Thursday, 10 November 2011

An Eventful Journey

As a railway lover, any old film that features shots of the network in pre Beeching days is a particular draw.  There are three railway based films that stand out in my mind:
-'Oh! Mr Porter' starring Will Hay.  This has got to be the funniest railway film and has the added bonus of being filmed on a north Hampshire branch line during the 1930s.
-'The Titfield Thunderbolt', a charming distraction on a wet Sunday afternoon with a wonderful sentiment, but, let's face it, totally unrealistic.
-'Train of Events' a brilliant film that encompasses many of the attractions of railways.  Apart from the crash.  But as well all know, this is a rare occurrence and trains are a lot safer than cars.

I'd like to look at two aspects of 'Train of Events' which I think are historically relevant.  The film begins with scenes of an express train crashing into a vehicle blocking the line (see, the crash was the fault of road, not rail!). Most of the subsequent film follows a few days in the life of the engine driver and some of the passengers, just previous to their boarding the doomed Liverpool-bound service.  It was made in 1949 and stars Jack Warner as the driver of the train.  His character is both likeable and believable and I think that the depiction of his life and family must be realistic for the time.  It is not romanticised.  The family live near the train depot and have steam engines shunting up and down at the end of the garden day and night.  The daughter is seen hanging out the washing among the smoke and smuts.  It's easy to sympathise with her when she eventually yells at a passing engine to shut up!  But of course in the days before car ownership among the working class, workers, especially those on shifts, had to be within easy distance of their workplace.

I particularly like a speech given by the railwayman's wife (Gladys Henson) when she tells him how glad she is that his shiftwork may be coming to an end.  She's never complained before, but now there's an end in sight it all comes flooding out - how she's hated the daft hours, the strange mealtimes and turning over in bed to tell him something then realising that he's not there.  I can identify with her having been in a similar position myself - and so will millions of others.  He's a top link driver, but although this job was every young boy's dream, it did come at a price and this part of the story is finally told in this film.  But the employment at the depot is dependable and there is a comradeship, with the locomen prepared to help each other out.  Are there any professions left that offer this kind of stability?

So 'Train of Events' gives us a realistic glimpse of the life of a railwayman just after World War 2.  It also gives us a glimpse of something else that we have lost - more on this in my next post.

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