Friday, 29 July 2011

Oh Mr Porter

The first railway film I saw as a child and the favourite of my great uncle Ron's, 'Oh M.Porter!' I recently purchased this on DVD and found it as funny as I remember but felt so sorry for poor little 'Gladstone'. 

'Gladstone' originally named 'Northiam' was a sister locomotive to the one shown below ex works. Sadly both locomotives were scrapped in 1941 but the line on which they both originally worked still exists today as the K&ESR.

Image from Colonel Stephens Museum website

More information can be found about this locomotive and the Colonel Stephens empire at this wonderful website

The Film


William Porter (Will Hay) is an inept railway worker who - due to family connections - is given the job of stationmaster at a remote and ramshackle rural Northern Irish railway station in the (fictitious) town of Buggleskelly, situated on the border with the then Irish Free State.
After taking the ferry from England to Northern Ireland, Porter is aghast when he discovers how isolated the station is. It is situated out in the countryside, two miles cross-country from the nearest bus stop. To make matters worse, local legend has it that the ghost of One-Eyed Joe the Miller haunts the line and, as a result, no-one will go near the station after dark.
Porter's co-workers at the station are the elderly deputy stationmaster, Harbottle (Moore Marriott), and an overweight, insolent young porter, Albert (Graham Moffatt), who make a living by stealing goods in transit and swapping railway tickets for food. They welcome Porter to his new job by regaling him with tales of the deaths and disappearances of previous stationmasters - each apparently the victim of the curse of One-Eyed Joe.
From the beginning it is obvious that the station is run very unprofessionally. Porter is woken up by a cow sticking its head through the room he is sleeping in, for instance (the cow has been lost in transit and is being milked by Harbottle), and the team's breakfast consists of bacon made from a litter of piglets which the railway are supposed to be looking after for a local farmer.
Determined to shake things up (particularly after he is forced to deal with the irate farmer when he comes to collect his pigs), Stationmaster Porter tries to renovate the station in several ways, most sensibly by painting the entire station, but also by less conventional means - including stopping the passing express and organising an excursion to Connemara.
Porter attempts to drum up business amongst the local people in the pub by offering tickets to this excursion, but due to arguments about where the excursion should go a fight breaks out. Porter crawls to safety in the landlord's rooms next door, where he meets a one-eyed man who introduces himself as Joe and offers to buy all of the tickets for an away game that the village football team, the Buggleskelly Wednesday, are playing the following day.
Unbeknown to Porter, however, he has really agreed to transport a group of criminals who are involved in running guns to the Irish Free State. The 'football' train leaves at six a.m. the following morning, rather than the scheduled ten a.m., at the insistence of Joe and although Porter questions some of the odd packages being loaded onto the train, he accepts Joe's claim that these are in fact goalpostsfor the game.
The train disappears as the smugglers divert it down a disused branch line near the border, and with everybody claiming that Porter has lost his mind (there is no such team as Buggleskelly Wednesday, and Harbottle points out that the local team wouldn't leave without him as he is their centre forward). Apparently this misunderstanding causes Porter to lose his job, as no one has seen the train. Then after his co-workers talk about a tunnel on a nearby disused branch line, Porter decides to head off to track down the errant engine (in hopes of getting his job back).
The trio find the missing train inside a derelict railway tunnel, underneath a supposedly haunted windmill. They investigate and are briefly captured by the gun runners, but escape and climb progressively higher up the windmill until eventually they are trapped at the top.
Using the windmill sails, they contrive to get down where they hatch a plan to capture the gun runners. Coupling the carriages containing the criminals and their guns to their own engine, Gladstone, they carry them away from the border at full speed, burning everything from Harbottle's underwear to the remnants of a fence they smash through in order to keep up steam. To keep the criminals quiet, Albert climbs on top of the carriage and hits anyone who sticks their head out with a large shovel.
Porter writes a note explaining the situation and places it in Harbottle's empty 'medicine' bottle. When they pass a large station, he throws the bottle through the window of the stationmaster's office, alerting the authorities to their plight. The entire railway goes into action, with lines being closed and other trains re-routed so that Gladstone can finally crash into a siding where the waiting police force arrest the gun runners.
After a short-lived celebration, in which Harbottle points out that Gladstone is ninety years old and Porter claims it is good for another ninety, the engine explodes after its hectic journey, and Porter, Harbottle and Albert lower their hats in respect.

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