*Please note, this website was originally intended to be published in book format, hence this wordy introduction.
First of all I need to give you a reason for producing such a website. I have always been interested in railways, and from an early age one way that my mum found to keep me quiet was to sit me in front of the TV and put on a Thomas The Tank Engine video. If I remember correctly my favourite episode was ‘Paint Pots and Queens’! Every child has fads and goes through phases except for us ‘train kids’, for which the hobby seems to stick and turn itself into an intense and widely shared enthusiasm with other similar people. I did collect numbers, and still do, but the older I became the more I started to take an interest in the surroundings and saw the railway as an integral part of the landscape. I began to read about railway history and wanted to learn more about Britain’s railways and the social impact they made, which, save for possibly the internal combustion engine, was second only to the Great War in the way it affected social hierarchy. What I quickly discovered was the pride in which every single company once had as they strived to fight, often bitterly, for each other’s revenue. This rivalry would be highlighted to me by a trip to London, when myself and all my older spotting pals would travel around London visiting all the different termini. Marylebone was my favourite, so quiet and unassuming even by today’s standards. And to think that at one time its future, quite literally, hung by a thread. Then, one day I was at home watching a film (John Boorman’s intensely autobiographical Hope and Glory 1987), when the railway station scene appeared depicting the children being evacuated out of London by train. My mum asked me what station it was, and I said Marylebone (despite the locomotive in question being Sir Lamiel, a Southern Railway ‘King Arthur’). After this, every time a railway scene appeared on TV I was asked if I knew where it was. I could identify a locomotive easily enough, but stations proved much more difficult to identify, and in the days before the world wide web it would prove often impossible to accurately identify a location. Eventually, I found a book by the eminent railway historian John Huntly called Railways on the Screen. It was interesting in a historical sense, but it largely lacked the information that I required. Much later Horton’s Guide was produced, but more on that in a bit. These books had been produced but lacked the quality information that I was after and, of course, they were missing some railway films entirely. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I would produce my own work on the subject. And here it is.
This listing covers British and Irish Railways in Film and therefore does not just include trains, but stations too. Many hundreds of films feature just a station scene, either a shot of the station frontage or a scene filmed on a busy concourse. In my opinion these glimpses give just as interesting a portrayal of our railway history as does a ‘Royal Scot’ thundering through the Lune Gorge. London Underground station frontages are particularly common, and quite a number appear in a scene by complete accident. This A-Z thus includes trains, stations, shots of railway lines and yards, tunnels and viaducts, London Underground lines, tramways, preserved lines and narrow-gauge systems, including pleasure railways. This website lists anything in fact that is railway related, no matter how small, drawing the line only at models. Outside the scope of the ubiquitous studio reconstruction of a railway carriage, model railways proper are excluded as they are, after all, not real trains. However, a couple of films depict exquisite scale replicas of locomotives and these are included because, quite rightfully, they are works of art in themselves. Coaminum (1935) probably features the best in the form of a beautifully engineered LMS ‘Patriot’. Foreign, British-built locomotives will not be mentioned unless the film also features a British Railway scene. Bhowani Junction (1958) and Ghost Story (1974) are good examples here, but there will remain little, or no references, to foreign traction in films. The Eurostar’s in Mr. Bean’s Holiday (2007) are mentioned, despite being filmed entirely on the Continent, but the French TGV’s in that movie are not. Conversely, foreign locomotives and rolling stock on a British railway will be included because they obviously fall within the definition of this website, the rolling stock residing on the Nene Valley is the most obvious example to date. Bridges, too, are by and large excluded, unless of course they feature a train, are integral to the plot, or are simply big and substantial enough to warrant a listing. The Forth Bridge as seen in The Ballad of Tam Lin (1970) is an example of this nature and railway viaducts are included too, whether they feature a train or not, see for instance A Taste of Honey. Smoky scenes and sounds of railways are not included, which therefore means that The L-Shaped Room (1962) is excluded despite it being one of the most “atmospheric” railway films of all time. Films that entirely use sets to depict a railway scene, as with models, are also excluded, meaning that, sadly, the superb 1942 film noir Hatter’s Castle – the only film to depict the Tay Bridge disaster – has also had to be left out. The only other possible bone of contention is the recent surge in films that use St Pancras Chambers, and in particular the Grand Staircase within. This site was the former Midland Grand Hotel, but I have chosen to exclude it from the listings as although it is an integral part of the station, the actual station with trains does not feature. It should also be mentioned that, by and large, street level entrances to London Underground stations are not included as in the majority of cases these ‘stations’ without any street level buildings are mere holes in the ground! I have deliberately avoided certain words in the title of this website. ‘Trains’ for instance is far too casual a word to describe such a list, many shots do not even portray such a thing! I avoided terms such as ‘British Isles’ or the ‘UK’ because these felt too nondescript and because the railways and tramways of Ireland and the Isle of Man are included. As a matter of fact, some very good railway films emanate from these places, in particular Ireland, a country that seemed quite capable of accurately recording its railway history.
