The Southern Railway launched the newly electrified service from London to Brighton on New Year's Day, 1933. In this short film we see the Lord Mayor riding to the coast in the considerable luxury of the Brighton Belle (initially launched as the 'Southern Belle'). Click on the four arrows icon to see the video in full screen mode.
The GPO Film Unit produce a highly regarded documentary film in 1936 about a London, Midland & Scottish mail train travelling through the night to Scotland. A poem commissioned from W H Auden is used in the closing section - you can download 'Night Mail' from here. A contemporary article on mail trains, published in 1929, is available here.
The short film 'London to Brighton in Four Minutes' was made by the BBC Film Unit in 1952. It was a favourite of many viewers during the 1950s - during one of the many 'technical hitches' or unscheduled gaps between programmes, the BBC would substitute this short piece. Apparently the journey on the Brighton Belle was filmed at two frames per second, thus at the normal projection speed of 24fps a speed of 60 mph becomes 720 mph! The cameraman was sitting in the cab with the train driver and hand cranking the film camera. Each reel of film was only 1000ft and so the camerman had to change the film during the journey; when editing the film, these "gaps" were filled with a shot of the train driver. The quality of the final film is remarkable, given the poor ride quality of the train before the bogies were upgraded in 1955. This film footage is from the Archive Collection held by the Alexandra Palace Television Society (for further information, click here).
Sir john Betjeman made the documentary 'Branch Line Railway' for the BBC in 1963, exploring showing the 39 km (24 miles) long Somerset & Dorset line from Evercreech Junction to Burnham on Sea which he saw as emblematic of the destruction of a great British institution. In this first episode we reach Highbridge - then the end of passenger services.
In the second episode we visit Highbridge and watch the freight trains which were still running to Burnham on Sea. The former loco works of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway were derelict but still in situ.
In this final episode, Sir John Betjeman completes his journey along the branch line by taking a freight from Highbridge to the sea.
The Brighton Belle is withdrawn from service on 30 April 1972, the party atmosphere on board masking the sadness of the occasion. The three train sets were held in sidings at Brighton Station before each car was sold off to private buyers. Nearly every carriage was preserved: some, beautifully restored to their Art Deco splendour, are used on the Venice Simplon Orient Express; others became static restaurants, in various states of repair and permanently exposed to the elements.
Sir Arnold Wesker, is considered one of the key figures in 20th Century drama and is the author of forty four plays which have been performed worldwide. Inspired by the poetry of Sir John Betjeman, he wrote a film script in 1982 centred around the last journey of the Brighton Belle. The film was unfortunately never made.
On 25 July 2009 - the anniversary of 4472 Flying Scotsman's run from London to York with two tenders - A4 60019 'Bittern', carrying the headboard 'The Brighton Belle' and hauling a second tender, ran from Kings Cross to York and back to launch the 5BEL Trust's ambitious project to restore the Brighton Belle to the mainline. Here we see 'Bittern' racing a Class 91 at Biggleswade. We then see 'Bittern' slowing down for a red signal at Peterborough on the fast line waiting for the 91 to over take.
Bittern's second tender is in clear view as she departs York Station after the launch of the Brighton Belle project at the NRM.