Tuesday 26 April 2011

Brief Encounter

Along with other TV and radio channels Classic FM have blitzed their Easter schedules by carpet bombing one target. In this case it’s annual Hall of Fame, a listing of 300 most favoured bits from a broad range of more or less classical music.

Allowing for the potential for manipulation of polls of this kind, I suspect that this one is relatively free. What is a puzzle is that at the top some items last for so very long. The top one this year, normally one of the first three is the most well known bit from Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

I have no problem with the composer and little with the piece but it is when the reason cited is that its status derives from the 1945 film, “Brief Encounter”. Again, I don’t doubt that it is a classic film and one of the best British films of its time. But how come that sixty six years later it can pull in the votes?

The film does not have a lot of laughs, the body count is zero, nobody gets any serious damage and the love interests barely touch each other. It is all very middle class, the workers are certainly distinct and the upper orders out of sight. Even for fans of the period there is not much to see; you need to be a dedicated train buff to work out what is going on at the station.

One of the great mysteries is of all the stations in the world they had to walk into this one. Carnforth in north Lancashire was chosen. At the time it was both a main line station, although many expresses did not stop and a busy junction for other lines.

The July 1922 timetable will bear this out and it was much the same in 1944/5 when the filming took place. But there were many other’s like it not only on the LMS but all over the country; which is the reason why it may have connected with the audiences. We all knew and had experienced places like it somewhere.

It was only a handful of years after this that I put in my first shift on the railway, heaving mailbags during the Christmas rush. For several years after from time to time I was back at one station or another on the platforms. The refreshment room was very like the one in the film only the rock buns were harder but the toasted bacon sandwiches were very good. They were the haute cuisine of the time.

Looking back the stations then would often have an atmosphere and a character that was totally lost by the 1970’s. Sometimes the departures would be sad, men going off for military service, others who would not be seeing loved ones for a very long time. Sometimes they would be joyful.

The wedding parties used to be quite cheery, happy people seeing the couple off on their honeymoon to begin the great journey of life. There were times when the station staff would add to the occasion.

One time a couple of lady cleaners had come up from the carriage shed to sort out a return special and were waiting for the end of their shift when a wedding party was by a train. Doll, four foot eight and who had led an interesting life watched as the bride was helped onto the train and when the whistle blew cried out her advice to her.

“She’ll get more than brown ale tonight” rang down the station.

Air terminals are just not the same.

1 comment:

  1. This is an evocative piece of writing. Admittedly air terminals are not the same, but I am at Dulles International Airport several times a year (picking up my wife at the end of one of her business trips), and it is a pleasure to see the arrivals from all over the world being happily greeted by family and friends.