So, what of the films themselves. Well, any independently made film of any length can found in this A-Z. The listings do not yet include films made solely for television, partly because I needed to draw the line initially as to what to include, and partly because I do not see these films produced for the “corporates” as being real films per se, though of course the BBC Film Unit has collaborated with many independent film companies in recent years so these films will be recorded. There are exceptions though to every rule and this website includes Dancing Queen (1993), a Rik Mayall Production for ITV that features a lengthy railway scene early on, and A Week in the Life of Martin Cluxton (1971), produced independently for RTÉ and in true Irish fashion is an accomplished piece of social realism with some wonderful railway scenes. The TV movie The Crucifer of Blood (1991) is also ‘in’ as it features a very unexpected re-use of a shot from The Railway Children (1970), more on which later. I have also included Night Mail (1936), a documentary that is now so highly regarded and of such historical importance that it would seem somewhat churlish to omit it even though it technically isn’t a film at all. And neither is Terminus (1961), John Schlesinger’s brilliant and hugely atmospheric docu-short. The reason for the latter’s inclusion is that a number of actors were used in staged settings, something which may come as a surprise to many. The term ‘feature film’ is said to be a film with a running time long enough to be considered the principle or sole film to fill a program. According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Film Institute, and the British Film Institute, a feature film runs for at least 40 minutes, while the Screen Actors Guild states that it is 80 minutes or longer. There is no mention of films over 180 minutes as being ‘a bit long’! I have largely avoided the term “feature film” and haven’t included it in the title because a films length can really be anything. Many of the early silents were by nature short and the production of short films has continued ever since. In fact, the popularity of shorts seems to be growing again and there are some fine examples. The darkly comic Six Shooter (2004) is as enjoyable as it is brutal and the four-minute drama Train to Lymington (1990) is a right little gem. Then there are the films that were produced by the Children’s Film Foundation which in general were between 45-55 minutes in length. Many featured trains but one in particular, Night Ferry (1976), is one of the most densely packed railway movies of all time, with almost every scene featuring a train and some really rare glimpses of Class 74’s, Temple Mills Marshalling Yard as a working hump, and the Night Ferry itself, the prestigious named train that lent its title to the film. I thought, however, that the A-Z should not just be a listing of railway films but that it should also be a personal recollection of railway movies. Many people can remember a film because of a certain scene, or because their favourite actor or actress is part of the cast, so I felt that rather than just make one long list of films which would serve its purpose but might well otherwise be somewhat dry, I thought I would go some way to explaining the film and the scenes themselves, with a smattering of humour thrown in. This may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is after all an A-Z of railway scenes in the broader context, and not just an A-Z of railway films, of which there are very few. If there is a particular scene I have liked, or an actor or actress that I have admired, then I say so. I rarely give a film a bad review, but I will comment on it if needs be. By doing this, I hope that one can connect with the A-Z through their own thoughts and recollections. It makes it a little bit human. After all, films are generally remembered not for their railway content, which may just be limited to a single brief shot, but more for how one remembers a film. It is the tearfully atmospheric scene at the end of The Railway Children that really stands out, for me anyway. It brings home the finality of the situation, the coming of age, and the realization that through all the troubled times, love and hope remained as strong as ever.
So, how accurate should a film be? Now that really is a sore subject for many. It should be noted that a railway enthusiast will watch a film and be able to immediately point out what is wrong with the ‘railway scene’ where, for instance, a film set in the 1930s has a train formed of BR Mk1 coaching stock with a BR Standard-type at the helm. Or that a station in Kent has LNER teak carriages in the platform. Does all this really matter? Rarely has any film ever accurately portrayed a railway that it can become something of a chore looking out for every possible (and probable) fault. Even The Railway Children is not an exact true reflection of the railways in Yorkshire at the time, but I have never once met anyone who has ever complained about that film’s inaccuracies, or even seen them written in print, I mean, a GWR Pannier Tank in Yorkshire. It’s preposterous! And to paint it golden ochre is pure sacrilege!! One or two films are really noticeable, namely Kate Plus Ten (1938) and The Last Journey (1936), but more for their blatant traction changes than for their period inaccuracies. I believe that, by and large, these errors and discrepancies can be overlooked. Only a brief mention is made of the fact that rolling stock is anachronistic as, to the untrained eye, it really is just a train in a period setting and these inaccuracies are listed solely as an act of completeness. Dodgy and often unnecessary dubbing over of sound along with erroneous station PA announcements are to me a more obvious problem that is more easily avoided. Nonetheless, despite all this, it was major inaccuracies in both Brief Encounter films which led to me to produce this list in the first place. I will start first with the truly dreadful 1974 ‘reproduction’ of Brief Encounter. Having brought a copy of Horton’s Guide to Britain’s Railways in Feature Film, I read in there that the film was shot at Winchester station, a myth that I believe had been perpetuated by the late Peter Handford, a location sound recordist who was a pioneer in this area of sound recording. He