A year behind the scenes at Hornby Hobbies features on new James May BBC4 documentary

James May at the Hornby celebration Photo John Horton

A look at life behind the scenes at Hornby Hobbies will be screened on TV tonight (March 6) in the first of a two-episode documentary by former Top Gear presenter James May.

James May’s Big Trouble in Model Britain, introduced and narrated by the model train enthusiast who attended the official event last month celebrating the return of the firm to Margate , follows a year inside Hornby Hobbies.

It looks at a company as it faces massive financial challenges and chats to model train and plane obsessives, both inside and outside the company, all of whom desperately need the company to survive.

In episode one, Hornby faces its  biggest crisis in a generation. The company has lost £30 million in the past five years and sales across all three of their major brands – Scalextric, Airfix and Hornby Railways – are down.

New boss, Lyndon Davies, is appointed to turn the company’s fortunes around and he brings back some company veterans to help in the fight for survival.

Sir Roger and Lyndon Davies Photo John Horton

Marketing director Simon Kohler (pictured below), known affectionately as ‘Mr Hornby’ returns after a four-year absence. He assesses how to reconnect with Hornby’s dissatisfied customer base and retailers.

Meanwhile, in a bid to revitalise Airfix, Lyndon tasks a master amateur model builder, Jim Bren, with the biggest build of his model-making life – the largest reconstruction of the Hellcat plane ever attempted by the company.

The programme will look at the company’s design and development process, meets Ken, head of the audio research laboratory,  and other veterans such as head of archives Peter.

The show also features members of the Double O Gauge Association as they [prepare for The Great Electric Train Show in Milton Keynes.

Photo John Horton

Part 2 will look a top-secret mission to capture the sound of a steam locomotive and Simon’s attempt to rejuvenate the tired Scalextric brand name with a flashy new advert. It will also feature Hornby’s first female product designer, Caitlin Williams, fresh out of university and Simon as he takes on two of his biggest rivals with Hornby’s 2019 range including two products that have the competitors fuming.

Hornby marked the return of office staff to its historic Margate site this year with the opening of  new showrooms and then an official ribbon-cutting event.

Hornby moved distribution to Hersden in 2014 and office functions to Discovery Park in 2015, ending more than 60 years of work in Margate.

But the Scalextric and model train giant has returned to the Ramsgate Road site and created expansive trade showrooms.

Photo John Horton

The showrooms mean buyers, including giants such as Warner Bros, Coca Cola and Harrods, are able to view the new lines- something that was not possible while the company was in Sandwich.

From later this month the Visitor Centre will showcase a full Harry Potter and Hogwarts track and a recreated factory floor so people can see how the production lines used to look in the old factory area which is now occupied by Locomotive Storage.

Photo John Horton

Simon said: “We believe Margate is the home of Hornby. It oozes the creative juices of what Hornby is now and will be in the future.”

Watch part one of James May’s Big Trouble in Model Britain tonight (March 6) at 9pm on BBC4 and part 2 at the same time on Wednesday, March 13.

Read here: Hornby Hobbies unveils new showrooms at its historic Margate site


  1. Stop over charging on everything then maybe I can come back into this once great hobby that I use to take pride in.

  2. Hornby models are very expensive considering the low, wages paid in the countries they are made in.

  3. Surely you would sale more if the price the cheaper, I would if it was cheaper. Cut your profits, sale more and you would make more profit

  4. Maybe if Hornby based it’s marketing on dreams rather than memories it would attract more customers and yougsters

  5. What a shame Caitlin Williams wasn’t actually their first female Product Designer, as there have in fact been at least 3 other female designer in the last 12 years!

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