SMG’s Gemma Woodward discusses 100 years of The Flying Scotsman – and why the brand is thriving

Toys, teas and tins of treats: Gemma Woodward on why The Flying Scotsman brand isn’t slowing down…

Gemma, you recently spoke to us about licensing at SMG – The Science Museum Group. People can read that here But, alas, this is your last week with them! For that reason, I wanted to get a sneak preview on what’s happening with the Flying Scotsman. For the uninitiated, what IS the Flying Scotsman?
The mighty Flying Scotsman is – arguably – the most iconic and famous locomotive in the world. A recent YouGov omnibus survey revealed that 92% of the UK public is aware of this icon of steam, so the uninitiated would be a minority!

Interesting! I think almost everybody would know it when they see it, though; you’re right. But some people reading this are going to think, “What can you do with the license for an old locomotive?” So I suppose my first question is, “What can you do with the license for an old locomotive?”!
As with any classic, multi-faceted brand, it depends on which aspect of narrative one focuses… For example, Dovetail Games created a simulator and add ons that enable you to drive the Scotsman, while Microsoft’s Forza Horizon 4 game focuses on the Scotsman’s record-breaking speed…

Record breaking?
Yes! The Scotsman was the first steam locomotive to achieve an authenticated 100mph in the UK. It was also the first to travel non-stop from London to Edinburgh…

And how does the Forza Horizon 4 game tap into that?
Fans are tasked with racing against it, demonstrating the Scotsman’s relevance in today’s fast-paced world. In a completely different field, One of a Kind Chocolate and Elite Gift Boxes harness the gifting element, with 3D-moulded, high-quality chocolate, and shaped tins with confectionery. Cheatwell Games taps into the engineering angle, where one can reconstruct the Scotsman as a 3D replica puzzle

Gemma Woodward, SMG, The Flying Scotsman
So it’s actually quite a versatile brand?

Yes, absolutely. And of course the collectible category is an important one for us, with licensees keen to commemorate the Flying Scotsman’s role as a national treasure. Meanwhile, Bradford Exchange’s watches, clocks and figurines speak of the romance of the age of steam, and a bygone age of glamour and decadence.

And 2023 marks the locomotive’s centenary year, doesn’t it? Presumably, you can’t say too much… What can you tell us, though, in terms of a sneak preview of the celebrations?
So much of the licensing programme can’t be shared until February 2023, let alone sneak previews of cultural pieces and celebrations… I’m having a hard time keeping it under wraps! However, I can share that we’ve just signed with New English Teas for a Flying Scotsman tin. That’ll contain their best-selling English breakfast teas – a lovely accompaniment to our licensing programme.

That feels like a great fit!
Also, our publishing team secured a fabulous partnership with Thames & Hudson, publishing a gorgeous book to celebrate the Scotsman’s centenary, written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Michael Foreman – something we’re very proud of.

Brilliant! For someone that can’t share much, you’re sharing quite a lot!
One last one… I can also boast that after a long and commercially significant partnership with Hornby Hobbies, my brand-licensing relationship was the springboard to involve Hornby in the wider Flying Scotsman celebrations: SMG is delighted to announce Hornby Hobbies as our headline sponsor for the Flying Scotsman Centenary – a brilliant synergy of brands, and a smashing partnership!

Gemma Woodward, SMG, The Flying Scotsman
Oh yes, that’s perfect! And just before we talk about the Scotsman’s history, Gemma, what’s been the highlight, would you say, of working on the IP?

My relationship with Hornby is definitely one of them! For the last five years or so, they’ve worked tirelessly to become one of our most successful licensees… Their electrical models are perfection in miniature, and their ambition has been inspiring. I’ll miss working with them.

Great stuff!
Also, my successful ‘Define the Relationship’ for men’s grooming and gifting with M&S was another, as was conceiving and creating the strategy for a younger Flying Scotsman brand offering… Something I eagerly look forward to being realised. Overall, the Flying Scotsman brand was a very small jewel in SMG’s portfolio crown when I joined. I’m thrilled to have helped build it to stand on its own, and like to think my involvement with its centenary has helped to secure its position for the future.

Moving forward, then, what kind of partnerships might the Flying Scotsman ideally suit?
It’s pained me that I’ve not secured a loyal, long-term partnership with a whisky distillery – you can almost taste a Scotsman single malt, can’t you? Japan has a growing market for whisky and there’s great awareness and affection for the Scotsman there, too. It seems like a potent opportunity.

