The Titfield Story
The idea for the Titfield Thunderbolt came from a visit that Tibby Clarke made to Wales in 1951. He was researching some ideas for a new film, and also visiting his friend the author Richard Hughes, who wrote "A High Wind In Jamaica".
Richard took him to see something which he thought Clarke might find interesting, a minor narrow gauge railway line which had just been taken over by volunteers who were running a public service over part of the line and intended to rebuild and restore the whole route. The line in question was the Talyllyn Railway, a slate and passenger carrying railway which ran from Towyn on the Cambrian coast up to some slate quarries at Bryn Eglwys, with the passenger service terminating above a village called Abergynolwyn, a mile or so short of the quarries.
Clarke had come across a completely unique operation, as the Talyllyn was the World's very first preserved railway. The volunteers included the late Tom Rolt, and were to go on to achieve great success, succeeding in all their objectives and many more besides. The Talyllyn is still operating today and is one of the best of the now numerous preserved railway lines which exist throughout Britain.
Clarke was intrigued by the whole idea, especially a sign he saw saying "volunteer platelayers required", and was soon in conversation with the people involved, getting to know all the details of how such an enterprise might be set up and run. Following the visit, he decided to base a film around the idea, and placed adverts in some of the railway journals asking for details of railway anecdotes and stories that he could use in his new idea, and thus was born the Titfield Thunderbolt.
Whilst the film may not be the very best of Clarke's work, I think that he deserves credit for writing about the English love for, or at least toleration of, old trains. I doubt whether he foresaw the enormous growth of what has become known as the preservation movement, or that he even had much interest in it once it had started, but the fact is that the Titfield Thunderbolt marks the beginning of railway preservation, a movement which despite spreading into other countries in the Western World, remains a peculiarly English institution, much like the Ealing Comedies.
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© Simon Castens 1999
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