David St. John Thomas's
Journey through Britain extract: I join another
railway friend, Rex Christiansen, for tea in the lounge [Chester still has
a decent hotel by its station]. Like me, he decided to make use of his interest
in railways for a career in newspapers. An enterprising chap, he married
the daughter of his first paper's boss, before becoming Chester reporter
for the Liverpool Post and then the Manchester one for the News
Chronicle, the death of which we again briefly mourn and say how much
more attractive its value system would be now than in those days of hard
left and right with little liberal thinking. Rex actually left it two years
before it closed, to join the BBC newsroom at Manchester, where for a period
he also produced a regular railway programme.
Book writing started with a two-volume history of The Cambrian Railways for David & Charles. 'There've been plenty of books since, but everyone copies my original research: a comment made by many who did original research years ago. 'But the great thing is that there's so much interest. What you published at £4 now commands at least £40 on the second-hand market.' And the fate of the Cambrian system itself? 'It's been battered to death. I suppose it's something that you can still get to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli, and they're doing some good things, but are desperately short of rolling stock.' Recently there was a report about a charter group being advised to go by bus as the train couldn't cope.
Sadly KPJ had failed to notice an obituary by Gordon Biddle in J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2007, 35, 498. It is reproduced below. In the Journal it was followed by Rex Christiansen's final thoughts on railway history.
Rex Samuel Christiansen (1930-2006)
I [Gordon Biddle] first met Rex Christiansen at a RCHS North West Group meeting in Manchester early in 1968, shortly after he had joined the Society in the previous December. The result was an invitation to lunch at the BBC's Manchester studios, at that time in Piccadilly, where he was a news editor. It was the first of many such occasions, blossoming into railway-related day, weekend or longer outings, often joined by like-minded friends, among them Rex's co-author Bob Miller, the late Dr Peter Beet, Harold Forster who was British Rail Area Manager at Manchester Piccadilly, and our present chairman Roger Davies. Rex's infectiously exuberant enthusiasm made these jaunts memorable events, not to mention his engaging characteristic of finding a pun to fit any topic of conversation. And always there was a ride on at least one steam railway.
We had a common interest in books, and both of us were David & Charles authors. Rex's first three books were written jointly with R W Miller: volume 1 of The Cambrian Railways in 1967, followed in the following year by volume 2 and in 1971 by The North Staffordshire Railway. They remain definitive works. Others followed. Two were in the Regional History of Railways series (the West Midlands ran for three editions), followed by three in the same publisher's Forgotten Railways series. After D&C changed hands Rex began writing for Ian Allan Rail Centres: Crewe and Regional Rail Centres: North West, an album on the North Staffordshire and two on the Cambrian, the last on~appearing in 2004. A book which gave him particular pleasure was Railway Roundabout, based on the BBC television series with which he had been associated. That eleven of his fourteen books were commissioned by the publishers speaks volumes (if I may be permitted a Christiansen pun) for his reputation.
He was born in Wallasey, Cheshire, on 22 January 1930. His cousin was Arthur Christiansen who became a famous editor of the Daily Express, and in 1946 Rex joined the Wallasey and Wirral Chronicle as a junior reporter. After national service in the Royal Air Force he moved first to the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo and then to the Manchester desk of the News Chronicle and Daily Dispatch in 1956, the year he married Hilary, a fellow journalist. They, have two daughters and four grandchildren. Two years later he began a thirty years career with the BBC, editing radio and television new bulletins and producing railway programmes for Radios 3 and 4. They included locomotive footplate and driving cab recordings, one being an officially recorded 100mph run to mark the completion of the Crewe-Manchester electrification scheme. A particular highlight was a trip with Hardwicke, the historic preserved London & North Western Railway locomotive built in of 1892 which made the record run in the 1895 races to Aberdeen. To celebrate her return to steam she was taken along the Cumbrian coast line from Carnforth and duly appeared on BBC television.
Rex was President of the Society in 1990-92 and subsequently a Vice-President. He was a member of the Council up to his death and for some years served on the Publications Committee. In 1991 he promoted a successful writers' forum appropriately held at the Midland Hotel, Morecambe. An active member of the North West Group, in 2000 he organised an all-day tour of the Wirral using scheduled rail services. In 2004 he made a valuable contribution to the tours organised for the Society's Golden Jubilee and AGM weekend at Ellesmere Port.
Rex was knowledgeable about shipping, too, especially the great ocean liners which as a youth he watched entering and leaving Liverpool. In his younger days he was an enthusiastic dinghy sailor, a skill leamed from a man who, unbelievably, had lost both legs in the First World War and had to be lowered into a boat by crane. Later in life his love of the sea and ships led to ocean cruising with Hilary, and it was while aboard ship in the Mediterranean that he was taken ill, leading to his death on 17 October 2006. But the working ofthe railway in all its aspects remained his great joy. Letters and postcards invariably ended 'Yours in steam.' GJB