Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Is it a ship? Is it a train? No, it's Sealink!

"On the Buses" must have proved to be a very popular film, because two more followed - "Mutiny on the Buses" and "Holiday on the Buses."  Both sequels had an airing this Christmas holiday - in fact several airings I think.  Anyway, 'Holiday' is notable for the scene where Olive loses her bikini bottoms in the swimming pool (breathlessly funny to my 9 year old) and for Wilfrid Brambell in the role of Mrs Butler's holiday romance.  But as I watched it, I was yet again sent into a reverie of nostalgia - this time over the view of a Sealink ferry.

The scene shows a large ship making its way through a rough sea - it has a red painted funnel with the BR double arrow symbol emblazoned across it.  This white logo on a red background is still used to denote today's privatised rail network.  For example, signs directing people to stations, and the signs at station entrances all use it.  It is a universally recognised part of the railway infrastructure.  People now may wonder what an earth a railway symbol is doing on a ship - because sadly the connection between rail and shipping has been fuzzed.  The shipping services were the first part of the railways to be re-privatised back in the 1980s.  And there ended a connection that went back to the beginning of rail travel.

Victorian railway companies were quick to realise that by connecting their trains to boats, they could tap into a lucrative desire to travel to the Continent among the richer classes.  Boat trains whizzed to major ports, where pleasure seekers could step from train to ship easily.  There are a range of beautiful posters from the early 20th century that advertised such services.  Railway companies also built docks - the Great Central Railway for example were responsible for founding the Port of Immingham and shipped in freight for rail distribution.

On nationalisation of the railways after World War Two, many shipping services remained in British Railways' hands - they crossed the channel and the North Sea, as well as ferrying people across the Humber to name but a few routes.  But then came aeroplanes and package holidays and the Humber Bridge.  When "Holiday on the Buses" was filmed in 1973, Sealink - the name that BR ships went under - was on its way out.  Thankfully, the Channel Tunnel has restored a link between this waterway and rail that has been too tenuous for too long.

See http://www.doublearrow.co.uk/ for more on the BR logo - yes, a whole website is devoted to it!

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