Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Coming Next: Railways in Cult TV

I’ve been feeling the need to do something a bit different here. True to form, there is always a new way of looking at classic TV and I’m proposing to do a series of themed posts about TV shows which feature trains, the railways, are set around the railways, or feature a journey as a considerable feature of the show. Of course I will probably allow myself endless leeway as to what I can include under the heading of the railways, or else I will change my mind about this themed series of posts and instead do what I am planning for the future, themed posts around particular actors.
My personal obsession with trains began as a child, and bizarrely very quickly expanded to include everything associated with them. It is not merely me, but it seems to be a national obsession, since we all know that grown men happily give up the trappings of the office of a weekend to go and work on hobby and restored railways. Trains are of course an ideal vehicle (pardon the pun) for the TV or film writer, because a moving train provides the perfect closed community and locked room environment. I wouldn’t like to state this too assertively, but I’m guessing the train has provided a setting more frequently for detectives than other genres of fiction, on this account. We also tend to associate them with a particular time, which of course is exactly the golden age of the railways in Britain before Beeching took his axe to the branches.
I have in mind a number of shows to blog about here. The Avengers has at least two heavily train-orientated episodes. I have already written about Dressed to Kill here, although I see no reason not to do a show twice, and I am also looking forward to the idea of writing about A Funny Thing Happened on the Way, which has always been one of my favourite Avengers episodes. There is a Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) episode where a chunk of the action takes place on a train since Mike has been commissioned to escort someone north with an attaché case of…I think it’s money, and the fact that I can’t even remember the name of that episode should indicate how long it has been since I have watched it. I notice that there has been a sudden spike in views of my posts on episodes of The Man from UNCLE, but I would anyway have included the episode where a glamorous fashionista, who is actually a THRUSH agent, has a good go at killing the men on a train. I may include the X-Files episode where Mulder finds himself trapped on a train which is a ticking time bomb – I continue to be ashamed of the paucity of posts on The X-Files here. Don’t worry that Doctor Who will get left out, I can establish enough of a connection to include Web of Fear. Obviously there may be other episodes which have involved trains in some way, but that is a) one I happen to have on the shelf, and b) one I have been meaning to post about for a while. Department S will not be neglected of course: if I can manage to twist the rules to include Web of Fear, then Last Train from Redbridge can definitely be included. No doubt there are more I will think about, but this post is just to introduce a new theme in my posts here.
I do unfortunately have an unspoken rule that I only talk about cinema films here when I think they will be of particular interest to my readers, or when they are connected to a particular TV show somehow (Q-Planes and Mister Jerico are on my list of things to post about, but I am hoping to think of other possible inspirations or successors to The Avengers and make that another series in itself). Trains are well represented in the film world, and it would be remiss not to break my own rule at this point and mention just a few of them.
It is spectacularly old-fashioned, and Arthur Askey grates on the nerves of everyone born after about, ooh, 1930, but I like The Ghost Train very much. I find that I ignore the Askeyesque adaptation and can attend to the original story. The Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes story Terror by Night, is set almost completely on a train and full use is made of the ‘locked room’ scenario. The Lady Vanishes has a lengthy scene on a train, of a sort which again is full of dodgy foreigners and spies. I think that one of the ways the train setting works in films and television is that on the whole trains can be quite comforting because of the noise, and a nice murder inverts our expectations, while also comforting us at the same time. Margaret Rutherford alternates with Julia McKenzie as my favourite Miss Marple, and while very little of it takes place on a train, the Rutherford film Murder She Said is a very atmospheric view. In a humorous vein, and again in a fashion which may be way too old-fashioned for a lot of people, Will Hay’s Oh Mr Porter, which also includes legends of headless horsemen and smuggling, is bang up my street. All of the films mentioned in this paragraph are available for download at the Internet Archive at the time of writing.

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