Roger W Kidner
Roger Kidner, who died on September 14 2007 aged 93, founded and ran for 54 years a railway publishing house - the Oakwood Press - whose output did much to stimulate the preservation of historic branch lines.
The 32 books he wrote, and the dozens more he published, gave special attention to the most ramshackle railways in Britain and Ireland. The enthusiasts who bought them became the driving force for the post-war movement to rescue and operate historic and bizarre railways such as the Festiniog narrow-gauge system in Snowdonia.
Roger W. Kidner was born in London on March 16 1914, the son of Arthur Kidner, a senior civil servant, and his wife Mabel. He founded the business in 1931 while a schoolboy at Westminster, running it from his parents' garage with his schoolfriend Michael Robbins, who would become a senior executive at London Transport but remained involved until the 1950s. Their first product was a typewritten magazine, Locomotion, and the first book they published was Canon Fellows's Railway Bibliography in 1935, by which time the name Oakwood Press had been adopted, from the names of two houses Kidner had lived in.
The following year came their first classic: LT Catchpole's Lynton and Barnstaple Railway, which has been in print ever since; it is now in its ninth edition and 14th reprint. Appearing soon after the line's closure - a short section has recently reopened - just 125 copies of the first edition were printed, with a postcard of one of its locomotives gummed to the cover. To gather material in the branch's final months, Kidner and Catchpole visited the area in a home-made caravan.
Early on Kidner began publishing JIC Boyd's multi-volume Narrow-Gauge Railways of North Wales, which prepared the ground for the eventual rebirth of the Festiniog. Kidner - whose first job after what he reckoned a wasted year at the LSE was editing travel guides and magazines for Benn Brothers - suspended Oakwood when war broke out.
He joined the Royal West Kents as a sapper, but spent most of the war as a gunner. He was stationed first on Romney Marsh, where an armoured train on the local miniature railway shot down a German fighter. He ended the war in Germany as a major with 21st Army Group, having been sidetracked to Antwerp docks to halt sabotage and looting.
Tighter postwar paper rationing for books than for magazines at first forced him to publish new titles, starting with George Dow's Alford and Sutton Tramway, as supplements to Locomotion; the Locomotion Papers series now stretches to 217 titles. During the day Kidner returned to Benn Brothers before taking a series of senior jobs in advertising and public relations. In 1972 he found himself one of three managing directors of a merged PR firm, so resigned to concentrate on Oakwood, his wife handling the administrative side.
The business blossomed as interest in old railways grew, ever more of its output having to be written in the past tense as routes such as the Hull and Barnsley ceased to be. Kidner broadened the range to include biographies of great railwaymen and books about trams, traction engines, buses and canals, and always encouraged new authors, some no older than he had been when he had started; many became his friends. Oakwood moved around the south of England with its proprietor: from Sidcup to Chislehurst, South Godstone, Tarrant Hinton in Dorset and finally to Great Hinton in Wiltshire before the business was sold and relocated to Oxford (it is now at Usk, in Gwent).
Although Kidner sold Oakwood in 1984, its new proprietor, Jane Kennedy, kept him closely involved until shortly before his death, vetting manuscripts and updating many of his own titles. His original format of small pages and floppy covers continues to this day, with some 460 titles in print, though the typography, the photographs and above all the maps (Kidner drew his own) now benefit from modern technology. Roger Kidner married Beryl in 1943; she died in 1995, and he is survived by their two sons.
The Daily Telegraph 12 October 2007