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From Newsreel to YouTube; March Digest
Topic Started: 29 Feb 2008, 10:02 PM (6,520 Views)
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From Newsreel to YouTube ™ - Miniature Railways on Film

By Colin Peake


The other day an email dropped into my inbox with an interesting story to tell. The writer, a post-graduate student in screenplay writing and film studies, was requesting sources of background information on miniature railways and details on a particular line. They were duly provided, however don’t expect to munch popcorn over some miniature railway action at the local multiplex, as the writer points out: "I hasten to emphasise that this is purely an academic research project – there is no film planned at the moment, and Hollywood does not beckon quite yet!"

A common theme over the last couple of Digests has been the apparent scarcity of source material and records on miniature railways. Sadly, this is also true in terms of the moving image. However, there is material out there – it is just a case of tracking it down…

Whilst these days most mobile phones can record a short amateur video, almost a century ago you needed a cine camera. They couldn’t record sound and film length was limited. However it is down to cine cameras and their owners with the foresight to record what they saw before them that we have some early footage of miniature lines, some from the camera of WJ Bassett Lowke himself.

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Two cine-based video/DVD releases, from Railfilms and Tennents Trains

The cine camera remained popular right through the 1970s and 80s, and from time to time there are commercial releases of old cine film transferred to video and more recently DVD. A few years ago a notable release was the late Robin Butterell’s Miniature Line Memories, a compilation which covered both Robin’s personal account of a life in miniature railways and general miniature railway history. As computers have become more affordable, powerful and capable, mastering a DVD on a home machine of a compilation of cine (or indeed any other format) has become possible, as witnessed by 2007's Miniature Railways of Yesteryear from Tennents Trains, a compilation of John Tennent's own cine films spanning several years.

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A screengrab from the British Pathe website.

At perhaps the opposite end of scale from a personal medium such as cine is the mass appeal of the newsreel. It is easy to forget in today’s bland multiplexes that going to the cinema used to be an entertainment experience beyond today’s film and a few adverts and trailers. Very often, there would be two feature films, the main (or A) presentation, and the now legendary (and oft mocked) B movie. It is also likely that cinemagoers would have seen a newsreel, a short information film, usually with a patronising, sometimes, commentary and some period music. For many people the newsreel was the part of the cinema experience that could open their eyes to an unseen world. The internet age has breathed new life into the newsreels of old, a visit to http://www.britishpathe.com/ allows the 21st century researcher to revisit these now historical films from the comfort of the living room or home office. Try searching by the railway name or location, although a search for miniature railway brings up 66 results to play with before you even start on more specialised searches...

Sadly cinemagoers have rarely been offered the treat of a miniature railway scene in a feature film. Other than the rather bizarre appearance of the 15" gauge Blenheim Palace Railway in Kenneth Branagh's version of 'Hamlet' I am struggling to think of any other examples. Hunstanton Pier, and certainly the 10 1/4" gauge railway line upon it, appeared in the Ealing Studios Comedy 'Al at Sea' but I can't recall whether the train itself did. If you know of any other feature film appearances by miniature railways, please do let us know!

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The Avengers take over at Stapleford.

Viewers of the small screen have been slightly luckier, as miniature railways have featured on several occasions. No doubt the most memorable is the appearance of the Stapleford Miniature Railway in the 1965 episode of 'The Avengers' entitled 'The Gravediggers'. This episode gives a rare glimpse of the line in the days it ran beyond the Central station to Stable Hill and features extensive footage of the locomotive 'John of Gaunt'. Don't be fooled by the publicity photograph reproduced in various Ian Allan publications, 'Blanche of Lancaster' doesn't actually feature in the episode and Mrs Peel never quite gets quite that close to being run over... Some of the footage has been reproduced in other productions, if you do get a chance to see it, bonus points are awarded if you spot 'The White Herron'!

Mr Steeds' adventures in Leicestershire aside, miniature railways have featured on other television programmes through the years. Somewhere in the depths of the BBC's vaults is the footage of the Liverpool international Garden Festival railway I vividly recall from 'Blue Peter' back in 1984. This 6 year old gawped in amazement and then asked his Dad why the Romney locos were there. Around the same sort of period the RH&DR featured in an episode of 'Rainbow', whilst I can't claim to have seen the episode myself, if you look closely in Romney guidebooks of the era there is a picture of George and Zippy aboard diesel no. 12. No doubt there are other miniature railway appearances tucked away in the archives of the BBC and ITV, whether any of it will ever see the light of day again is another matter. Perhaps one of the most bizarre is an Alexi Sayle monologue recorded aboard the Poole Park Railway!

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Festival Video's two part Miniature Railways series.

