Michael Portillo Rides Mr Henderson’s Railway …

... and Misses the Boat!

Michael Portillo rides Mr Henderson's Railway

Michael Portillo in the pink

There he stood on top of the Rock, Bradshaw’s Guide in hand: Michael Portillo, resplendent in one of his signature technicolour ensembles, talking to camera for his new series of Great Continental Railway Journeys.

With Spain spread out like a map below him, Portillo traced the route of Mr Henderson’s Railway from Ronda to Algeciras with his finger, telling 2.4 million viewers, “Early 20th century travellers would then have taken a saloon steamer across here to Gibraltar.”

Cue interview with a direct descendant of Captain Louis Lombard, the unsung Gibraltarian merchant ship owner who masterminded that vital sea link, without which Mr Henderson might never have built the railroad… a connection the Spanish didn’t want over their own dead bodies that’s super-topical today, given the current border debacles…

Did you miss that bit? So did I.

What a shame not one of BBC2’s researchers looked up the good Captain’s great nephew, former Gibraltar Mayor Tony Lombard, who lives a cable car’s ride from where Mr Portillo was standing.

The railway may be named after its wealthy British financier, Sir Alexander Henderson; but it was Captain Lombard who brought the plan to fruition and persuaded Henderson to invest in it.

Portillo missed the boat on that one. Read my story here.

“I could have told Mr. Portillo a story or two, and shown him a rare 1909 timetable of the railway, printed whilst it was still privately owned,” said Tony Lombard, when I asked him how he felt about his great uncle’s story being shunted into the sidings yet again. “Sadly, the programme represented a missed opportunity by a team of professionals who should have known better, and that is a view shared by others.”

As Portillo began his journey in Madrid there was a lot of ground to cover and much of it probably ended up on the cutting room floor. But he might have mentioned that Mr Henderson’s great grandson, Lord Faringdon of Oxfordshire, flew to Spain this year with three generations of his family to ride the train for the first time. Read my story here.

On the plus side, the aerial photography was amazing (that surreal view of Cordoba cathedral wedged into the Great Mosque like a cuckoo in the nest). Portillo was also memorable for his:

Sartorial elegance The dapper train buff dazzled with his rainbow wardrobe of jackets and shirts in shades that should never be seen together on a grown man: sky blue with baby pink, powder blue with lilac, lime green with cyclamen…

Classic remarks “So some poor politician has to make the decision,” commented the former politician on the government study into the closure of the Algeciras-to-Ronda line, and others, in Spain. Did the Beeb’s Politically Correct Department not tell him that, in the current climate, ‘poor’ is not the best adjective to use in connection with a Spanish politician?

Sense of priorities At the historic Reina Cristina Hotel in Algeciras, we saw Portillo signing in – but none of the rather more famous signatures (Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the King and Queen of Spain) displayed on brass plaques beside the reception desk.

Animal magnetism Britain’s former Defence Secretary ‘danced flamenco’ with an Andalusian thoroughbred for nearly five minutes of the programme. Oh well – he’s not the first ex-government minister, and he won’t be the last, to make a horse’s derrière of himself in public!

Point of Curiosity: Did you notice there were no monkeys in view during Michael Portillo’s Top of the Rock take, although it’s one of their favourite haunts? I trust no animals were molested in the making of the programme…

Further Point of Curiosity: One of Michael Portillo’s middle names is Denzil…

Michael Portillo rides Mr Henderson's RTailway

Mr Henderson’s Railway Map


If you’d like to ride this train, don’t miss your free copy of Mr Henderson’s Railway Trip Planner – a guide to doing the sights, attractions, walks and gourmet track-side restaurants under your own steam. Just click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to Sign up for the Sizzle!


  • Mo November 13, 2013 at 8:06 pm Reply

    Pure class as usual. I think you bring up some very important points although you really shouldn´t have left us hanging with the Denzil mystery! The railway timetable really is beautiful, it should be available as a poster.

    • Belinda November 14, 2013 at 8:54 am Reply

      Well Mo, his other middle name is Xavier, a bit too normal for me! My better half Dave will be chuffed at your comment about his map!

  • Steve Simons November 15, 2013 at 6:26 pm Reply

    I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t even know this railway existed despite living in Andalusia for over ten years! Your article on Andalucia.com is really interesting. I feel thoroughly educated on the topic! 🙂

    • Belinda November 15, 2013 at 6:49 pm Reply

      Well now you’ll absolutely have to take the trip! If you subscribe on the home page you can get a copy of my free Mr Henderson’s Railway Trip Planner 🙂

  • Shaun November 29, 2013 at 10:00 am Reply

    Great article Belinda! Such things we have on our doorstep without knowing it.

    • Belinda November 29, 2013 at 10:08 am Reply

      Thanks Shaun, don’t forget to sign up for your free Trip Planner so you can experience this fantastic railway!

  • polscott24.com April 14, 2014 at 6:12 am Reply

    Fantastic post however , I was wondering if you could write a
    litte more on this topic? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more.
    Appreciate it!

    • Belinda April 16, 2014 at 6:27 pm Reply

      I will be writing more soon. Meanwhile, If you subscribe (on the Home page) you will get a copy of your free Mr Henderson’s Railway Trip Planner showing you how to travel this delightful Victorian British line under your own steam!

  • Bet Luckhurst April 11, 2017 at 8:15 pm Reply

    Have signed up but received nothing so far… Would love to get more information from you on this fascinating railway. Mr P by the way, always seems to do something self-indulgent for 5 mins of every journey at least. Usually excruciatingly badly: dancing/ playing soldiers, dressing up in various bits of national or local workwear. Not surprised he’s called Dalziel.

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