As a training exercise for their apprentice camera operators, British Transport Films used surplus roll end length of film to record the daily lives of their neighbours from the roof of their building Melbury House.
Blue Pullman is a 1960 short documentary film directed by James Ritchie, which follows the development, preparation and a journey from Manchester to London on new British Railways Blue ... See full summary »
Have you ever wondered how many railway goods wagons it would take, laid end to end, to stretch from Plymouth to Wadi Halfa? I can't say that I have given much thought to that particular conundrum, but just in case you have tried to puzzle it out the answer (according to "Fully Fitted Freight") is 1,124,812, which just happens to be the number which British Railways owned when the film was made in 1957. This is one of a number of short documentaries made by British Transport Films, set up by the British Transport Corporation in 1949 to make films about transport in Britain. (The inspiration was probably the GPO film unit, set up in the 1930s to make films about the work of the Post Office).
The film follows the journey of a goods train from Bristol to Leeds via the Midlands. The title derives from the fact that all the wagons are fully fitted with vacuum brakes and screw couplings, enabling the train to travel as fast as a passenger express. The story is narrated by a plummy-voiced announcer to a "Mrs Smith", a fictitious housewife who wants to know how the goods in her shopping basket got to the shops. (He comes across as not just plummy-voiced but also a bit patronising; no doubt most real-life "Mrs Smiths" would be rather better informed about these matters than he assumes).
We get to meet some of the men who run the service, and occasionally get to know a surprising amount of detail about them. We learn, for example, not only that the guard on the train is called Jim Tudor but also that his nickname is "Sunny Jim" and that his full name is actually Thomas Michael James Tudor. We also hear what these men have to say about their work, but not in their own voices as they are dubbed by actors using the appropriate, if not always entirely accurate, local accent.
The central message behind the film is that British Rail's freight service is an absolutely vital part of the national infrastructure, of immeasurable value to the British economy. Or is it? What the film does not say is that even in the late fifties the road haulage industry was becoming a major competitor to the railways. The Beeching Axe of 1963 affected British Rail's freight service just as much as its passenger service.
What is interesting about the film from a modern viewpoint is not its prediction of a constant future expansion of the British rail freight network only six years before that network was to undergo a major contraction. Its value lies in the view it gives of the Britain of sixty years ago and its strikingly poetic vision of Britain's landscapes and cityscapes, from the steel-making city of Sheffield to the snowy Scottish countryside, shown in the striking black-and-white photography of cinematographer Ronald Craigen. It seems to have been influenced by the GPO Film Unit's "Night Mail", another poetic documentary about a train journey through Britain; both films make use of a score by a modern British composer. (Benjamin Britten in the earlier film, Ralph Vaughan Williams here).
A goof. Bristol Cathedral is wrongly referred to as "St George's Cathedral". Its actual dedication is to the Holy and Undivided Trinity.
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