British Transport Films: Collection 10 - London on the Move DVD
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Directed by Various (Documentary)
Produced in 1983
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
Nice to see the BFI's British Transport Films series back on track after nearly four years. Graeme Hobbs casts his eye over this celebration of the work of London Transport.
After a nearly four year hiatus, it's good to see the BFI's British Transport Films series back on track with a tenth volume dedicated to the work of London Transport to 'keep the vital bloodstream of the capital circulating'. Potted histories and evocative 'day-in-the-life' documentaries join instructional films, animated snippets, larky portraits of workers' days and nights and films that take us into the workplaces of the people that oil the organisation's running - the linemen, mechanics and canteen workers. And there are more shots of red buses (of all varieties) than you can shake a stick at. The whole makes for a vision of London's transport system that is, in Patrick Russell's nice phrase, 'part documentary, part daydream'.
Highlights of the set come with RK Neilson Baxter's All That Mighty Heart (1963), a contented ride through the hum of busy London days from the city's dawn to the emptied midnight streets, and Ralph Keene's Under Night Streets (1958), which looks at the 1100 strong labour force - elevator oilers, reconditioning gangs and underground 'fluffers' removing the tons of dust from the tracks - that see to the nightly maintenance of underground track and ventilator shafts. Under Night Streets has some pedigree in fact - Keene's BTF productions Journey into Spring (1957) and Between the Tides (1958) were both nominated for documentary Oscars, the witty commentary was scripted by Bob Phillips and BTF staff writer (those were the days) Paul Le Saux, who also scripted the ever popular I am a Litter Basket, available on British Transport Films volume 3, and it was lit and shot - beautifully - by David Watkin; few night-time thrillers of the era were filmed as well. The commentary's humour is nicely complemented by visual humour too, particularly in the tea drinking workers pictured against station posters chosen for their contrast - Gary Cooper, Fernandel, and especially, the words 'Transport Treasures - an exhibition of selected relics that bring to life the story of transport in Britain'. One suspects Watkin's influence. Paul Le Saux also scripted Overhaul, a look at the dismantling and renewal of 'the world's largest unified bus fleet' at the rate of 44 buses a week at the Aldenham works, lending a distinctive flavour to the material with lines such as, 'now, like a shotgun cartridge into the breach, the bus moves towards disintegration.'
London on the Move (1970) and Moving London (1983) provide overviews of London Transport's ongoing history of modernisation from its formation in 1933, detailing the innovations - unified lettering to foster a feeling of belonging and security, automatic ticket barriers, closed-circuit television, Bus Electronic Scanning Indicators, Red Arrows, Airbuses, aluminium trains - that were changing the day-to-day operation of transport in the city. Omnibus 150 (1979) is, as you might expect, a film in made for its 150th anniversary, showing its development from George Shillibeer's three-horse omnibus, through its variously improved varieties up to steam power and beyond, as B-Types, K-Types, NS-Types, RTs and RMs give way to the then latest thing, the Daimler Fleetline.
Among the surprises in store in the collection are the musical accompaniments. At one end of the scale we have Edward Williams (who scored Attenborough's Life on Earth) lending dark and thrusting drama to the routine overhaul and refurbishment of bus engines at LT's Chiswick Works in One for One (1964) - who knew that a lorry on a damp day backing into a 'Unit Receipt' block could inspire such emotion? - while at the other The Nine Road, a celebration of the Number 9 bus route, is given an (alas uncredited) calypso of sorts fore and aft: 'half past midnight at Mortlake garage / the stately warriors are put away / wash and brush up and five hours later / the nine road starts another day'.
'The men need food - and so they need your help' is the motto behind Our Canteens, a fascinating 1951 staff instructional film for canteen service recruits whose workplace might be a bright and airy modernised canteen or a tight and poky relic designed for maximum anoyance and inefficiency, while Power Signal Lineman is a technical study of emergency repairs made under pressure after a failure in the line. The John Slater narrated Do You Remember? (1955) sees a lost glove, a tortoise and a torso reunited with their owners after being left on public transport, while Cine Gazette No.10 takes to the perennial favourite of the skid pan and also looks at the complete refurbishment of a tube train. Finally, AFC: Automatic Fare Collection and You is a short, partially animated and very 1969 treatment of the subject in which 'Easy In, Easy Out' is accompanied by flute-led easy listening. Remember: 'Lift the Bag, Take the Ticket' - and feed your golf clubs through the luggage chute.
Documentary aficionados, transport enthusiasts and period detail spotters will be happy indeed.
Graeme Hobbs on 22nd August 2012
Author of 276 reviews
Volume 10 in the BFI's British Transport Films series collects a number of films that British Transport Films made for London Transport between 1951-1983. Exploring both bus and underground networks, the set features documentary classics such as All That Mighty Heart, Under Night Streets and Overhaul, as well as rare gems such as Our Canteens and Power Signal Lineman. A fascinating look at the changing systems of transport in the capital, this will appeal to transport enthusiasts, documentary aficionados and keen spotters the lost, forgotten and fondly remembered.
Disc 1: All that Mighty Heart (1951), Our Canteens (1951), One for One (1964), Cine Gazette No. 14: Do You Remember? (1955), The Nine Road (1975) and London on the Move (1970).
Disc 2: Under Night Streets (1958), Power Signal Lineman (1953), Omnibus 150 (1979), Cine Gazette No. 10 (1951), Moving London (1983), AFC: Automatic Fare Collection and You (1969) and Overhaul (1957).
Length: 201 mins
Aspect ratio: 4:3
Cat No: BFIVD894
Format: DVD Colour
- 2 discs
- Moving Millions (1947, 15 mins): A Central Office of Information film made by the Crown Film Unit, illustrating the scope of London Transport activities at their most extensive including bus, underground, trams and trolleybuses
- Fully illustrated booklet with extensive film notes.