British Transport Films

British Transport Films 5 - Off the Beaten Track

Code: BF005
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Off the Beaten Track, the fifth release in the BFI's digitally re-mastered double-disc DVD series of British Transport Films, takes a look on this occasion at the films that were not (with one exception) directly about railways.

The BTF unit was created to serve the Transport Commission as a whole and many of the fifteen films featured here promote the pleasure of both the natural world and the built environment around us.

It didn't matter whether you travelled by train, tube, bus, coach or by sea - nationalised transport could take you there and home again afterwards.

As with all BTF's promotional films, the indirect message was that transport could serve as a means to an end. The end might be a medieval city or town, a slice of peaceful, picturesque countryside, the Highlands of Scotland or an endless coastline of undisturbed beaches and rock pools. If a change of scene was on the cards, then British transport could deal with it.

Films included on this release earned BTF some of its highest accolades, including an Oscar for Wild Wings (Best short live action subject in 1966) and Oscar nominations for Journey into Spring (1957) and Between the Tides (1958). Among the rare gems here are The Scene from Melbury House and An Artist Looks At Churches.

All these films are now preserved in the BFI National Archive. They have been digitally re-mastered for this collection, which will fascinate not only transport enthusiasts but also fans of historical British documentary filmmaking.

A colour booklet containing an introduction and film notes by BTF historian Steven Foxon who programmes this series accompanies the discs.

Highlights include:

Dodging The Column - The transporting of a distillation column, 137 feet long, 500 miles by road from Greenwich to Grangemouth in Scotland. The commentary, spoken by the rigger in charge and one of the tractor drivers, expresses the humour and resourcefulness with which these transport workers tackle their job; and the camera has captured moments of beauty as well as some amusing episodes in this journey of the longest load to travel by road in Britain.

Ocean Terminal - Southampton, a deep-water port with four tides a day, is an ocean terminal for the world's largest liners. Their coming and going, and the people who work with them are the subject of this film as they reflect in their personal lives some of the drama and romance of its situation. Among them are a tug skipper and his crew, a stewardess on a Cape ship, an assistant wharfinger in charge of handling baggage and freight, a taxi driver, and a pilot taking a great liner down Southampton water at night. A fine piece of writing by Montague Slater. Directed by Jack Holmes.

Link Span - Twenty-four hours in the story of the British Railways Channel ferryboats, the 'link spans' directly joining the roads and railways of Britain with those of France and all the Continent. The Lord Warden laden with an assortment of road vehicles from Dover, and the Night Ferry from Newhaven carrying passengers bound for Paris, Vienna or Rome are two of the ferries illustrated in this film; and freight is not forgotten.

Every Valley - An impression, from daybreak to midnight, of the life of the industrial valleys of South Wales centred on Pontypridd and of the growing part played in that life by bus and railway. The free verse spoken by Donald Houston acts as a link on the sound-track between various arias, choruses and orchestral interludes from Handel's Messiah sung by the Pontarddulais Choir that utter their own comment, lyrical, ironic or humorous, upon the pictures of Welsh life and landscape that they accompany.

Giant Load - A 200-ton transformer is moved by road from Hayes, Middlesex, to Iver, Bucks. Behind the story of the journey there is another tale: the problems which had to be solved before the task could be undertaken. This background story is told by the voices of those responsible for the various aspects of the operation, until the transformer is placed within a 'bee's wing' of its intended position.

They Take The High Road - Set in Scotland, this film tells, amongst other road transport things, the story of the team of four British Road Services drivers who lived and worked together for two years, loading and transporting 20,000 tons of cement in 7 1/2 ton loads up craggy mountain roads from the little railway station at Killin to the new Giorra Dam. A concentrated effort, relying on hard, concientious work, good fellowship and the support of B.R.S.'s nationwide organisation.

Railways For Ever - The last steam train crossing the Pennines, and an Edwardian music-hall song "Watching the trains go out", cause Sir John Betjeman to reminisce. In his own nostalgic verse and prose, he remembers the great trains of old and looks forward to railways for ever as he moves through a photographic exhibition in Kingsway. The film makes extensive use of coverage of the final steam specials on BR on the 11th of August 1968, and provides a quirky look at steam and those who follow its progress.

Seaspeed Express - The advantages and pleasures of crossing the channel by Hovercraft. In this film a sales executive, with his car and engineering samples, travels to Lille for a business appointment; and a family goes to Paris for a holiday. The former's journey is via Dover/Calais, and the latter's via Dover/Boulogne. Both demonstrate the benefits of using this modern, speedy method of reaching Europe.

  • Disc 1 
  • Ocean Terminal (1952, 30 minutes, Black and white)
  • Dodging the Column (1952, 10 minutes, Black and white)
  • Link Span (1956, 23 minutes, Colour)
  • Every Valley (1957, 20 minutes, Black and white)
  • Journey into Spring (1957, 30 minutes, Colour)
  • Between the Tides (1958, 22 minutes, Colour)
  • Giant Load (1958, 10 minutes, Black and white)

  • Disc 2
  • They Take The High Road (1960, 25 minutes, Colour)
  • Wild Highlands (1961, 21 minutes, Colour)
  • Wild Wings (1965, 35 minutes, Colour)
  • An Artist Looks at Churches (1959, 13 minutes)
  • Railways For Ever (1970, 7 minutes, Colour)
  • The Scene From Melbury House (1972, 15 minutes, Colour)
  • Age of Invention (1975, 25 minutes, Colour)
  • Seaspeed Express (1980, 16 minutes, Colour)

Produced by - British Transport Films
Running time - 304 Minutes
DVD only


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