British Rail’s corporate identity, 50 years on

I’ve been thinking about corporate identity recently, following PayPal’s brand identity refresh. (Every organisation needs to update its look every now and again.) It’s exactly 50 years since the conception of one of Britain’s most far reaching and longest lasting brand identities: British Rail.

The new face of British Rail

The new face of British Rail

Back in 1964, Britain’s railways were changing. The traditional steam railway was being replaced by a new age of diesel and electric trains. British Railways wanted to create a clean, consistent, modern identity across its trains, stations and even ships. The new identity still looks modern half a century later, and the famous BR symbol is still with us almost 20 years after BR itself disappeared. (You don’t hear it called the arrow of indecision these days.)

Southern Railway S15 Barry scrapyard

Southern Railway and BR identities, Barry scrapyard 1982

The new BR identity scrapped the mock heraldic logos that it had used for its first 16 years – no longer would British trains feature lions. It even appeared on BR’s narrow gauge Vale of Rheidol steam engines well into the 1980s.

British Rail Sealink identity

British Rail’s identity goes to sea

Back in 1964, British Railways was much more than a railway. It ran hotels, cross channel ferries and the new identity applied across land and sea. The shortened name, British Rail, was quickly adopted although the longer title remained the official name to the very end under the British Railways Board, which was abolished in 2001.

Since Britain’s railways were privatised, our trains carry a bewildering array of liveries. The one unifying element is the famous 1964 arrow.

British Rail symbol

British Rail arrows

Note: thanks to Nick Job’s website for much background on the BR corporate identity, including pages from the original BR identity manuals. See also the late Brian Haresnape’s British Rail 1948 – 1978, a journey by design.

The return of the artisan

Around the time that Margaret Thatcher came to power, I learned a new word: artisan. My Cardiff High School history teacher, the excellent Dr Davies, explained that an artisan was a skilled manual worker. The question was prompted by Dr Davies’s lesson on the  reforms of Benjamin Disraeli’s first ministry, including the Artisans’ Dwellings Act 1875.

Little did I imagine back in 1979 that the word would become a marketing buzzword in the 21st century. Yet it has, as Kathryn Hughes examines in her column in today’s Guardian. As she puts it:

“The implication is that everything in these charming, gentle spaces has been done by hand, from scratch and on the premises. The coffee beans are ground to order, the soup was simmered in a battered old saucepan, and the cakes were made overnight in the basement kitchen. The interior design too hints towards “artisanal” without quite spelling it out. There are old refectory tables, chairs from an abandoned cricket pavilion and some mismatched crockery that came from someone’s granny.”

She draws parallels with William Morris’s arts and crafts movement of the 1870s (by coincidence the decade of that famous act of parliament). Morris was keen to improve the lives of workers. Yet few of those workers could afford the hand made furniture inspired by the movement. In much the same way, the new generation of artisanal products and shops carry a steep price tag.

I wonder if the coffee tastes better?

I owe you: talking about friendship debt

Mrs Moneypenny and Rob Skinner from PayPal talk friendship debt

Mrs Moneypenny and PayPal’s Rob Skinner talk about the money owed by friends

I teamed up today with Channel 4’s personal finance expert Mrs Moneypenny to talk about the awkwardness caused when friends don’t pay each other back. We chatted to radio stations across the UK – who found it struck a chord with listeners.

We were talking about PayPal’s survey which showed that Britons are owed an estimated £3.2 billion by family and friends at any one time. That’s £66 per person! It’s not just the cases when you actually hand over cash; these small loans also include the times when you buy a friend a meal, a coffee or takeaway.

A fifth of us would rather go short than ask for the money back. As Mrs Moneypenny put it, money is the last taboo. Many feel more comfortable talking about sex than money, especially when it comes to confronting a friend about a debt.

Help is at hand, in the form of technology. The survey showed that one person in seven is using their mobile to remind friends to repay them. That’s typically a text alert, but apps can be an even better reminder. I explained how you can use the PayPal app to prompt your pal to send you the money with just your mobile number or email address.

PS: Mrs Moneypenny has a new book out: Mrs Moneypenny’s Financial advice for independent women. One of her best tips today was to set aside an hour a week to sort out your finances. For example, when your car insurance comes up for renewal, get  quotes from other insurance companies to see if you can save some money.

Disclosure: I am PR director for PayPal, UK & Ireland

In praise of John Lewis customer service

I love John Lewis, the British department store. It’s always a delight to shop there, with its wide range of stock, attractive stores and superb customer service. And it’s so convenient to shop online at, paying with PayPal, then collect the goods at my local Waitrose.

