RADIO ON

GB / GER
1979
1hr 44mins
Dir: Christopher Petit
Starring: David Beames and Sandy Ratcliff

A man drives from London to the West Country to investigate his brother’s suicide and encounters a series of odd people along the way

In America, a road movie like Easy Rider takes you from Los Angeles to New Orleans, and in mainland Europe, Kings of the Road followed the border between East and West Germany. Here in the UK, our equivalent road movie is this, a bleak and austere ‘hop’ from London to Bristol, down the M4 and the A4, in the rain, in black and white, and through the grimy window of a knackered old two-tone Rover P4. This movie maybe a stark, monochrome glimpse of an end of a decade Britain that proudly wears its Germanic influences on its sleeve, but it is good, very good, and arguably one of Britain’s finest dramas of recent times. It also features a number of interesting railway scenes. In one, David Beames is refused access to the ‘Platform 1’ club, which is in fact the old station building on Platform One of Clifton Down station in Bristol! The building closed to passengers in 1967 but the station remains open and the pub is now the ‘Roo Bar’. There are also some shots of the entrance to the platforms, but it is dark, and no trains are visible. There is then a scene with Beames walking across a playground by an industrial estate and a slow moving HST set is passing in the background. This was filmed from Dings Park facing Kingsland Road and the HST is on the final approach to Bristol Temple Meads. Earlier in the movie there are a number of aerial views of London, and in one, cars can be seen passing along the A3220 West Cross Route and beneath the Metropolitan Line viaduct between what is now Latimer Road and Wood Lane stations on the Hammersmith & City Line. As the cars go under the bridge, a train of LT C stock passes across and there is another similar view of a more distant C stock train from a tower block in the area. Finally, right at the end there is a scene filmed on the fledgling West Somerset Railway at Blue Anchor station, with very rare shots of the sole surviving two-car Class 103 ‘Park Royal’ DMU. The unit was painted in mock carmine & cream livery complete with ‘speed whiskers’, but this is sadly barely noticeable in the film as it was shot entirely in black and white. What is alarming, is that as the train enters the platform, rather than use the level crossing David Beames jumps down and crosses the tracks in its path to gain access to the opposite platform! The credits start to roll to a lingering shot of the DMU disappearing off into the countryside, and then continue to roll as the level crossing gates open and the road traffic begins to cross again. It is a brilliant piece of cinematography to end the film with. What is even more interesting is that Beames has abandoned his car and given up on his quest with regards too solving his brother’s death, and simply decides to take the train to wherever it goes. To start a new life? Or simply while away a few days? We shall never know, but the ‘pull’ of ‘letting the train take the strain’ is something many of us know only too well. One interesting side note is that David Beames went to the UK premier of the film and sat a complete stranger in the audience as, having been shot in black and white, nobody recognised his shock of red hair!

In a view from Markland House, a Metropolitan Line train can be seen on the right snaking its way through the landscape
In an equally bleak shot, another Metropolitan Line train crosses over both the A3220 West Cross Route and the adjacent West London Line
This does not look like anything of interest but the two women are in fact stood on the platform of Clifton Down station in Bristol. David Beames’ Rover P4 is in the foregound.
This is Dings Park, Kingsland Road, Bristol, and Temple Meads station is just off camera to the left. The HST can be seen passing behind the wall.
In this lingering shot of the signal box, the long shadows hail the approach of night. A dog barks aimlessly somewhere whilst the wind buffets the wooden structure causing the sign beneath its eaves to sway with a gentle creek. It is this type of photography that makes this film so real. This is Blue Anchor, on the West Somerset branch to Minehead.
The level crossing gates are closed and the signal arm will shortly drop with an ominous clunk to herald the arrival of the next train
The train arrives, formed of a Class 103 DMU. What this shot does not show is that moments later, and seemingly the result of an afterthought, David Beames jumps off the platform and crosses to the other side in order to catch the train!
The train now departing….is to anywhere you wish to go. The credits start to roll and this magnificent movie draws to a close.
As the train disappears off into the distance the crossing gates have reopened to the road vehicles waiting. Life here, for a while at least, has gone back to normal.