If one thing sums up the 1980s in a nutshell it is quite possibly home video. Formerly the preserve of the TV stations, video rapidly became popular, as did video cameras. Whilst some were happy to simply record their family and friends (no doubt trying to earn £250 from 'You've Been Framed' in the process), others pointed their video cameras at far more worthwhile subjects, such as railways of all sizes. A railway video industry developed, with a mixture of content and quality. As usual, miniature railway subjects lagged behind a little but it is worth seeking out productions from the likes of Festival Video, who notably produced two volumes of 'Miniature Railway Round Up'. Some producers such as Graham Whistler moved on to the narrower gauges having started in standard gauge, with limited content in broadcast quality covering lines such as the Ravenglass & Eskdale and Moors Valley railways. At the other end of the scale the prolific output of PM Video has covered many lines in just about every gauge, but mostly in the North of the UK.

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Contrasting productions from PM Video and Graham Whistler Productions.

As technology has moved forward, digital video has increased quality in leaps and bounds. Most digital stills cameras are now capable of recording short videos in better quality with each generation of cameras. Added to that, the advent of website such as Youtube TM has made sharing filmed videos even easier, most of us have yet to discover the majority of the miniature railway film/video content contained on-line. This isn't just new footage, in the same way may photographers have scanned in their old prints and negatives, many amateur film makers have digitised their video footage for a new generation to see. Take a look around, you will be surprised what you might find.

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A screengrab from YouTube.

However, you have to be careful, you too might end up on camera...

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Your digest editor (L), caught on camera by Alex Hurd of PM Video.

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By Colin Peake

April 1994 found Robin Butterell introducing readers to two well established miniature railway societies, the 7 1/4" Gauge Society and the Heywood Society.

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Both societies have their traditions, the Heywood's meet twice yearly to tour various lines in a locality (and generally socialise!) whilst the 7 1/4" AGM is a legendary meeting of locomotives small and large, all put to the test on a different railway each year.

Robin reflected on the September 1991 AGM, held at the Echills Wood Railway, then located in the grounds of the Royal Showground at Stoneleigh near Coventry. 41 locos were present that weekend, 28 of them visitors. Sadly, the event is now unrepeatable at that location, as after over 30 years at the location the operating society were forced off their site be redevelopment work at the showground. Luckily they were able to relocate to the Kingsbury Water Park, where a new EWR emerged from 2005 onwards. The progress of the new EWR, including the trials and tribulations at the new site, can be followed on their excellent website.


What is your favourite piece of miniature railway film online? Can you name any elusive miniature railway footage in feature films? Miniature Railway World forum mmbers can respond to this topic. All responses will be checked by a moderator prior to publication.
Miniature Railway World Digest
Edited by Colin Peake
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stuwebb
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Again a wonderfull article.

It does surprise me the amount of people that actively film miniature railway clips and upload them onto sites such as you tube. This seems to of taken off with the increasing quality that mobile phones can video as it seem many will have a stills camera with them then think at the last minute to use the phone for video.

As mentioned in another thread it can lead to some confusion. Moors valleys cab ride on you tube.....we have no idea who posted it but we must know them because they are driving Hartfield.

Stuart

P.S nice to see forum member Puashp making an appearance in his loco in the article
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mikado
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Nice article, as a newish member of Echills Wood Railway I attended a few events at Stoneleigh in the past sadly it had to close but this gave rise to a bigger and better club/Railway and will go from strength to strength. I look after the roling stock and am building new track as we still have a mile of track to lay and 4 bridges to put in and run a railway to keep building. Hope some of you can visit to help support us and make yourself known as Craig did and was made most welcome.

Count Louis Support crew

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greatwesternng
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After appearing in 'The Avengers' in 1965, I'm almost certain that the Stapleford Miniature Railway featured again in 1966 or 67 in an episode of ATV's 'Mrs Thursday' which starred Katherine Harrison. I've no idea of the storyline or have any other details other than the loco featured was Blanche. Does anyone know more?

Will
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ilvaporista
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Not on our shores but a Stateside 7 1/4" railway did figure in Beethoven 3 or 4. .
Not sure of the location and the action is only for a few minutes.

My father has plenty of 8mm film of my brother and I at Poole Park with Vanguard, but they are spoilt by concentrating on the two young boys rather than the engine.....
Adrian Parker
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PUASHP
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A screengrab from YouTube.

However, you have to be careful, you too might end up on camera...


I just did!

A great article and that's me in the cab of Perseus on You Tube taken at the recent Moors Valley Railway Tank Engine Day. (by the way this Sunday is also a tank engine day).

Personally I have found much inspiration from the Miniature Railway Roundup by Festival Video, especially for the fantastic footage of the Wayside Light Railway.

Now where's my video camera......................


Cheers


Paul Ash
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