Page last updated at 11:52 GMT, Wednesday, 6 May 2009 12:52 UK

Branson in 'patronising' rail ad

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An excerpt from the advert - courtesy YouTube

Sir Richard Branson has been accused of patronising rail staff after dressing as a station cleaner for a TV advert.

The billionaire Virgin boss appears with forearms covered with fake tattoos and blacked-out teeth as he empties bins at Glasgow's Central Station.

The RMT rail union said it demonstrated a patronising attitude to staff who had worked hard to make him a fortune.

Sir Richard insisted the advert showed how proud he was of Virgin Trains employees.

Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard says the advert shows his pride in Virgin Trains staff

In the advert, designed to promote improvements to the West Coast line, Sir Richard wears a bright orange fluorescent jacket, heavy boots and is seen driving a refuse cart through the station.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow commented: "Richard Branson treating the hard-working rail employees, who have earned him a fortune in recent years, as some sort of excuse for getting out the fancy dress box is patronising in the extreme.

"The blacked-out teeth and fake tattoos say a lot about the attitude of Virgin Trains to our members who work under enormous pressure to make the services tick."

Sir Richard said the advert showed his appreciation of his workforce.

"I am so proud of all of our Virgin Train people and if dressing up in disgustingly dirty clothes, having my teeth blacked out and getting covered in tattoos was what it took to provide it, I was delighted to oblige," he said.

Serious purpose

A spokesman for Virgin Trains denied the commercial was patronising.

He said: "Sir Richard's involvement in our new marketing campaign will help gain even more publicity to support Virgin Trains and the 3,200 people the company employs.

"That includes 260 loyal and hard-working staff in Scotland who are doing a great job by providing excellent customer service.

"Sir Richard's well-known sense of humour has a serious purpose here. By winning more people over to rail, from air and road, he is doing something that is good for the environment and good for rail jobs."

A multi-million pound upgrade of the West Coast line was completed in December, but more engineering work is scheduled this year.

Over the next bank holiday weekend, 23 to 25 May, passengers will have to use a replacement bus service between Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire and Birmingham.



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