Tuesday, 29 May 2012

I See Bus Conductors and Dog Tracks

"Seance on a Wet Afternoon" (1964) is an extremely atmospheric film - sinister and really quite disturbing.  It concerns a small-time medium, who brow-beats her timid husband (superbly portrayed by Richard Attenborough) into kidnapping the young daughter of a wealthy businessman.  She intends to make herself  famous (a la Doris Stokes - remember her?) by using her psychic powers to 'find' the missing girl.

Incidentally, this film is a must see for any historian of London transport.  Attenborough is shown on buses and tube trains as he carries out the various kidnap and ransom note tasks assigned to him.  As a fan of old transport posters, I was enthralled by the underground journeys, and then I laughed incredulously as I glimpsed a woman sat on a tube train nonchalantly smoking.  Imagine the furore that would cause today!  Attenborough also travels upstairs on the bus (is it me or are there considerably fewer double deckers these days?) Then he pays his fare to the long gone and much missed bus conductor.  I say much missed because who hasn't been stuck behind a bus, unable to overtake it, while the driver deals with a queue of fare payers or just one awkward one?  Buses could keep moving and felt much safer with a conductor.  As the daughter of a conductor turned driver, I also know how much more stressful single manning is for the driver.  The abolition of the conductor was a bad move all round, that only benefited the wrongly privatised companies paying the wages.

The film also offers excellent opportunities for the student of old cars and street furniture, much of it having been filmed on location.  I especially liked the use of a disused dog racing track near the beginning of the film.  I immediately wanted to know where this was and what the scene looks like now.  And why was the track disused?  I thought that greyhound racing was an enduringly popular pastime. As ever, a Google search answered many of the questions.  Several sources agree that the location is Staines Stadium, and that the M25 now cuts right through the venue.  One page that I read informed me that it opened in 1928 and continued to be popular until 1960.  So my question as to why it closed remains unanswered.  I can only make assumptions - perhaps the facilities were considered old fashioned, or the competition from bigger London tracks started to put pressure on as people began to travel further afield for their leisure.  This just goes to prove that a simple scene in a film can open a door of historical interest and research.  Or you can just wallow in nostalgia.  Either way, "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" is an excellent way to spend 90 minutes.

1 comment:

  1. Bus conductors were abolished by most operators long before privatisation but I agree with yoiur other comments