Stand-up Tom Wrigglesworth was threatened with arrest – after coming to the aid of an elderly train passenger who had been reduced to tears by Virgin Train staff.
The comic stepped in after he saw 75-year-old Lena Ainscow sobbing after she was forced to pay £115 for getting on the wrong train.
He organised a whip-round among fellow passengers to cover the fare, but the officious train manager said his actions amounted to begging – and called police. He ordered 32-year-old Wrigglesworth to hand back the cash or face being arrested.
The incident occurred yesterday as Mrs Ainscow was travelling from her home in Bolton, Greater Manchester, to see family in Bromley, Kent, including her son-in-law, who had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with the Royal Artillery.
She had paid £11.50 to travel on the 10.45am Manchester to Euston service. But her travel itinerary, issued by Virgin, said she had been booked on the 10.15am train. When she queried the discrepancy with Virgin staff in Manchester, they told her to board the earlier service.
However, that held no sway with the train manager who forced her to pay for a new ticket for being on the wrong service.
Wrigglesworth told Chortle: ‘I was trying to sleep when I heard the train manager insisting this old dear pay the fare, so I tried to intervene, because it was obviously just a mistake.
‘She said, “It’s all right, love” and produced loads of notes from her handbag to pay the fare. But it was only pride that she said that, and I saw she was crying. It turned out she was carrying all that cash because she’d saved up her pension money to buy her grandkids presents.’
‘I thought I had to do something, so I got a paper bag from the buffet car and started a collection.
‘I wasn’t sure that I wanted to get involved, but I had this weird sense that I had to, because of what I do for a living. If anyone was going to be able to stand up in front of a carriage full of people and ask for money, it should be me. I thought that I just said the words of anger that were ringing in my head, the worst thing that can happen is that I die as if it was a bad gig.’
‘So I went through about six carriages, making a little speech that if we all chucked a quid we would get the money in no time. Everyone was happy to help and someone even put in £30.
‘But there was this drunk bloke in one carriage – and this was about 11.30am – who accused me of begging. He started heckling me. I thought, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with.” I turned it into a gig and put him down. People were happy to pay the £1 for that entertainment. At some carriages I got a round of applause.’
‘The manager, who was the Nazi jobsworth personified, accused me of begging and asked me to give everyone’s money back. I started to get quite cocky. He said I should have asked his permission first – but I told him I hadn’t done this sort of thing before, so I wasn’t aware of the procedure.
‘He lost his temper and said he was going to get me arrested if I didn’t give people their money back. I told him people didn’t want it back.’
So the comic was met at Euston by transport police, and he had to explain what had happened – as a supportive ‘mob’ of about a dozen fellow passengers looked on. Among them was fellow stand-up Jack Whitehall, who happened to be on the same train. ‘It all kicked off,’ said Wrigglesworth. ‘I was the calmest man there.’
When the police learned what had happened they walked away, taking no further action.
Wrigglesworth said: ‘Virgin’s Customer Service people at Euston were horrified at what happened. They promised to refund the £115 – so the money we collected will go to charity when she gets that back.
‘They asked me what else I needed, sand I asked for a form to complain about the train manager – and I told them they should get a cab to take this lady to Bromley. She got that cab, all paid for by Virgin.’
Mrs Ainscow said: ‘When the guard said I had to buy a new ticket I was devastated. The only money I had was the savings I’d scraped together to get my grandchildren a present. Tom really spoke up for me, he was marvellous.’
Virgin Trains today apologised for ‘the distress that has been caused to both these people’.