said of the film “The resulting remake was a disaster from every point of view, from the casting of the delectable Italian Sophia Loren to play the part of the housewife to the choice of a new location, on the electrified Southern Region at Winchester”. Sadly, this was wrong, and it proves the point that incorrect information can be repeated from source to source without anyone actually checking the facts. It is how urban myths begin and then continue as fact. Anyone unlucky enough to have found a copy of this film will see that the railway station used was in fact Brockenhurst, in the New Forest, and that the only point in the film where Winchester station appears, and you have to be careful to notice it at all, is a very brief shot of Sophia Loren leaving the main entrance mid-way through the proceedings (the city centre was used a lot and I believe the odd station nameboard was also changed at Brockenhurst which no doubt helped give credence to the myth in the first place). Brockenhurst is a familiar station. It has four platforms, sits on a curve, and is only 10 miles from where I grew up. I passed through it many hundreds of times, and it was instantly recognisable to me. Straightforward enough maybe, but it is only very recently that railway publications and websites have started to state otherwise. This extends also to David Lean’s classic production from 1945. Much has been documented over time that the fast run throughs of expresses at night were filmed at Watford Junction, but what proof of this I have not been able to find. All evidence suggests now that these too were filmed at Carnforth, as the water tower, semaphore signals, and station canopies all match with contemporary pictures taken at Carnforth from the era. The best way to see if a film has any railway content, and to what extent it features, is to watch the film from beginning to end. Only then can one comment on accuracy and that is exactly what I have done. I have watched nearly a thousand films with railway content of some form or another so can therefore describe with some degree of accuracy just what that film has to offer. No film was ever cut short or fast-forwarded to the good bits for fear of missing anything railway related. If the identity of any train or station cannot be confirmed, then I use the term “unknown” in the hope that the readers can eventually fill in some of the gaps. If no pictures appear then it is likely I have not as yet watched the film. Many early films have been lost forever and it can only be assumed that the information given for these is accurate enough.
It should be noted that this website does not give a history of railway films as other sites, books and publications do this, but it does give a brief historical overview under certain films where necessary. Again, this may not be to everyone’s liking but it should perhaps be remembered that history is in the railway films themselves which, I believe, is a more than appropriate enough reminder of the past. Have there been any surprises whilst watching these films? There has been, and perhaps the biggest of all was the appearance of ‘The Old Gentlemen’s Train’ from The Railway Children in both The Crucifer of Blood (1991) and Dracula (1973). The appearance in the latter was only three years after the original production but for the train to ‘reappear’ in The Crucifer of Blood some 21 years later was a big surprise to say the least. Also, the amount of footage of UK railways to appear in foreign productions is quite astonishing. When one scratches the surface there has been quite a few but there must be more out there. The Bollywood blockbusters despite their continuity errors appear quite happy to feature a British railway scene as part of the story. Shaandaar (2015) has an unusual scene filmed from Cow Wath Bridge at Goathland on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway whilst Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007) is a modern-day Brief Encounter with a huge amount of filming taking place at London Waterloo. Another foreign film that has some excellent contemporary UK railway scenes of the time is the 1967 Italian-French thriller I Am What I Am (or Col Curore In Gola), with some suburb scenes of passing trains at Clapham Junction. Whilst watching these films it very quickly became apparent that the producers wanted to feature trains in some scenes, so as a final footnote it is perhaps worth asking the question just why do we need a train in a film, and what is it supposed to portray? I will give you an example. The 1994 drama Tom & Viv, a hard-hitting and quite thought-provoking film has a couple of extremely brief railway scenes that, quite frankly, give nothing to the story at all. The images need not have been used and the film would have been none the worse without them. But then isn’t that the point. The producers wanted to give the impression of a rail journey but without the time and expense of actually filming one so in order to get the feel of a railway journey which was a part of the plot, an image of a train was better than no train at all. I think that, whether it is accurate or not, people just like to see or hear a train. The British populace has always had a strong feeling of love and affection towards a steam train, a feeling of romance, of smoke-filled stations, of holidays by rail to the seaside and of journeys to far-flung places. Railways form an integral part of our culture, whether we like to admit it or not. Is it not unreasonable then to expect to see one in a film? Probably not, but these are just my thoughts, and you will have your own. A French woman once told me that when the Channel Tunnel first opened 80% of the users in the first year were British. The French still wanted to travel to the UK by air, or by boat. Why? It is almost certainly down to the fact that we love railways, and the fact that they have always formed a part of British cultural life saw to it that we were excited to be travelling by rail to a foreign land. To the French, the tunnel was nothing more than a convenient form of travel, like the airplane and boat already were at the time of opening. Ironically, the Eurostar trains feature in a number of French films where a trip to London is required! Keep watching, and I hope you get as much enjoyment out of the films as I did.