The story is simple and episodic. The Waterbury family, well-off middle-class inhabitants of a comfortable Edwardian villa in suburban London, are thrown into turmoil when the father is arrested on accusations of espionage. The mother and three children are thrown into (very relative) poverty and forced to move to the Yorkshire Dales to a house near a railway line. (Yes, I know.The ignominy.) The station used in filming is Oakworth Station and you can get to it on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. The Bronte Parsonage in Haworth is another location.
A film depicting suburban middle-class England in 1945, just recovering from the war, in which children squabble in cut-glass voices and men’s idea of casual homewear is a jacket and tie complete with pocket handkerchief.
A film whose romantic setting is the refreshment room on Milford Junction railway station. And yet ‘Brief Encounter’, directed by David Lean and based on Noel Coward’s play, tugs at the heartstrings and defies parody and ridicule.
MARTY WILDE WAS ONE OF THE PACK OF 1950s BRITISH singers who brought American rock and roll to these shores and changed our lives forever. He was discovered by impresario Larry Parnes who changed Marty’s name from Reginald Smith to one created by the template which served many of Parnes’ stable of performers, a cute first name followed by a surname which suggested sexual aggression and untameable passion.
Not that this was realised by any of the teenage girls (and boys probably, but they didn’t say) who clustered round the television at tea time on Saturdays to see the stars of Oh Boy and Boys Meet Girl, the vehicles for singers like Marty and Billy Fury and Vince Eager, and the one who was to prove to be Marty’s nemesis, Cliff Richard. The ‘Cliff or Marty’ stand-off was a playground ritual. We all know who won.
IT’S A GREAT SONG. IF YOU DON’T KNOW IT, SEARCH it out right now. Tom Waits wrote and recorded it in 1985 and it’s been covered many times. Mary Chapin Carpenter does a great version, as does Bob Seger. The big hit cover was by Rod Stewart in 1990.
Tom Waits growls his song in that hoarse gravelly voice which sounds as if it has been soaked in bourbon for a million years. Waits is the hobo poet, the beat poet, the balladeer of the seedy, the romantic, the grotesque.
He creates a world of drunks and hookers and junkies. Romeo is bleeding with a bullet in his chest. Small Change lies dead on the street and the newsboy picks the porkpie hat off the corpse and saunters off wearing it.
FIFTY YEARS AGO, MASSIVE CUTS TO BRITAIN’S RAILWAY NETWORK saw the disappearance of stations, branch lines and 9,000 miles of right of way as cars and motorways were declared to be the way to travel in the future. Goodbye dirty, smoky trains, hello brave new world of shiny motor cars and miles of tarmac.
Trains and railways have a romantic pulse which perhaps beats with a more feeble rhythm today in the light of the realities of travelling by rail. But the emotional resonance of train travel lingers, its impact still exerting a powerful tug on our sensibilities and imagination.
IT IS A CENTURY AND A HALF SINCE THE FIRST London underground journey took place, and a time to reflect on the impact of this historic transport system. The tube is part of our consciousness and it is impossible to imagine (or imagine navigating) the huge sprawl of the city without tracing our journey along the lines set out in Harry Beck’s iconic map. The anniversary has prompted us to reflect on how tube stations have been immortalised (actually, often just mentioned in passing) in songs and films and books. It is an opportunity to assess or reassess the place of these particular works in our collective and personal histories.
OSSIE CLARK (1945-1996), THE LEGENDARY DESIGNER, NEVER WENT AWAY but suddenly appeared in bursts, just like buses and Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize awards. The exhibition Glam! At Tate Liverpool features David Hockney’s painting of Ossie, Celia Birtwell and Percy the cat; an exhibition at Proud Chelsea is showcasing the life and work of the iconic designer; Debenhams department store has opened an Ossie Clark concession with his designs revived for modern day customers ‘with a Bohemian bent’.
NOT JUST FOR HER OSCAR-NOMINATED ROLE IN LINCOLN BUT also for her cracking portrayal of Nora Walker in Brothers and Sisters, the sadly defunct series about a multi-generational family in an affluent area of Southern California. If Nora Walker were to wear a hat, it would be vintage like her, stylish but comfortable, a little worn and battered but with an unmistakeable jaunty tilt which tells the world that she will survive.
FIFTY-FIVE YEARS AGO IN THE INDUSTRIAL TOWN OF LOWELL in Massachusetts, Jack Kerouac published On The Road, a mesmerising account of the eventful journeys and road trips he and his friends took in the search for kicks, freedom and spiritual purpose and direction. This book and its writer became the touchstone for beat sensibility – not that we had actually read it, of course, but we regarded with awe and interest those who had, or who carried a copy in their jacket pocket. By a kind of osmosis, the spirit of the American road trip entered the psyche of our tribe, and with a bit of trepidation and more excitement, we entered the world of hitchhiking.
WHAT WAS A BEAT GIRL? NOTHING TO DO WITH THE BEATLES but she exerted a powerful infuence on those of us whose teenage selves were formed by the legacy of the 1950s and the coming of the decade that swung. Those of us, that is, who wanted more than bubblegum pop music and the bland interactions of our peers who had bought into the stereotypes of mainstream culture.