This First Class clown sums up what’s wrong with public services

TOM UTLEY: Arrogant and entitled, doesn’t this First Class clown sum up all that’s wrong with our public services?

You have to hand it to Mark Boon, he’s got guts. Either that or he has a rhinoceros hide so thick and insensitive that he’s unaware of the impression he makes on other people — or simply doesn’t care what his fellow mortals think of him.

Speaking for myself, if I were a senior manager of one of the country’s most inefficient train operators, as he is, I’d keep very quiet about what I did for a living. Indeed, if a stranger at a party were to ask me about my job, I’d change the subject double-quick to avoid a roasting over the delays and cancellations, the never-ending strikes, the cattle-truck travelling conditions and totally fictitious timetables.

As for how I’d behave if I found myself in Mr Boon’s shoes, aboard one of my own company’s late and overcrowded trains, I’d make myself as inconspicuous as possible, terrified of being lynched by my fellow passengers if anyone recognised me.

Not so Mr Boon, operations manager of Southern Rail’s parent company, Govia Thameslink. He is the man reported yesterday to have instructed commuters on a packed Southern service to keep out of the First Class section in which he was sitting, surrounded by eight or ten empty seats.

Having forced his fellow passengers to stand in the standard-class part of the carriage, he rubbed salt into their wounds by spreading himself across two seats.

Rail boss Mark Boon was slammed for kicking passengers on a busy train out of first class before spreading across two seats (pictured above)

Shame

He placed his bag on the seat next to him, hung his suit jacket on a peg by the window and distributed his spectacle case and a bottle of water on the table in front of him, before settling down to busy himself with his wretched smartphone.

It was as if he was taunting the fare-paying customers who finance his wages: ‘Look at me! I’ve got all the space in the world, while you lesser creatures are packed in like cattle behind me!’

But this is the bit that really amazes me. After making himself so thoroughly obnoxious, you might think he would have been anxious to conceal his identity, lest anyone might be tempted to expose him on social media — as irate commuter Emma Fitzpatrick did, in a tweet that has now gone viral.

But far from it. In Ms Fitzpatrick’s photo, Mr Boon is wearing a corporate pass on a lanyard, his name and job title under what looks like the Southern logo.

And just in case anyone hadn’t noticed who he was, he is said to have handed out his business card to passengers who objected to his behaviour!

According to the reports I’ve read, he seemed extraordinarily full of himself, without a hint of apology, embarrassment or shame over the late running of yet another crowded Southern train (I write with some feeling, since it’s the service I use every day of my working life).

Mr Boon used to run the Mermaid Fish Bar in North Finchley (above left) for four years between 2009 and 2013 and was popular locally

Ms Fitzpatrick, a 33-year-old hair stylist from Croydon, South London, claims that he turned her away from First Class without even asking if she had a First Class ticket. (She didn’t, as it happens, but how’s that for presumption and abominable rudeness to a woman?)

‘I told him I was feeling a little unwell so I needed a seat,’ she said, ‘but he dismissively said to go and get some water or something, and looked back down at his phone.’

At this point, I should admit I’ve never met Mr Boon. For all I know, he may be a sweet-natured, animal-loving family man who helps old ladies across the road and contributes generously to worthy causes. Perhaps he was just having an off day.

All I can say is that he doesn’t look a bit like my cup of tea.


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Indeed, the moment I saw the photograph Ms Fitzpatrick tweeted — and even before I’d read her account of his conduct — I took an irrational dislike to almost everything about him. There was something about his ghastly, oh-so-neat haircut (number two at the sides, number four at the top, according to a friend versed in these matters) that seemed to speak of a man who cares just a little too much about his personal appearance.

The same went for his dazzlingly white shirt, the gold rings on both hands, the pastel blue tie with pink stripes and that immaculately pressed jacket, hanging by the window over the seat where a fellow passenger could have taken the weight off her feet.

Commuters on the line have experienced horrific conditions and delays in recent years

Patronising

I hated that bottle of water, too — carried, no doubt, in obedience to those patronising messages you hear on railway stations throughout the capital: ‘In this hot weather, passengers are advised to carry a bottle of water at all times.’

As for his garish, brand-new bag — orange, black and grey — words fail me.

All right, taken in isolation, none of these sins would be a capital offence.

I know even quite decent people carry water, while others hang suit jackets on pegs provided and others wear dazzlingly white shirts with pastel ties. I could even forgive the rings and (almost) the lanyard, business cards, haircut and bag.

But taken together, the whole caboodle reeks of the worst kind of Corporate Man or quangocrat — vain, arrogant and insufferably pleased with himself. Add the dire management-speak on his profile on a networking website: ‘An experienced and dynamic Railway Operations Manager with an in-depth understanding of both National Rail and London Underground procedures, operating environments and constraints’ and the picture is complete.

As he sits there in his two First Class seats, tapping away at his smartphone with his back to passengers standing in economy class, he looks like the living embodiment of Govia Thameslink’s contemptuous attitude to its passengers.

Which brings me to the story’s supreme irony. Three years ago, Mr Boon was pronounced the winner of South West Trains Customer Service Manager of the Year!

It makes you wonder who came second and third? (When I asked my mate Chris in the pub yesterday, he suggested Basil Fawlty and Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street who killed his customers and baked them into pies.) In the interests of fairness, I ought to point out that among the many thousands who have commented on the story online, a huge number have taken Mr Boon’s side.

The franchise has been repeatedly criticised over the conditions on its trains. Pictured: 2017

A typical example, from one defender in Newcastle, reads: ‘Why would you expect to sit in first class if you didn’t pay the first class price? Sense of entitlement beggars belief — get over yourselves!’

While this attitude does credit to his champions’ respect for the law, it fails to take account of one crucial fact: as a senior manager of the company, Mr Boon will have paid precisely nothing for his first-class seat. Meanwhile, those he threw out paid through the nose for their journeys, many season-ticket holders hand over thousands of pounds a year to Govia Thameslink.

Isn’t a seat the very least they’re entitled to — especially when seats are available? It’s a tribute to the forbearance of the British character that, rather than throttle Mr Boon with his pastel tie, the evicted passengers meekly did as they were told.

Indeed, it reminds me of a brilliant essay in the New Statesman written decades ago by one of my journalistic heroes, Auberon Waugh. In it, he recounted how he’d sat in an empty first-class compartment, all the way from Taunton to London, listening to passengers in the packed corridor outside grumble that they had a good mind to sit in first class.

Waugh (who had a second-class ticket) concluded that there would never be a revolution in a country whose people were prepared to endure hours of acute discomfort, rather than run the faint risk of upsetting a ticket inspector.

I can’t stress too emphatically that the very last thing I want is a revolution. So I pray Waugh was right. But with people like Mr Boon running Britain’s services, utilities and quangos — caring about nobody but themselves — I wouldn’t bank on it.

 

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