Dir: Castleton Knight
Starring: Alec Hurley and Pauline Johnson
A disgruntled former employee tries to wreck the ‘Flying Scotsman’
This film is a very early ‘part-talkie’ as half way through this silent everyone starts to talk! As the name of the film suggests, Gresley LNER A3 Class 4-6-2 No.4472 Flying Scotsman was the star of the film, suggesting that its recent fame is not a new phenomenon. The locomotive was used by the film company for six weeks of filming, with crews using numerous camera positions on the loco, tender and stock. The early railway scenes in this film are as follows; an unknown ‘Gresley’ 4-6-2 passing on an express; Flying Scotsman entering London King’s Cross followed by a general station scene; Flying Scotsman leaving King’s Cross ‘Top Shed’ MPD light engine with ex-GNR ‘large-boilered’ Class C1 4-4-2 No.4411 in the background with possibly another ‘Gresley’ 4-6-2 behind that (incidentally loco 4411 was involved in the 1935 Welwyn crash but was not damaged); Flying Scotsman backing onto a train at King’s Cross with an LNER N2 Class 0-6-2T alongside; Flying Scotsman then leaves with an express and this is followed by a number of good drivers-eye views of locations in the immediate area such as Gasworks and Copenhagen Tunnels and Holloway Bank. During these clips, we get a rare glimpse of a D49 Class 4-4-0 passing on an express. The rest of the film is taken up by the attempt to wreck the train which was filmed on the Hertford Loop. The scenes where actors Pauline Johnson and Dino Galvani climb on to the roof and cling to the running-boards of the train at 45 mph were filmed between Crews Hill, Cuffley and Bayford, and the actors actually carried out these brave stunts themselves during this stunning sequence, not stunt-doubles. Pauline Johnson wore high-heels! (Pauline Johnson was a leading British silent actress of her age, although she did appear in few films after 1930). Having acquired the use of Flying Scotsman, Castleton Knight took a number of liberties, and it is a fantastic record of what could be done through co-operation of the railway companies combining their efforts with a determined film crew. Moore Marriott really drove the locomotive, and Ray Milland actually tended the fire. Eventually the loco is uncoupled from its train, again at speed, and as the loco continues, the teak coaches are brought to a stand. This entire sequence is a masterpiece of editing and in many ways set a precedent for future films. What followed in the 1930s is seen by many to be the great era of British movie making, with Hitchcock’s Number Seventeen (1932) and The 39 Steps of 1935, along with The Last Journey 1936 and the sadly lost Cock O’ The North 1935 (all qv) being other railway movies that vie for attention. However, back to the The Flying Scotsman. The scene of the villain uncoupling the loco from the stock with the carriages racing on in pursuit of the loco were a source of great anger to Sir Nigel Gresley. He said, ‘it made it look as though the LNER had not yet discovered the vacuum brake’ and a special title had to be added to the film explaining that ‘certain liberties had been taken for dramatic license with the normal safety equipment of LNER trains’, which put it mildly to say the least! In fact, this movie put Sir Nigel completely off ‘film people’ as he called them, and he stayed away from the camera thereafter. Footage of him on screen is thus limited to just a few promotional reels from a visit to Doncaster Works in 1927. It seems a shame that this movie is relatively little known, despite being readily available on DVD.