Or should this even be only in England?
Ian Allan, who has died the day before his 93rd birthday, triggered the post-war explosion of trainspotting as a British pastime by publishing the first booklet of engine numbers in 1942 and starting a club which had 230,000 members by the time steam gave way to diesel. He diversified the business to embrace magazines, bookshops, a travel agency, a Masonic publisher, a printing business, organic garden supplies, commercial property and car dealerships.
Allan was 20, and a 15s-a-week clerk with the Southern Railway, when he published the ABC of Southern Railway Locomotives in response to calls from enthusiasts for information. Management declined to publish it, but allowed Allan to do so at his own risk.
The first 2,000 copies of the shilling booklet sold out in days. Further ABCs on the Great Western, LNER and LMS railways, and London buses, trams and trolleybuses, went like hot cakes, friends and neighbours helping to distribute them.
It had not occurred to Allan that “bagging” the locomotives he listed would take off as a hobby. But within weeks, knots of schoolboys armed with his booklet appeared at the end of station platforms,
Not, perhaps, just the idea of trainspotting (I’m trying to ponder the reaction of the average Russian, or even German, to this idea and not getting very far) but that the bloke who invented it all by chance gets an obituary in one of the major newspapers.
We’re a weird country, no doubt about it.