The Oldie’s Johnny Grimond is not just a language pundit. He also saved the Kyle of Lochalsh railway line in the Highlands from Dr Beeching’s scythe.
In 1963, Dr Beeching published The Reshaping of British Railways – aka ‘The Beeching Report’ – which proposed closing 2,363 British stations. The year before, he addressed the political society at Eton College, where Grimond was a schoolboy.
According to another schoolboy there – James Hughes-Onslow, the Oldie’s Memorial Service correspondent – Grimond (whose powers of recall feebly cannot confirm the event) took a heroic stand against Beeching.
'What are you going to do about the line to Kyle of Lochalsh?' chirped a 16-year-old Grimond.
Beeching confessed he had never heard of it. But he probably had heard of Johnny's father, Jo Grimond, then leader of the Liberal Party.
The Kyle of Lochalsh railway, then under imminent threat, was saved – and it continues to this day.
‘I told Johnny this at the Oldie of the Year lunch but he didn't remember it,’ says Hughes-Onslow, ‘He did remember Christopher Soames [the robustly-built Agriculture Minister, later British Ambassador to France] coming to talk to us. When he sat down, his chair splintered into a thousand pieces.’