TV: Great Railway Journeys of the World

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Mercer&Somerset

TV: Great Railway Journeys of the World

Post by Mercer&Somerset » Sat Apr 22, 2006 9:22 pm

This early-80s PBS series has been mentioned a few times in this forum, but I wanted to get a more thorough discussion going, for instance, what everyone's favorite episode of the series was, and why.

For those who don't know, Great Railway Journeys of the World is a set of hour-long BBC documentaries (I believe there were a total of seven), traveling by rail through various places and exploring not only the rail lines, but the culture and history surrounding them. They are characterized not only by excellent hosts (including a number of journalistic luminaries) but also inspired use of music.

When I was young, my parents would always put these on the VCR to placate me when I was acting up, and it always worked. My father recently transfered several of them to DVD, so I've been rewatching. My thoughts:

Zambezi Express (South Africa to Rhodesia): my favorite. Excellent original music accompanying the Blue Train as it travels from Cape Town to Pretoria. Real danger as Michael Wood rides freight and passenger trains to get through Rhodesia (then in the midst of a civil war) to Victoria Falls. Deep examination of the cultural divisions, not only between blacks and whites, but also British and Afrikaaner. Highlight: Wood's travel on the footplate of a double-headed, steam-powered freight train.

Coast to Coast (New York to Los Angeles): Ludovic Kennedy takes Amtrak across the US, stopping along the way to visit, among others, Dearborn Station and Promontory Point. A very American score, mostly Copland's "Appalachian Spring", but also Glenn Miller's "Tuxedo Junction" and a few others. Kennedy seems to go out of his way to find weirdos to interview, demonstrating a tad of condescension towards the Colonials. Highlight: the Jupiter and 119 coming together, with Copland blaring and recitations of the original speeches.

The Long Straight (Sydney to Perth): Michael Frayn rides the Indian Pacific across Australia, with a diversion up to Alice Springs on the Ghan. This may have the best music of them all--almost Peter & the Wolf like, with each section of the IP and the Ghan having its own theme. Highlight: the Ghan--a mixed consist of freight and passenger cars traveling at "cracking 17 miles per hour" on rails laid directly on the ground, without ballast.

Confessions of a Train Spotter (London to Kyle of Lochalsh): famously hosted by Michael Palin of Monty Python, travels a number if scenic routes through Great Britain. Highlights: tie--(1)the Flying Scotsman, and (2) a shot of a train flying across the Firth of Forth, with Palin reminding us that the bridge was built at a time that "the only alternative to railways was horse & trap."

Additionally, there are episodes exploring Europe, India, and the Andes in South America, but I haven't seen them in ages.

I've been writing to the BBC lately, encouraging them to re-release on DVD. I'll post the address to write to once they get back to me!

mainerails

Post by mainerails » Tue Apr 25, 2006 5:51 pm

I, too, grew up on these videos... although I couldn't understand most of the words the hosts were saying, somehow they were much more captivating than, say, Sesame Street. Having just watched them recently, I would posit that they're some of the best-produced rail videos around. They capture the spirit of a rail journey, whether it's Ludovic Kennedy getting Amtrak's finest treatment (note sarcasm) or depicting a Rhodesian Bayer-Garratt rushing supplies to Zambia with armed soldiers aboard.

Altogether, they provide a great representation of what rail travel of the early 1980s was like on six out of the seven continents.

Aa3rt
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Post by Aa3rt » Tue Apr 25, 2006 7:47 pm

I have all of these episodes on tape and also have the companion volume published in 1982. To refresh your memories, the episodes were:

Deccan (India) narrated by Brian Thompson

Zambezi Express (South Africa) narrated by Michael Wood

The Long Straight (Australia) narrated by Michael Frayn

Coast to Coast (U.S.A.) narrated by Ludivoc Kennedy

Three Miles High (Peru & Bolivia) narrated by Miles Kington

Confessions of a Train-Spotter (Great Britain) narrated by Michael Palin

Changing Trains (Europe) narrated by Eric Robson

My favorites were the Great Britain, Australia and South Africa episodes that I had on the same tape and wore it out. I also enjoyed the South American episode. In addition to the steam powered trains, there was a steam ship (The S. S. Ollanta, built in Hull, Great Britain, disassembled, taken to Lake Titicaca in pieces and reassembled!) on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable waterway in the world and well as an abundance of steam powered machinery on the docks.

The European episode has the Austrian "Zillertahlbahn", running on 2-foot gauge tracks, a fascinating variety of Swiss Railways and then the sense of foreboding as the last train in the episode crosses the frontier from Austria into the Eastern Bloc.

The US episode is worth watching if for nothing more than the portion where Ludivoc Kennedy rides the Broadway Limited from New York to Harrisburg in company of Rogers E. M. Whitaker AKA E. M. Frimbo. The late Mr. Whitaker was 82 at the time of filming and had ridden over 2,500,000 (that's right-2.5 MILLION) miles on passenger trains.

A second, less remarked series, also shown on PBS was titled "Great Little Railways", done in the same format with trips on the White Pass & Yukon (Alaska/Yukon Territory), Philippines sugar lines, Greece, Poland, Portugal, India and Equador, also worth searching out if you can find them.
Art Audley, AA3RT
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tyke

Post by tyke » Fri Sep 01, 2006 3:18 am

I desperately need copies of the following to complete my collection. Can you help?

Zambezi Express (South Africa) narrated by Michael Wood

The Long Straight (Australia) narrated by Michael Frayn

Three Miles High (Peru & Bolivia) narrated by Miles Kington

Changing Trains (Europe) narrated by Eric Robson

The Michael Palin early journey (he did a later one in Ireland) has been released on DVD as part of a complete Palin collection but single copies are available on eBay. The BBC re-broadcasts journeys from time to time but doesn't seem to play the very early ones.

