Dir: John Schlesinger
Starring: Margaret Ashcroft and Gertrude Dickin

A day in the life of Waterloo station

This British Transport Film documentary shot in August 1960, was the first cinema film directed by John Schlesinger and presents a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ look at an ordinary day at Waterloo station in London. This now revered piece of cinematography was rightly awarded no less than 14 international film honours, including best short film at the British Film Academy Awards and the Golden Lion for Best Documentary at the Venice Film Festival. The film was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary – Short Subject in 1963, but after the nominations were announced, it was discovered that the film had already been released and the nomination had to be withdrawn. It’s inclusion in this A-Z stems from the fact that many of the supposedly ‘reportage’ shots were in fact staged. Schlesinger makes a cameo appearance as a passing, umbrella-carrying business man, and a tearful and apparently lost child, Matthew Perry, was temporarily abandoned deliberately by his mother Margaret, an actress relative of Schlesinger. Some other people appearing were also actors, including the handcuffed convicts and a confused elderly woman, though no one in the film was credited. Set to the accompaniment of Ron Grainer’s music and Julian Cooper’s songs, the film captures to perfection the atmosphere of the station, its travelers, and its trains. Unsurprisingly, almost every possible part of the station is covered, from the rooftop beehives to the basement lost property office, and the station announcers glazed enclosure to the signal box outside. Amongst all the Southern Region coaching stock and electric units, plenty of locomotives have been captured, and they appear in the following order (all are of SR origin unless otherwise stated): a boat train leaves the platform with an ex-GWR ‘Siphon G’ ventilated van on the back and it is being pushed from the rear by a Class S15 4-6-0; a close-up view of the cab of BR Class 5MT 4-6-0 No.7304?; the ‘Pretoria Castle’ boat train arrives at Platform 11 behind a ‘Lord Nelson’ Class 4-6-0 complete with ‘UNION CASTLE EXPRESS’ headboard; a ‘West Country’ Class 4-6-2 passes behind passengers on the platform; an M7 Class 0-4-4T is pushing a train out; an excellent shot of ‘Lord Nelson’ Class 4-6-0 No.30864 Sir Martin Frobisher leaving the station; another BR Standard Class 5MT 4-6-0 at the head of an excursion, the route headboards of which are placed over the smokebox numberplate which ends in a ‘6’; a shot of ‘Merchant Navy’ Class 4-6-2 No.35003 Royal Mail standing at the bufferstops; a Bulleid pacific running down into Waterloo light engine, as viewed from the signal box; ‘Lord Nelson’ Class 4-6-0 No.30852 Sir Walter Raleigh arriving with another boat train; a night shot of a smoky Bulleid Pacific; and a similar view of BR Class 5MT 4-6-0 No.73116 Iseult. This last was one of the 20 Southern Region based members of the class that were given names from withdrawn ‘King Arthur’ Class locos thus earning them the sobriquet ‘Standard Arthurs’. Confirmed identities of other rolling stock present is as follows: 4 SUB EMU No.4112, 4 COR EMU’s No’s 3146 and 3157, Pullman Car Niobe, a 1928-built brake, along with Pullman Cars No.8 and No.47, Mk1 TSO No.3840, Mk1 BSK No.34995 (converted to a Bullion Van in 1966 and now preserved), and Gresley Full Brake No.70513 (what was that doing at Waterloo?). There is also a brief sequence filmed ‘down below’ on the Waterloo & City Line with Class 487 EMU’s present including vehicles 54 and 80. The following year BTF produced a short customer relations training film called People Like Us. This uses footage, actual and unused, from Schlesinger’s Terminus. (Due to the sheer volume of possible photographic shots available, only those depicting trains will be shown below).

Surprisingly few electric units actually feature in this production but this is a good shot of 4 SUB units. Before the introduction of 1951 stock, which had internal roller blinds, all SR EMU’s had to have a number stencil attached to an illuminated box when running. Look closely at the one nearest the camera on platform 3 and you an see that the driver has opened his offside front window and is leaning out to remove the stencil number of the headcode. This will be replaced by a oil lit tail lamp for the ‘return’ journey.
Minnie the signal box moggie. Outside the windows of the ‘box a suburban service passes formed of 2 BIL EMU’s.
Down below on the Waterloo & City Line the doors are about to close on a tightly packed Class 487 bound for Bank
In this view of the platforms, an S15 4-6-0 is offering rear-end assistance to a heavily laden express complete with ex-GWR ‘Siphon G’ on the back
An overall view of the approach to Waterloo with a steam-hauled service snaking its way out at the start of its journey
The ‘Pretoria Castle’ boat train arrives into Platform 11 behind a ‘Lord Nelson’ Class 4-6-0 complete with ‘UNION CASTLE EXPRESS’ headboard
A ‘West Country’ Class 4-6-2 passes behind passengers on the platform. Its nameplate is sadly not readable.
As passengers bid their fond farewells an M7 Class 0-4-4 tank stands behind ready to give a helpful push for when the train departs
A wonderful portrayal of No.30864 Sir Martin Frobisher pulling out on an express. This excellent shot is the best in the film and it shows to good effect just what a fine locomotive the Lord Nelson’s really were.
An unidentified BR Standard Class 5MT 4-6-0 waits impatiently at the head of an excursion, the route headboards of which are placed over the smokebox numberplate which ends in a ‘6’
‘Merchant Navy’ Class 4-6-2 No.35003 Royal Mail stands at the bufferstops as a coffin is wheeled past. Note the fabulous BOAC CUNARD advert, certain history in itself.
The Bulleid pacific outside the box is running tender first and will be ‘dropping down’ onto a train in the platform. As the kettle boils inside it proves the theory that steam locomotives really are just kettles on wheels. Nice mirror image as well!
‘Lord Nelson’ 4-6-0 No.30852 Sir Walter Raleigh arrives with a boat train
4 SUB EMU No.4112 is pulling out of platform 1. The guard is just closing his door!!
Darkness has fallen as a Bulleid pacific waits in the platform with steam apparently leaking from every possible joint
The last shot of a train in the film is this superbly atmospheric portrayal of a parcels train pulling out of the station in the hands of BR Class 5MT 4-6-0 No.73116 Iseult. This shot went on to appear in The Talented Husband, the very first episode of The Saint TV series (1962) and later still in 1965, The Morning Wasn’t So Hot, Series 1 Episode 12 of Public Eye.