Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Titfield Thunderbolt

This was the second film as a child that really caught my imagination for steam. The original VHS is very worn from being overplayed but I have since found it available on DVD. 

About 2 years ago I began building a model of the train before its tragic accident in the film. The locomotive is a modified Airfix 0-4-2, followed by a Cooper Craft cattle wagon, scratch built tram car (unfinished) and a modified brake van. At some point I must finish the coach which still needs the bar and interior fitting.

The later train used in the film is perhaps a little difficult to model, although 'Lion' is available from Southern Finecast. I have seen them go on ebay for £80 but that's a little out of my price range. 'Lion' was damaged in the film after the coupling incident and never repaired. It has recently been put on display at the new Liverpool Museum.
Steam engine

The Film


The residents of the rural village of Titfield rely on the railway branch line to commute to work and transport their produce to market. So they are shocked when the government announces that the line is to be closed. Particularly hard hit is railway enthusiast Vicar Sam Weech (George Relph); he comes up with the idea to run it locally. He and Squire Gordon Chesterford (John Gregson) persuade wealthy Walter Valentine (Stanley Holloway) to provide the financial backing by telling him they can legally operate a bar while the train is running – he will not have to wait all morning for the local pub to open.

The branch line supporters are bitterly opposed by bus operators Alec Pearce (Ewan Roberts) and Vernon Crump (Jack MacGowran), but, with the help of the town clerk George Blakeworth (Naunton Wayne), the supporters persuade the Ministry of Transport to grant them a month's trial period, with an inspection at the end of the trial. Retired railwayman Dan Taylor (Hugh Griffith) joins the venture.
On the maiden run, Crump and Pearce try to block a crossing, first with their lorry and then with a passing steam roller operated by Harry Hawkins (Sid James), but the steam locomotive (GWR 1401) is too powerful and pushes them off the track. The next day, Crump and Pearce persuade an irate Hawkins to shoot holes in the water tower, but the passengers form a bucket brigade and refill the engine from a nearby stream using buckets from the nearby farm. Crump appears to admit defeat and proposes a merger, but is turned down.
The night before the inspection, Hawkins, Crump and Pearce use the steamroller to tow the unguarded engine and coach down the gradient. The runaway engine runs off the track where the three men have removed a rail. However, with the assistance of Blakeworth, Weech raids the local museum for the antique, but still-working "Thunderbolt" locomotive. They also commandeer Dan Taylor's home (an old railway carriage body), which is hastily strapped to a flat wagon, and they are back in business.
When Valentine and Taylor are arrested after drunkenly trying to "borrow" another engine (driving it off the line and along the road through Mallingford), Weech is left without a fireman. Fortunately, the vicar's friend and fellow railway devotee, Ollie Matthews (Godfrey Tearle), the Bishop of Welchester, is visiting and is hurriedly drafted in to assist. They also have to improvise a means of connecting the engine to the rest of the train.
When the weak coupling fails during a braking test, Thunderbolt carries on by itself. However, several villagers manage to push the carriage to meet up again with the Thunderbolt, with the Ministry inspector (John Rudling) none the wiser. Joan Hampton (Gabrielle Brune) has to promise to marry Hawkins to get him to lend them the chain from his roller's steering mechanism to replace the broken coupling.
The train carries on to Mallingford past crowds of cheering people, and finally reaches its destination nearly ten minutes late. The villagers worry that this will prove their downfall, but it turns out that if they had been just a bit faster, they would have exceeded the speed limit for light railways. Instead, the line passes inspection, clearing the way for the Light Railway Order to be granted.

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