20 Requiem to Wagonload Freight

As an avid viewer of British Transport Films’ work, the scout has often wondered whether the one he saw being made would ever come to light.

He can still well remember the morning the film crew arrived unannounced and set up their bulky cameras and lamps to shoot a scene for a documentary following a consignment from Truro. It must have been one of the last productions as the unit was disbanded in 1982, although the occasional film was made thereafter.

Only yesterday, 41 years later, he saw “Using TOPS” for the first time. The 25 seconds of what was shot at Exeter Riverside that morning (actually, the crew was still at work when he went off duty at 1400), concluding with the train leaving the yard, can be seen from 11m. 47s.

Chargeman Arthur Harris.

Arthur Harris is on the phone in the East (“Top”) End Chargeman’s cabin. The scout remembers Arthur rolling up his trouser leg to show us his wound, sustained in Italy: “All of us caught one and the Captain was killed.”

Clerical Officer Stefan Wasniowski.

Receiving his call in the TOPS Office is Clerical Officer Stefan Wasniowski, who left B.R., along with a great many others, in 1995. His father had come over with the Polish air force at the start of the war.

“Charlie” is “B” Supervisor Charlie Holmes. Unusually, he left the railway not long afterwards. He had a knack for organization and would put down the phone after effortlessly arranging the day’s trip working to talk about the next dance he was putting on. I made posters for one of these and was rewarded with his 1890 G.W.R. rule book, with its special provisions for working west of Exeter (broad gauge and isolated standard gauge).

The director told the young scout to keep his back to the camera because he was too pretty. The instruction would probably be the same today, but for a different reason. In fact, the scout doesn’t appear at all. But he was there.

The film depicts a vanished world, not least at Truro and St. Blazey, and, without meaning to, showed why wagonload freight traffic would shortly come to an end.

“Using TOPS” can be watched on the B.F.I. page.

Who’d have thought in 1978 that one day anyone would be able to shoot a film in high definition using a phone and post it instanter on the worldwide cesspit?

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