I experienced that terrific customer service again today. I was distraught recently when my John Lewis messenger bag ripped (below) when it snagged on the side of the car seat. I’ve had the bag since Christmas 2012, and found it perfect for trips into London when I didn’t need my laptop – this bag has room for iPad, wallet, mobile phone and EE mifi. John Lewis in Watford swapped the faulty one for a new one without quibble despite the fact I didn’t have the receipt. No wonder John Lewis’s business results are so strong.

John Lewis messenger bag

John Lewis bag ripped – but no need to panic

Disclosure: I am head of PR for PayPal UK

Visibility: I see a buzzword

Visibility: not what it used to be

Visibility: not what it used to be

Once upon a time, if people didn’t know the answer to a question, they’d say they didn’t know the answer. Now, if they work in a big organisation, they’re just as likely to say, “I don’t have visibility about that.” They’ll say they’re sending an email so the recipient “has visibility”.

I first heard visibility used in this way in Rebekah Brooks’ evidence to the House of Commons media select committee hearing into the News of the World phone hacking scandal in 2011:

“One of the problems of this case has been our lack of visibility and what was seized at Glenn Mulcaire’s home. We have had zero visibility.”

Where did this nonsense come from? I have no idea, but I’m sure it follows the belief that jargon and buzzwords are more impressive than plain English. The truth is the opposite. Language like this deadens the senses. People use it without thinking.

Here’s my earlier post about jargon and buzz phrases. Sadly, ‘roadmap’ and ‘granularity’ remain as common in office language today as two years ago.

Why I’m cancelling the Guardian after 36 years

The Guardian: from print to pixels

The Guardian: from print to pixels

I’ve been reading The Guardian since 1978: the year the winter of discontent started and the first test tube baby was born. As a 1980s student I endured days when the paper never appeared because of strikes and days when photos were so badly printed they were impossible to discern. Today’s paper is a miracle in colour – and the writing is as glorious as ever – yet I’m cancelling my subscription.

But this is no act of infidelity. I’ve decided after two years that the Guardian’s iPad edition is perfect for me. I prefer pixels to print, at least during the working week. I can read the ‘paper’ at the breakfast table in San Francisco and Sirmione as well as at home in our Buckinghamshire village without looking for a newsagent. I don’t have to recycle yesterday’s paper. And my fingers don’t get mucky with newsprint.

I made the decision after weeks of never buying the print edition with my subscriber’s vouchers. Most days, I read the iPad edition over lunch at my desk at work, avoiding the queue at WH Smith for the printed paper.  I couldn’t see the point of spending almost £40 a month for the print subscription when I could get the digital version for around a quarter of the price.

I’ll still buy the printed Guardian on Saturdays. Weekends are different, and Karen and I enjoy sharing the weekend paper – I devour the opinions and sports sections, while she enjoys Family and Travel. (We both love the Weekend magazine.)

The Guardian is special. It stands out from the overwhelmingly authoritarian, right wing British national press. It has been a digital pioneer, although it was slow to introduce an iPad edition. Like many, I wonder how long it will maintain a print edition. Yet I’ve surprised myself. When I started reading the Guardian, Times and Telegraph on my iPad, I thought printed newspapers had a unique appeal that would endure. Now I’m not so sure.

Britain’s papers have embraced the iPad. The broadsheets have become pixel publishers, yet it’s not clear how much money they’re making from their digital editions. But there are two brutal truths: they cannot survive on print alone. And giving away content for free online threatens everything. It will be fascinating to see how this story develops over the next few years.

PS: my review of the very first Guardian iPad edition has stood the test of time. You can also read my post about The Times’ iPad edition.

The Telegraph's iPad front page

The Telegraph’s iPad front page

My lost iPad: Chiltern Railways come up trumps again

I left my iPad on a train last week. I had a very busy day and didn’t get the chance to report the loss to Chiltern Railways until I got to Dublin that evening.

The online lost property page suggested it would be at least 10 days before I heard whether it had been handed in. So imagine my delight when Kala from Chiltern called me ten minutes later to tell me they had it.

It was just the latest example of Chiltern Railways’ outstanding customer service culture. Kala told me her day finished at 7pm, but she decided to call me (at 7.30) when she saw my online report to give me the good news.

Thank you so much, Kala!


The iPad that Chiltern Railways found – the day I got it in 2010

It’s true: Apple is losing its way

I was sceptical when the first stories appeared claiming Apple was losing its way. Styling the modest improvements in the iPhone 5 as evidence of a company on the slide seemed overblown. Yet recent experiences suggest that Apple products are becoming unreliable – the curse that Apple fans have long attributed to Microsoft products.

Take the iLife suite. A bargain, as it comes with every Mac. But Apple hasn’t updated iLife for two and a half years – an eternity in the IT world. And many of the iLife apps are showing their age in frustrating fashion.

