Two programmes about railways, one good, one awful

I’m happy to admit I was a trainspotter. Well, until the age of 11. I was born and grew up in a railway town. Like Michael Portillo, Pete Waterman, and many others, I retain an abiding affection for railways.

I enjoy the gentle perambulations around the UK by train in Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys, using Bradshaws Victorian railway timetable as his guide. It’s an entertaining travelogue, reminding me that there’s much of the UK that remains unexplored for me.

Michael Portillo’s slightly portentous and serious delivery gives it air of a geography and history lesson, which on reflection, is no bad thing. When introducing Michael Portillo on the This Week programme, Andrew Neil humourously begins, ‘Sad man on a train, Michael, choo choo, Portillo’. Raises a smile every time.

The RocketTonight, and I’m so pleased to be missing it because of a Extraordinary Council Meeting, is episode 2 of Locomotion: Dan Snow’s History of Railways. I had high hopes for this programme. In episode 1 they were soon dashed. It had an, oh so modern and trendy filmic quality, with lots of imges of the presenter in moody, half-lit, atmospheric poses. Yes, yes, I get it. Early rail travel was a grimy experience, and so on.

There was sparse mention of the steam engine pioneers, such as Richard Trevithick. And, of the most famous early railway engine, The Rocket, there was barely a sight, because of the director’s use of ‘edgy’ lighting [Screen capture from programme is the best shot of The Rocket].

The historical perspective, according to Dan Snow, was not the amazing creative energy of the railway pioneers, or the excitement of private investors in the railway boom. It was that the builders of the railways were shockingly exploited workers, if not by rich and dissolute aristocrats, then by profit crazed capitalists, who also fleeced investors. There are other views, such as HERE.

The programme was awful. It would have worked better in a snappier 30 minutes format, rather than an over-blown 1 hour programme, with its pieces of Dan Snow sailing, etc.

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