Brumby.

    • January 25, 2018 at 00:18

      Evening John
      Interesting approach you have to the internet….
      The image in question clearly has your name, date and the little copyright c, bottom right. I left it all on as I always do with other people’s stuff.. I am not sure what I need to apologise for?
      In my posts I never claim words or images that are not mine..
      I would be very reluctant to remove the image as it is a fine photo of the Blue Pullman and I believe illustrates the post about my friend and his involvement in the early days of this magnificent train very well.
      If you really are unable to allow me to keep the image (for which I will not be paying by the way) then I will simply swop it for another one, borrowed from somewhere else on the internet…
      Which would be a shame really, as my blog is proving quite successful with over 750,000 visitors.. Visitors that I’m sure enjoy seeing your excellent photo.
      I’ll leave it with you..

  2. Mike Smith
    September 6, 2019 at 00:25

    Hi Joe,
    Could you get in touch with me please at the email I’ve provided.
    I’m just finishing off a book on the Blue Pullman and would like to ask you a couple of things about the article and Bill Mitchell’s involvement.
    Regards Mike

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