Ernest Marples: The Shadow Behind Beeching

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Ernest Marples: The Shadow Behind Beeching

Ernest Marples: The Shadow Behind Beeching

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He held various junior ministerial posts in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, 1951-4, and the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, 1954-5, before becoming Postmaster-General, 1957-9, and Minister of Transport, 1959-64. But with all the rumours of Marples’ shady business dealings, perhaps there was more than meets the eye to his use of a car supplied by Britain’s biggest motor manufacturer? It was six years before he finally agreed to let it go – and nothing had been done to it in all that time. It appeared Britain had backed the wrong horse, the car, and run down its railways for no tangible economic benefit.

If you want to understand why our railway system was transformed in the 1960s, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Their fine work redresses the imbalance in our history that has focused on Beeching alone for too long.

When Lord Denning made his 1963 investigation into the security aspects of the Profumo affair and the rumoured affair between the Minister of Defence, Duncan Sandys and the Duchess of Argyll, he confirmed to Macmillan that a rumour that Ernest Marples was in the habit of using prostitutes appeared to be true. Additions were made to the catalogue by Madelin Evans in Oct 2022, following work to catalogue 8 boxes of photographs by an Archives Centre volunteer. But this background in construction also meant that he was the best choice in Westminster to push forward the modernisation of Britain’s road network, and the political consensus of the time was that this was the way forward. When he was made Minister of Transport in October 1959, Marples undertook to sell his shareholding in the company as he was now in clear breach of the House of Commons' rules on conflicts of interest.

As such it is a valuable work and surprising that no-one has attempted a biography of this controversial politician before. John Cooper organised a meeting between Marples, George Harriman, the Chairman of BMC and Alec Issigonis, the firm’s Technical Director. Marples was finding, like so many Ministers in the decades to come, that upsetting motorists was not a wise policy.

In early 2020, the rumours were corroborated by broadcaster and investigative journalist Tom Mangold, based on the diaries of Lord Denning's then-secretary, Thomas Critchley.

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