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Sir John Elliot (6 May 1898 – 18 September 1988) was a British transport and railway manager. Born John Elliot Blumenfeld, he was the son of the Daily Mail news editor R. D. Blumenfeld (who later became managing editor of the Daily Express.) He changed his surname to Elliot (his mother's surname) in March 1923 on the advice of Lord Beaverbrook.[1][2]

John Elliot
Born6 May 1898
Died18 September 1988
OccupationRailway manager, author, journalist
Years active1925 - 1969



Early careerEdit

Elliot was educated at Marlborough School. He joined the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where he trained as an officer in the years immediately before the First World War.[3] During the War, he served as an officer in France, in the 3rd The King's Own Hussars,[4] before following his father into journalism. He spent three years in New York, and then returned to London to become the assistant editor of the Evening Standard from 1922-1925.[2][3]

Railway careerEdit

Southern Railway poster produced under Elliot's direction

In 1925, Elliot joined the Southern Railway as public relations assistant to the General Manager Sir Herbert Walker. Under Elliot's leadership, the Southern Railway became noted for the simple, direct messages in its publicity posters. One in particular, showing a small boy talking to the driver of a King Arthur 4-6-0 at Waterloo became internationally famous. The naming of this class of locomotive after characters from Arthurian legend was "in itself a master stroke of publicity".[5]

In 1930, Elliot became assistant traffic manager for the railway, and in 1938 was appointed assistant general manager to Gilbert Szlumper. Shortly after the Second World War he became acting General Manager when his predecessor, Sir Eustace Missenden , was appointed to the Railway Executive. In late 1948, the Southern Railway was nationalised, with the rest of the railway system, into British Railways. Elliot took the role of Chief Regional Officer of the Southern region of the nationalised company[3] and later the London Midland region.[6] In 1951, he became Chairman of the Railway Executive in 1951.[7] Elliot spent much of 1949 in Australia, reporting on the Victorian Railways system,[8] he recommended a significant re-equipment of their system, which they started in 1950.[9]

Elliot was appointed as Chairman of London Transport in 1953, a post he held until 1959. He was an early proponent of the building of the Victoria line and oversaw the trial tunneling work for it in the late 1950s, though the line did not open until many years after he left London Transport.[2]

In October 1937 he was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel in the Engineer and Railway Staff Corps,[10] and was promoted to full Colonel in May 1951.[11] He commanded the unit from January 1956[12] until he was retired due to his age on 7 May 1963.[13] He resigned his commission in December 1973.[14] He was the president of the Railway Study Association in 1950-51.[15]

After the railwaysEdit

After leaving British Railways, Elliot became Chairman of Thomas Cook & Son Ltd, a post he held from 1959 until 1967. He received a knighthood in the 1954 New Years honours list.[16] From 1965 to 1969, he was a director of the British Airports Authority.[3]

Elliot's autobiography, On and Off the Rails, was published by George Allen & Unwin in 1982. He was also noted for his writing about the French Revolution and the First World War.[2]


Elliot's son, David, was born in 1927. He was an enthusiastic railway photographer, capturing the last days of the Talyllyn Railway before it was preserved. David later became the Academic Registrar of Trinity College of Music during the 1970s and 1980s.[15] In 1986, David hosted a BBC Radio 3 radio program, claiming that the composer Anton Bruckner was influenced by a love of railways; this spoof program brought together David's love of music and railways.[17]


  • Elliot, Sir John (November 1960). "Early Days of the Southern Railway". The Journal of Transport History. IV (4).
  • Elliot, Sir John (29 April 1956). Why should we mind what the public think?. The Institute of Public Relations Seventh Annual Conference. Margate.
  • Elliot, John (1958). The Story of the French Revolution as seen in Paris Today. New York: Reynal and Company.
  • Elliot, John (1958). The way of the tumbrils: Paris during the Revolution and today. New York: Reynal and Company.


  1. ^ "No. 32804". The London Gazette. 9 March 1923. p. 1954.
  2. ^ a b c d Halliday, Stephen (1 July 2013). Underground to everywhere. The History Press.
  3. ^ a b c d Rubinstein, W.; Jolles, Michael A. (27 January 2011). The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History. Springer.
  4. ^ "No. 31887". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 May 1920. p. 5190.
  5. ^ "Railways and Publicity: How the Railways Promoted Their Services". Railway Wonders of the World. 2. 1935.
  6. ^ "Retirement of Sir John Elliot from L.T.E. Chairmanship". Railway Gazette International. Vol. 110. 20 March 1959.
  7. ^ Wragg, David (1 August 2017). Southern Handbook: The Southern Railway 1923-1947. The History Press.
  8. ^ Fitch, Ronald John (2006). Australian Railwayman: from Cadet Engineer to Railway Commissioner. Rosenburg Publishing. p. 227. ISBN 1 877 058 48 3.
  9. ^ Survey of Post-War Built Heritage in Victoria: Stage One. Heritage Victoria. October 2008. p. 13.
  10. ^ "No. 34461". The London Gazette. 7 December 1937. p. 7660.
  11. ^ "No. 39306". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 August 1951. p. 4259.
  12. ^ "No. 40700". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 January 1956. p. 680.
  13. ^ "No. 43048". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 July 1963. p. 5812.
  14. ^ "No. 46259". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 April 1974. p. 4600.
  15. ^ a b Quine, Dan (March 2015). "Dolgoch 1945 to 1950". Talyllyn News.
  16. ^ "No. 40053". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1953. p. 2.
  17. ^ Elliot, David (25 May 1986). A Composer on the Footplate: some revealing new evidence on the sources of Bruckner's inspiration (radio). BBC.

Further readingEdit

  • Cook, Thomas (1991). 150 years of Popular Tourism. London: Piers Brendon, Secker & Warburg. pp. 279, 287–8, 289, 294, 296, 297.
  • Elliot, Sir John; Esau, Michael (1982). On and Off the Rails. London: George Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-04-385089-8.
Business positions
Preceded by
Eustace Missenden
as General Manager
Acting General Manager,
Southern Railway

Company nationalised
Preceded by
Eustace Missenden
Railway Executive

Railway Executive abolished
Preceded by
Lord Latham
London Transport Executive

Succeeded by
Sir Alexander Valentine
Military offices
Preceded by
Col. V. A. M. Robertson
Officer Commanding,
Engineer and Railway Staff Corps

January 1956 – May 1963
Succeeded by
Col. Alexander Valentine