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Last Train Through the Harecastle Tunnel, The (1969)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Last Train Through the Harecastle Tunnel, The (1969)
For The Wednesday Play, BBC, tx. 1/10/1969
DirectorAlan Clarke
Production CompanyBBC
ProducerIrene Shubik
ScriptPeter Terson

Cast: Richard O'Callaghan (Fowler); John Le Mesurier (Judge Grayson); Joe Gladwin (Adam Coulson); Angela Pleasence (Beatrice Grayson); Shelagh Fraser (Mrs Grayson); Paul Brooke (Farquhar)

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A young train spotter heads to Staffordshire for a historic journey through a soon to be condemned tunnel. During his trip he encounters a series of curious characters and stumbles upon a dark family secret.

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Alan Clarke directed The Last Train Through the Harecastle Tunnel for the BBC's Wednesday Play series in 1969. Written by Peter Terson, who came to prominence as the writer of the National Youth Theatre's successful production Zigger-Zagger, the play follows train spotter Benjamin Fowler's curious encounters during a weekend trip to Staffordshire for a ride on the last train through a condemned tunnel.

What seems like a potentially dull weekend to the uninitiated turns into a Conradian voyage into the dark heart of the Staffordshire train-enthusiast community. With his passion for the railways and naïve disposition, Benjamin inadvertently encourages the strangers he meets to reveal their innermost fears and darkest secrets. Beneath the respectable façade, Benjamin discovers repressed homosexuality, dysfunctional marriages, racism and ultimately suggestions of paedophilia.

A first class script - marred only by some outrageous stereotyping of the gay character, Jackie - tightly directed by Clarke, The Last Train Through the Harecastle Tunnel is a stunning example of the potential of the one-off television play.

Justin Hobday

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Video Clips
1. The trainspotter (3:14)
2. The railwayman (3:51)
3. The signalman (3:07)
4. The violinist (1:39)
Clarke, Alan (1935-1990)
Le Mesurier, John (1912-1983)
Shubik, Irene (1935-)
Wednesday Play, The (1964-70)