Cook’s Overseas Timetable – the end of a legend

In a previous post I talked about the Thomas Cook travel company, and in particular Cook’s famous timetables, the European Timetable and the Overseas Timetable (here). Sadly, the Overseas Timetable was published for the last time at the end of 2010 (the November/December issue was the final one). Many of us regret its demise because the Overseas Timetable was a bit of a legend. Rail, road and shipping services outside Europe used to be included as a supplement in the European Timetable, which has been published since 1873. In 1980 services outside Europe were published in a separate Overseas Timetable.

The Overseas Timetable lasted for 30 years and during all that time it was edited by Peter Tremlett and Peter Bass. The Timetable was published every two months. It ran to more than 400 densely packed pages which oozed romance and adventure, whether you were an armchair traveller or one of those nutters who actually went out and did it. So, let’s take a ferry from Java to Sumatra across the Malacca Strait…

Or howabout a bus from Whitehorse in the Yukon to Anchorage in Alaska…

Or a train from Casablanca to Marrakech…

Note: all the timetables shown in this post are from very old copies of the OTT and are probably no longer accurate.

The Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable had a very pithy style. The first page of the Timetable was always an editorial. Here’s an excerpt from the November-December 1995 edition:

Notwithstanding that approaches to the rail operator in Venezuela normally bring no response, and that requests to the Tourist Board bring denials that there even is a railway, new schedules have been received offering a slightly improved service on the main line, but withdrawal of all passenger services on the Acarigua branch.
(original can be found here)

Putting together something like the Overseas Timetable was a marathon task, and of course they couldn’t include every rail, road and shipping service, otherwise the Timetable would be the size of a Tardis. The art of it was to include only those timetables that would be of most use to travellers. Peter Tremlett and Peter Bass and their staff did a fine job of this. For the reader the Overseas Timetable was still pretty daunting. The best way to navigate through the mountain of information was to use the maps printed in the Timetable. The map below shows south east Australia. All the routes on the map have numbers which are timetable numbers. Find the route, find the number, than go look up the timetable.

The Overseas Timetable was legendary for its accuracy and was the Bible for most travellers and travel agents. This accuracy was achieved in part by the very people who used the Timetable. Travellers who went to weird and wonderful places could report back to Thomas Cook on any inaccuracy in the Timetable. Thomas Cook would check it out and if you were correct about the inaccuracy you were rewarded with a free copy of the latest Timetable. At the end of each editorial, the editors would thank and list the contributers to the Timetable. The link below opens in a new window and is a scan of the November-December 1995 editorial (once again, note the pithy style). Amongst the contributers you’ll see someone called ‘R Godfrey’ from Catford, England…

November-December 1995 Overseas Timetable list of contributers

We’ll finish up by taking a boat from Hong Kong to Shanghai. I don’t think there’ll be anything ever again quite like the Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable…

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2 Responses to Cook’s Overseas Timetable – the end of a legend

  1. val Godfrey says:

    An end to an era. A very interesting artical

    (Ive got out the calculator as maths is not my strong point)

  2. Rubens Ramalho says:

    Please. Could you send in my email a photo of the table 2054 of the Thomas Cook Overseas of 1979 and 1980?
    Thank you very much

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