South for Sunshine

The Southern Railway had none of the pretensions of the three other railway companies operating at the time. It was a passenger railway "actively engaged in public service". Using a variety of publicity material such as posters, booklets and press releases, it targeted its publicity at people travelling for business or pleasure.

It developed a distinctive style of advertising at home and abroad, with much of its output being brash and unsophisticated. Such "larger-than-life" characters, as the "little boy" and "Sunny South Sam", were ridiculed by the other railway companies at the time but were highly effective. The idea of using a little boy and engine driver in a poster was again used by Intercity in 1978. Reproductions of the 1936 version of the poster are still in demand, demonstrating its universal appeal.

One of the main claims of the Southern Railway was that it was the most southerly railway system in Britain and, as such, was warmer and had more sunshine than other railways. One of its most famous slogans was "The Sun Shines Most on the Southern Coast".

On 1 January 1923, the 123 companies operating Britain's railways were amalgamated into four groups: the London and North Eastern Railway, the London, Midland & Scottish Railway, the Great Western Railway and the Southern Railway. The Southern Railway was a combination of the London & South Western Railway, the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway and the South East & Chatham Railway. All three companies produced guidebooks to the areas which they served and to areas further afield which could be reached via their railway, such as Belgium and northern France.

The Southern Railway was keen to promote itself as a unified network and the first advertising campaign focused on progress and modernisation. Details of suburban electrification and the building of new steam locomotives shared space with accounts of how carriages were cleaned and the difficulties of dealing with rush-hour traffic.

The Southern Railway's advertising manager, John Elliot, was determined that both press and public should know what the company was doing so he opened the first railway public information desk, at Waterloo Station, and provided regular articles and information. He paid particular attention to reporters from the suburban and evening newspapers, which had initially criticised the network. This approach to press relations was extremely successful.

Initially, not all areas of the service ran smoothly. Investment in the electrification of lines and the introduction of new trains and carriages inevitably brought short term delays. The company decided to initiate an advertising poster campaign to keep its passengers informed about what was happening and reduce the number of complaints, a strategy which had worked well for London Transport.

Thus, the Southern Railway established itself predominantly as a passenger railway with a lot of short-distance traffic. With electrification came faster train services. The system expanded, new houses and stations were built and more trains ran. Once established, the Southern Railway concentrated on poster publicity campaigns to attract yet more travellers.

As services and facilities improved, it became possible to live well away from London and still commute comfortably. Much advertising was aimed at the commuter but the Southern Railway was also keen to promote off-peak travel by shoppers and theatre-goers. The image of the Southern Railway was transformed during these years. The slogan "Southern Electric" and a distinctive electric flash motif were used on stations, bridges and posters to advertise the new network.