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Nine, Dalmuir West (1962)


Main image of Nine, Dalmuir West (1962)
16mm, black and white, 12 mins
DirectorKevin Brownlow
ProductionRath Films
CompaniesBFI Experimental Film Fund
ProducerPrince Marshall
ScriptGeorge Behrend
PhotographyKevin Brownlow
MusicJoe Meek
NarratorPaul Dickson

The tram system of Glasgow and the last weekend of the service.

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Glasgow had been served by an extensive tram network for almost exactly ninety years, between the introduction of horse-drawn vehicles on 19 August 1872 (replaced by electric trams between 1898 and 1902) and the closure of the entire system on 4 September 1962 - making it the last British city to operate trams until the revival of the concept in Manchester in the 1990s.

Two amateur films recorded the journey of the last tram, the number nine service running from Glasgow to Dalmuir, north-west of the city. One, a two-minute colour 8mm effort by George Williamson, is preserved by the Scottish Screen Archive, while the more ambitious film was made by Kevin Brownlow during a break in production on his long-gestating debut feature It Happened Here (co-d. Andrew Mollo, 1964). Though nominally a 16mm amateur production, it was supported by the BFI's Experimental Film Fund, which allowed him to use Joe Meek's then-current surprise hit 'Telstar' on the soundtrack, as an effective aural symbol of what Labour Party leader Harold Wilson would shortly call "the white heat of technology", sweeping away outdated systems like trams.

An opening title reveals that Brownlow was inspired by The Elephant Will Never Forget (1953), John Krish's similarly nostalgic paean to London's trams. However, Brownlow's greater creative freedom and independence from the transport authorities (Krish notoriously got into trouble with British Transport Films for straying outside his remit) meant that he was also able to include social criticism - for instance, highlighting that while Glasgow's trams employed women drivers, they were subsequently unable to retrain as bus drivers after being made redundant. The film also adds historical context, marvelling at the complexity of Glasgow's tram system - which at one point was one of the most extensive in the world, stretching for twenty miles.

But this is merely background detail compared with the film's main function, which is to capture the atmosphere of the night of 4 September. Tram crews hold a mock "wake" for their vehicles (some of which are shown being scrapped and burned), while crowds of revellers line the streets to cheer the number 9 tram as it passes into history, while the hand-held black-and-white graininess of Brownlow's 16mm cinematography intensifies the "you are there" impression. Its documentary elements notwithstanding, it's as personal a piece as any of its near-contemporary Free Cinema films.

Michael Brooke

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (12:18)
Charter Year 1957 (1957)
Elephant Will Never Forget, The (1953)
Brownlow, Kevin (1938-)
Beyond Free Cinema