I loved emailing iPhoto images to Dad. But no matter how many tweaks I make, iPhoto has stopped emailing. No point checking email account settings – it just doesn’t work.

iPhoto won't email Photos any more

iPhoto won’t email photos any more

It’s a similar story in iMovie. Sometimes it will post movies to YouTube. Usually it won’t. It seems to be related to the Mac going to sleep during the upload.

This kind of frustration is par for the course with Microsoft, but Apple claims higher standards. But as the Maps fiasco showed, Apple’s attention to detail is failing. It doesn’t mean that Apple is in crisis, but it is a warning sign. Apple needs to pay more attention. Otherwise we’ll hesitate to pay premium prices for below premium products.

London Web Summit: Britain, the world’s internet capital

Quite an entrance: the London Web Summit

Quite an entrance: the London Web Summit

Friday’s London Web Summit in London was an eye-opener. The most striking contributor was Saul Klein from Index Ventures, a major UK tech investor. Klein pointed out that Britain has the world’s largest internet-based economy by population. The UK’s digital businesses now make up 8 per cent of the economy. He added that London is the world’s top English language city on Facebook.

But he argued that the British government and too many UK companies aren’t doing enough to understand and embrace the online revolution. He pointed to Kodak and HMV as examples of brands that had been destroyed by their failure to come to terms with the internet. Klein said that the media and retail industries aren’t dying – they’re just changing. Smart brands recognise this and embrace change.

Mashery‘s Oren Michels also shared some striking trends. While mobile is booming, the growth in usage is in apps, not mobile browsing. (Mobile web traffic actually fell last year.)

It was intriguing to watch Wall Street Journal Europe’s Ben Rooney interviewing Mike Lynch, the former chief executive of Autonomy, bought by HP for $10 billion in 2011. The deal has become hugely controversial after HP’s new chief executive Meg Whitman accused Autonomy of inflating its earnings. Lynch told Rooney that HP, the UK’s financial reporting regulator and the US financial regulator have not been in touch over the issue.

PayPal's John Lunn at London Web Summit

PayPal’s John Lunn at London Web Summit

Few tech events these days are complete without a discussion of payments, and John Lunn from PayPal took part in a discussion panel with Stripe‘s Patrick Collison and Sebastian Siemiatkowski from Klarna. John announced that PayPal was making available APIs for PayPal Here, enabling developers to create opportunities from the face to face payment service, which is being launched in Britain this summer. He also reminded us that 2016 is likely to be the year that you won’t need a wallet to go shopping on the UK high street – a smartphone or tablet will be enough.

Finally, it was good to hear from Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of, given that I joined WordPress last year.

Disclosure: I’m head of PR for PayPal UK.

PayPal Here and Greedy Goat at Mobile World Congress 2013

Mobile World Congress is quite a show. Over 70,000 people descend on Barcelona for the annual mobile industry expo. It’s not just about handsets: it’s about everything related to connected commerce, from phones and tablets to payments and even connected cars.

PayPal president David Marcus shows PayPal here to Sky TV

PayPal president David Marcus explains PayPal Here to Sky TV

For me, MWC 2013 was memorable for the huge interest in the UK version of PayPal Here, PayPal’s flexible and affordable way for small businesses to take credit card payments face to face. The PayPal Here demos were mobbed by everyone intrigued by the way PayPal had reinvented the original Here concept for countries like Britain where paying by Chip & PIN is standard. The UK version is a pocket-sized card reader that connects to a trader’s smartphone via Bluetooth.


Greedy Goat’s Craig and Mark at MWC with PayPal’s Narik Patel

The fun bit was having Mark and Craig from London’s Greedy Goat ice cream on the stand, serving their delicious goat’s milk ice cream. (I recommend the honeycomb flavour…) Greedy Goat is one of the businesses that have been helping PayPal design the UK flavour of PayPal Here. It trades at Borough Market, and it will be one of the first businesses to take card payments through PayPal Here in the next month or so.

Here’s the video showing Greedy Goat trying PayPal Here at Borough Market.

But there’s more to PayPal Here than just card payments. The future probably lies with something rather more 21st century than a card. PayPal is pioneering payment via ‘check-in’: a quick tap in an app to check into and pay a local business. This opens up so many possibilities for making life quicker and easier: for example, ordering your drink or lunch ready for collection, beating the queue. PayPal is pioneering ordering ahead with Jamba Juice in the United States.

Anyone interested in finding out more about PayPal Here can register their interest and get all the facts at

PS: we served the best coffee at MWC.

PS: we served the best coffee at MWC.

Disclosure: I am head of PR for PayPal UK.