There's something extremely satisfying about a book that provides you with everything you could possibly want to know about a subject you'd never previously heard of, but which turns out to be intrinsically interesting in itself, and significant in the wider context of the time it covers. "Starlight Specials: The Overnight Anglo-Scottish Express" by Dave Peel is just such a book.
The Starlight Specials ran each summer from 1953 to 1962. They were holiday excursion trains that ran overnight (though were not sleepers) between London and Glasgow and London and Edinburgh. They never featured in the normal railway timetables and had to be booked in advance. The idea was that passengers would undertake the outward leg of their journey (whether travelling north or south) overnight from Friday evening to Saturday morning (journeys took around 10 hours). The return half of their journey would be undertaken 8 or 15 days later, overnight from Saturday evening to Sunday morning. The aim of the services was to compete with the growing number of long distance road coaches which, even then, were beginning to carry holidaymakers between England and Scotland. Affordability was more important than comfort, and the trains were initially third class only with a return fare costing just 70 shillings per adult (£3.50 in today's money).
In later years the service became entirely second class. The fares remained static until 1956, when they rose to 75 shillings return, then to 80 shillings in 1957, to 85s in 1958, to 90s in 1961 and to £5 (or 100 shillings) in the final year of 1962. Meanwhile, other changes were made. Initially services to and from Glasgow used St Pancras Station in London, while those to and from Edinburgh used Marylebone Station in London. Less convenient arrangements were made in the final years of the service and the eventual demise of the Starlight Specials on grounds of commercial viability and availability of suitable rolling stock was perhaps inevitable.
Dave Peel's book is an object lesson in how to take a very niche subject and make it accessible and interesting to a wide audience. The main part of the book is made up of a series of chapters, one for each of the ten years of operation. Superbly researched text is combined with reproductions of timetables for the services, advertising bills, and photographs of the trains to produce an enduring work of reference.