Let’s turn the other way and talk about the past! The Flying Scotsman is 100 years old. What can you tell us about its history?
Well… The Flying Scotsman service, running from London to Edinburgh, has existed since 1862, powering through beautiful moorland, rolling hills, farms, country towns and villages. The locomotive was named after the route.

Gemma Woodward, SMG, The Flying Scotsman

Is that right? So the route name came first, and the locomotive took its name from that?

Yes, exactly that. The locomotive itself was designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, as part of the A1 class of engine. They were the most powerful locomotives used by the railways. It was built in Doncaster, and emerged from the works on the 24th of February 1923. It officially received its name and number in 1924 for the Great British Exhibition.

I love how you have all the dates! And I understand the train itself retired from official duties in the early 1960s…
Well, I hate to correct you there, but SMG Curators will despair if I don’t! I don’t want them thinking I’ve learnt nothing in my tenure…

Oh! What did I get wrong? The dates?
No, it’s just that a locomotive that hauls carriages in its entirety is a train… The singular beast of an engine that is the Flying Scotsman is a locomotive.

Ah, yes! When it has coaches, it’s a train; I stand corrected. Well, my question was going to be this… If it retired in in the 1960s, where’s it been for the last 60-odd years?
Okay… Are you ready for a potted history, filled with high-octane drama and triumph over adversity? Are you sitting comfortably?

Gemma Woodward, SMG, The Flying Scotsman
I certainly am!

Then we’ll begin… After covering over two million miles in regular service, the Scotsman ran its last British Railways train in 1963, amid a blaze of publicity. Gaining further fame in preservation, under the 1969 ownership of Alan Pegler, it then toured the United States and Canada. However, while incredibly popular, these American adventures forced Pegler into bankruptcy and the Flying Scotsman was left stranded.

So it was left in the US?
Right, until 1973. Then William McAlpine heard of the Scotsman’s plight and put together a rescue plan to bring it home. And in spite of the US episode, the Scotsman was still seen as an ‘A-list’ celebrity of the locomotive world… So it toured again to great acclaim, visiting Australia in 1989.

And may I just check… When it was on these tours, it was still able to run?
Oh, yes; absolutely. In fact, in Australia, it achieved the record for the longest non-stop run by a steam locomotive, covering 422 miles. After it came home, the Scotsman continued to run special trains around Britain. Now here’s where it gets a bit odd…

Go on…
In 1993, the pop impresario Pete Waterman bought a 50% stake in the locomotive! After that, a businessman named Tony Marchington bought it outright. Then, in 2004, the Scotsman’s ownership hit the headlines again: SMG’s National Railway Museum spearheaded a campaign to save the locomotive. It amassed the support of thousands, and the Flying Scotsman was finally acquired for the nation, with its status confirmed as a national treasure.

Gemma Woodward, SMG, The Flying Scotsman
Just ahead of Pete Waterman! And to what degree did it then become a more formal brand?

Well… After it was acquired, there was more than a decade of extensive restoration work. There were some early forays into brand licensing while the Scotsman was stationary. When it returned to the rails, the program began in earnest. Today, it continues to excite, enthuse and exhilarate a whole new audience – and sell-out tours still run nationwide.

And since you’re now leaving SMG, Gemma, I’m curious: what’s next for you; where are you going?
For the first time, I’m leaving a job without another in place! I’m going to take an extended break, before making my way in the world of freelance and contractual work and seeing what fate has in store – if any of your readers want to get in touch, please find me on LinkedIn!

Nice pitch; smoothly done. I do boast four regular readers, so that might make all the difference. Lastly, then, Gemma… What will you most miss – or miss most, I suppose – about working for The Science Museum Group?
Wonderful colleagues, amazing IP and the palpable pleasure when watching visitors engage with our exhibits… I’ll miss children shrieking with joy at real, actual moon rock, or the hushed appreciation for Tim Peake’s Soyuz spacecraft – I know, it’s so very small!

It must be an amazing place to work when all’s said and done…
Yes. Ultimately, when you’re going about your day-to-day life, filled with to-do lists and deadlines, some of the exhibits interrupt you… You’re reminded that we’re but a speck on this unique planet, in a solar system, in a colossal universe – all while you’re on your way to the post room! Ach, SMG, it’s been a pleasure!

As has this, Gemma. Thanks for making time. Do come back and let us know how you get on as a freelancer!

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