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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 71 - September 1992
Those were the days - Part Three - Anthea Hanscomb
The other day I was looking at poor old Swanscombe, tucked away behind the Down Yard restoration building, forgotten and fast becoming derelict. It is now over sixteen years since she had her moment of fame and was the engine all the visitors wanted to see.
She was known then as Swanscombe the Play School engine and it all began in December 1975 when the BBC asked us if they could film their popular children's programme at Quainton. On Sunday 11 January 1976 a massive shunt move took place which lasted from 2.30pm until 9pm and left the yard clear and most of the stock in the correct position for the filming. Swanscombe and Beattie were to be the stars, providing Beattie could be ready in time. As it turned out there was trouble with the eccentric rods so Swanscombe was on her own. Beattie was filmed, dead, at the end of the long siding instead.
On Monday 12 January the BBC engineers arrived with several huge vans which they parked in the Up Yard, opposite the station building. Miles of cable for the four cameras and for lighting ran from the vans, over the footbridge and snaked their way round the Down Yard. The programme was being recorded on video tape which meant the producer and director could watch it all on monitor screens in the control van while it was being filmed, and it could be played back immediately, when required. Those out on the site, such as the production assistant; the cameramen; various other assistants; the sound recordist and assorted engineers, were in radio contact with the two vans which were the control rooms.
The artists, Sarah Long and Johnny Ball, were supplied with little battery operated transmitters with tiny lapel microphones, as were members of the Society who had to explain anything. None of us had ever seen such equipment and it was very different from the filming of "11 Harrow House" done with an ordinary cine camera and the sound added later. One could begin to appreciate the cost of the colour TV licence!
Tuesday found John Carter up at Quainton by 5.30am to light up Swanscombe. He was joined by Frank Boait and John Mortham. Tim Stevens and I reached the site by 8.30am having stopped at Aylesbury Station to find out what trains were expected on the BR line during the day. The BBC wanted to have a rough idea of the timetable so that a diesel horn wouldn't suddenly crop up in the middle of their sound track. Though the timetable turned out to be somewhat more flexible than expected, the filming was not badly upset on either day.
At ten o'clock filming began and, with a toot on the whistle, Swanscombe pulled into the platform. John Carter was driving and Colin Copcutt firing; instantly they became film stars. Gordon Rodwell was the Station Master and after his piece was over he went off to do a dress rehearsal with some of the supporting cast, who would be needed the next day. These were the two heifers and six bullocks in the field adjoining the Down Yard who were to be bribed with hay to come and stand by the fence near the Wembley building, for filming from the train. Roddy rounded up the eight beasts and had them following him, pulling at the bundles of hay he had tucked under each arm. He brought them down the field and stopped opposite the platform, so that they could get used to the sight of so many people and the sound of the engine. They were quite unconcerned except for one black and white bullock which was thunderstruck by the arm-waving and train noises which Sarah was making in front of a camera on the platform. First she was being a signal and then a train. The bullock was rooted to the spot, ears straining forward and eyes out on stalks. How I wished I had had a camera!
Swanscombe now had to run up to the water tower for a demonstration of how it worked. The arm was swung across and the bag put in the tank, John on the ground pulled the chain and Colin, on the engine, directed the flow of water - but- there was a split in the bag and, as it took four "takes" before the producer was satisfied. Colin got soaked and Swanscombe had water pouring out of her saddle tank. Luckily it was lunch time so Colin left his boiler suit in the cab to dry.
After lunch there was a minor crisis when John couldn't find his grease top. He borrowed mine and got an engineman's badge from the shop because I have always had a traction engine badge in my cap, which wasn't considered suitable for this occasion! Filming continued with Colin firing and John demonstrating how an engine works. For this they were both fitted with tiny microphones and radio transmitters, with the filming done by miniature cameras in a wagon coupled behind Swanscombe. A song from Johnny and a story from Sarah completed the first day's filming.
On Wednesday King Edward I, or rather bits of it, were filmed as was Beattie. She had smouldering oily rags in her smoke box and rather nasty oily smoke oozing from her chimney, to give the impression she was in steam. Attention then turned to the Restoration building where Colin Blowers and I were painting the boiler of Met No 1. We had to explain briefly why we were doing it. Then it was the turn of the supporting cast, who were not in the obliging mood they had been the day before. It was a beautiful sunny January day, with a hint of spring and better things to come and this had communicated itself to the animals. Roddy had successfully rounded them up but they had become bored with having to wait and had suddenly decided to dash across the field. At the crucial moment they were dots on the horizon! Ray Hedley, Roddy and I dashed after them waving bundles of hay and after an energetic fifteen minutes we did manage to get them all back by the fence and they were successfully filmed from the train.
The final shot was of Johnny waiting for the train which arrived with Humpty Dumpty on board. The guard, Trevor Paice, blew his whistle, Humpty waved goodbye, Sarah called out "Back in Play School tomorrow" and that was it. Cameras and cable rapidly disappeared into the vans and soon only six members remained clearing up and shunting the stock back into its original place. A post script for those who remember the Quainton robin. All during the filming he managed to keep just out of shot. Every time a camera pointed in his direction he hopped back out of range. He even sat on the boiler of Met No 1, after they had filmed it! Cunning little bird, we did all we could to get him in the film!
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 01 December 2017