DHLawrence

Post by DHLawrence » Sat Sep 23, 2006 12:01 pm

I loved this series. My mother taped a few episodes from PBS in the early 80s before I was even born (demonstrating incredible foresight!) and I've nearly worn the tapes out watching and rewatching them. I drove my mother nuts watching them as I grew up.

I have four on VHS from TV, three of which (Confessions and Zambezi) I've been able to buy on tape, along with Deccan. I still need to find copies of Changing Trains, Long Straight, and Coast to Coast on VHS or DVD (Changing and Long Straight I have on tape, but not in great condition). So far the only copies I've found are 35mm films in the possession of the NRHS library, and they only loan them out to clubs. The episodes are nowhere to be found on Amazon--to get Deccan I had to buy a PAL copy from the UK and have it converted.

Keep us posted if the Beeb decides to release them on DVD for North American audiences!

tyke

Post by tyke » Sun Sep 24, 2006 2:20 am

I have Coast to Coast on DVD from a recent broadcast. I could let you have a copy but it would be PAL of course. Could you let me have a copy of Zambezi in return? If you can copy it onto DVD that would be best. It would not matter about it being NTSC. I'm also happy that we would not be breaking any copyrights as they are only available by broadcast at the moment.

Deglan

Michael Wood

Post by Deglan » Sun Sep 24, 2006 5:48 am

I enjoyed the South Africa to Rhodesia/Zimbabwe programme as it was made at a historic moment in that country's history....unfortunately my wife accidentally deleted it..... Perhaps we could all ask the BBC to repeat it or sell the series on dvd as I do not believe it was ever released

tyke

Post by tyke » Sun Sep 24, 2006 10:31 am

Deglaan, If I can get a copy from DHLawrence I'll pass it on to you.

I've tried to get the BBC to release some of the journeys but all I can get is a stock answer ' We do not currently have this programme for sale'. As they date from the early 80s it may be that the BBC did not make copies of the programmes. I undestand that when video was new tape was so expensive that many programmes were lost because the tape had to be reused.

David Benton
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Post by David Benton » Sun Sep 24, 2006 3:30 pm

Didnt readers digest put out versions of these programmes on video . or was that another series ?
Moderator worldwide railfan , Rail travel & trip reports
The only train trips I regret are the ones I didn't take.

Deglan

Zambezi Express

Post by Deglan » Sun Sep 24, 2006 4:48 pm

Thanks for replies...I do not recall a Readers Digest seriesbut thanks for answers thus far. Remember the BEEB stopped Dr.Who and it is now back!

I can only find it mentioned in US Library Cats :( :(
Deglan

tyke

Post by tyke » Mon Sep 25, 2006 1:24 pm

I remember finding some Readers Digest journeys published in Australia on the web a few years back but I can't remember anything about them and I can't find any reference to them now.

DHLawrence

Post by DHLawrence » Mon Sep 25, 2006 10:30 pm

tyke wrote:Deglaan, If I can get a copy from DHLawrence I'll pass it on to you.
At the moment the only way I can make a copy that can be used internationally is if I get a device that allows me to copy VHS tapes to a computer. I'm not very technologically adept when it comes to video editing, but once I get that device (need to save up for it), I can start copying what I do have.
I have Coast to Coast on DVD from a recent broadcast. I could let you have a copy but it would be PAL of course.
That would be great if it could be available as a file to be played on a computer. I have a media player that can play many different types of files and formats, etc.

I do, however, have a PAL copy of Deccan that's available to whoever wants it. I had it converted, so it doesn't help me much any more.

tyke

Post by tyke » Tue Sep 26, 2006 1:42 am

If you can make a copy of your NTSC journey there would be no need to worry about 'translation' as all UK DVD players and videos will play NTSC recordings. That may not be the case with USA players playing PAL recordings, though.

If you can copy onto DVD that would be best for postage. I would be happy to refund your costs/postage or pay an amount into a chidren's charity if the amounts are small. That would be your choice, of course. I have some USA notes I could send.

pennsy
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Post by pennsy » Tue Sep 26, 2006 9:56 am

Hi All,

Looks like I am not the only one that has all of that series on videotape.

My favorite episode would be the Coast to Coast episode, across the USA. Ludovic Kennedy is the host, and I recognized him right a way as one of the Lieutenants, junior grade, on board one of the ships that cornered and sank the Bismarck. That was another videotape I have, Sink the Bismarck, and a subsequent documentary, with interviews from the actual participants, including survivors of the Bismarck.

Probably my favorite part of the Coast to Coast episode, is the beginning where he leaves NYC, the Big Apple, and is led by a really nice GG-1 to Harrisburg, PA. The comment is made, we arrived on time. He does not repeat that statement after that. All other trips going west were late.

DHLawrence

Post by DHLawrence » Tue Sep 26, 2006 1:12 pm

tyke wrote:If you can make a copy of your NTSC journey there would be no need to worry about 'translation' as all UK DVD players and videos will play NTSC recordings. That may not be the case with USA players playing PAL recordings, though.
Unfortunately, multi-region players only seem to be common outside the North American continent. All of the players we see here are region 1 only, and the DVD drives in computers can only play disks from other regions for a set number of times before they're stuck that way.
If you can copy onto DVD that would be best for postage. I would be happy to refund your costs/postage or pay an amount into a chidren's charity if the amounts are small. That would be your choice, of course. I have some USA notes I could send.
Canadian notes would work better ;)

Sending it would not be an issue; all I need to do is get a padded envelope and drop it in the post. It's getting it ready to send that's an issue right now XD

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