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John Betjeman Goes By Train (1962)


Main image of John Betjeman Goes By Train (1962)
35mm, black and white, 10 mins
DirectorMalcolm Freegard
Production CompanyBritish Transport Films
In association withBBC TV East Anglia
NarratorJohn Betjeman

Cast: John Betjeman

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John Betjeman travels from King's Lynn to Hunstanton and discusses the special pleasures of a trip along a small branch line.

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This engaging ten-minute film, made by British Transport Films in collaboration with BBC East Anglia, was a relatively early entry in John Betjeman's filmography, but the style and preoccupations are already familiar. In it, he takes a journey from the town of King's Lynn to the seaside resort of Hunstanton along a 12-mile branch line that leads through miles of flatland at the mouth of the Wash interspersed with the occasional outcrop of hills and silver birches, before finally ending up on the coast.

Along the way, Betjeman enthuses both about the pleasures of the journey itself (the design of the two-coach train allows for a 270-degree panoramic view for those sitting near the front), the passing scenery and architecture, and the attractions of the interim stations of Wolferton and Snettisham before ending up at the Hunstanton terminus, which directly faces the beach.

The immaculately-maintained Wolferton Station, near the royal Sandringham estate, is a lavish architectural creation based around an arch dating from the late fifteenth century, and Betjeman highlights the way everything has been calculated to blend into the surroundings - there are no posters, and the signalbox matches the adjacent cottage. By contrast, Snettisham (the middle 'i' is silent) is a place to relax, full of quirky touches such as a topiary hedge spelling out its name, and the ironwork of the bench incorporating the initials of the Great Eastern Railway company.

Betjeman wouldn't have known this at the time, but the King's Lynn-Hunstanton branch line had less than a decade to run, making the film more nostalgic than even he intended. The following year, 1963, saw the publication of British Railways Chairman Dr Richard Beeching's notorious report, 'The Reshaping of British Railways', which recommended closure of a third of the network. Although this particular branch line was not mentioned in the report, it was eventually deemed uneconomical and closed on 5 May 1969.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included on the BFI British Transport Films DVD compilation 'On and Off the Rails'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (9:43)
Railways For Ever! (1970)
Metro-Land (1973)
Betjeman, Sir John (1906-1984)
British Transport Films