Film ID:
YFA 5856

NORTHERN LINE: THE MODEST MILLIONAIRE

1985

Visitor Tabs

Description

At 77, shipping magnate Victor Waddington is a most unusual and modest millionaire. Estimates put his business fortune at over £40 million, but in true Yorkshire fashion he refuses to discuss it. There is no high-society, champagne lifestyle for the man who controls his multi-million pound empire from a canal-side boatyard in Swinton, mid-way between Rotherham and Doncaster. He is in the office before his workers in the morning, and doesn't leave until long after they have gone home at night. He is just as happy pulling his weight in the boatyard as he is taking his annual cruise on the QE2, and there is another side to this man. He may count the pennies coming in, but Victor Waddington has been the anonymous benefactor to countless good causes, giving away a fortune to churches all over the North of England.

Title – Northern Line    

The film begins with Victor Waddington issuing instructions on a barge as it passes through a lock on the South Yorkshire Canal between Rotherham and Goole.  Now aged 77, it is stated that Victor Waddington uses “Victorian methods” as we next watch him helping to load a 350 tonne metal casting onto a specially built barge, ‘Confidence,’  he has designed for the biggest load ever to go on the canal, bound for Mexico.  

At the Waddington yard at Swinton, Victor Waddington arrives in a battered old Austin.  He states that he doesn’t want to change his frugal lifestyle, but is like the character in the poem, “honest John who wants a shoe.”  He gives an account of how the family began buying houses, then bought farms and then owned factories.  He quotes his father as saying to him, “don’t go for money, you might not get it, give your customers good service and you’ll be a happy man.”

He goes to the village of Waddington in Lancashire where he says he can trace his ancestors back 1,300 years to the Saxons.  The hall there was restored by his grandfather, John Waddington, in 1900, after making his money in Australia.  There is then a potted history of the family business, dating back 200 years.  He has been working in the yard since he was 15.  His two sons, Stephen and Tony are seen working with a crane.

Then at Goole Docks, at the top end of the South Yorkshire Canal, he arrives on a barge, which is unloaded of steel by his sons.  It is stated that the blue barges that he operates on the canal are the life blood of the business, and that they have benefitted by the £16 million restoration of the canal.  He talks about the family and the firm, and what they carry by barge, including steel, timber and wire.  They head back light on the barge, the Northern King, passing hoppers and fields.  It is said that the only luxury he has is an annual holiday on the QE2 (shown with footage from the BBC programme ‘Whicker’s World: Fast Boat To China’.) He saw the QE2 being launched, and we see some archive film of this (courtesy of ITN), and he talks of his love for these big ships.  

Back at the boat yard, he arrives at the workmen’s cabin, and he says he is first one there and last one to leave.  One of his workers, a welder is interviewed.  He states that he is alright to work with him, but that he has his “funny moods,” when he shouts.  Asked about the wages he says that they are “very poor”; asked why he stays, he says that “there is no other work in the area”, and is diplomatic about his relationship with his boss. Victor Waddington tells a story about someone who came to work for him with “a dozen degrees,” to illustrate his poor view of those with qualifications.  He also states that, “there is no use for computers here.”  

He next meets an old friend and client, Alan Hughes, and they make a business deal.  Alan Hughes states that he is “one of the last Victorians,” but that younger business people could learn much from him.  Victor Waddington next visits the Waterways Board offices in Rotherham, where he meets one of the managers there, complaining about the bureaucracy of the Board.

His son Tony is interviewed about his father, and states that his methods are old, but that he won’t change.  Victor Waddington says that he will never retire, but prefers to be with people he knows, who he respects and who respect him.  When the quote from the New Testament that, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (mistranslated as “heaven”) is put to him, he states that “I’m just a poor chap, so I’ll be alright”. He says that what is important is to lead a good life and be kind to ones fellow men.

The film moves to show Howden Minster and the organ there being played.  He is said to have paid for its restoration, and to have contributed to many other churches, often anonymously, for roofs, repairs to stained glass windows and for heating.  Then he arrives at Mexborough Village Hall, where he lives, and which he contributed to the village.  There is a community event taking place in the packed hall.  He plays table football with some scouts, while cubs are doing first aid and brownies are doing some crafts.  As Victor Waddington is talking with some scouts the vicar calls him up to the front of the hall and presents him with a silver tumbler, dated 30.11.1984.

Victor Waddington then visits the grave stone of a relative, Emily, who died aged 11 in 1858.  Asked how he would like to be remembered, he answers by saying “by passing on kindness to others”.  As the film finishes showing Victor Waddington back on the Northern King as the sun goes down, he returns to the issue of money, and states that it should go to a good cause.

Yorkshire Television Production
(no credits on the film)

Producer/Director - Nick Gray 
Narrator - Geoff Druett
Production Assistant – Christine Sharman