Directed by: Various (Documentary)
Countries & Regions: United Kingdom
Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 247 mins
Released: 27 November 2006
Cat No: BFIVD743
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British Transport Films (Vol 4): Reshaping British Railways
Following on from the three highly desirable previous collections in this series - On and Off the Rails, See Britain by Train and Running a Railway - this fourth batch of British Transport Films from the National Film and Television Archive concentrates on the great changes to the network that took place through the 1950s and 60s.
Following the 1955 Modernisation Plan, steam was giving way to electric and diesel locomotives (Service for Southend) but it was apparent that more radical measures had to be taken to save an organisation that was losing enough money 'to put ninepence on the income tax'. Step forward Dr Beeching who, in Reshaping British Railways, presents the logic behind his sweeping proposals to close unprofitable branch lines. 'On one half of the whole route mileage of the British Railways, there is only one-twentieth of the traffic' he announces, and his vision is to shape the railway as part of a 'national transport system' with roads and buses taking up the passengers.
There was frequently an element of enjoyable quirkiness to British Transport Films. It's represented here by Diesel Trainride, a jaunty, charming piece that takes a child's eye view of a ride on a new diesel train, and Let's go to Birmingham, which was BTF's first attempt at a novelty 'high-speed' film, in which the viewer travels from London to Birmingham at a touch under 1,000 mph. If Lumière's train arriving at a station caused consternation among the audience, this would surely have provoked seizures.
Of special note too are the two compositions of music and image that demonstrate some of the Unit’s experimental freedom. The introduction of the Intercity 125 service is celebrated in Overture: One-Two-Five, in which John Gow's specially-composed music is matched to an impressionistic series of images, while Plumb-Loco details the precision manufacturing of new locomotives in a film that recalls the industrial shorts of Geoffrey Jones.