The Top Ten: Railway romances


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The Independent Culture

This list was compiled by Malcolm Pryce – author of the 'Aberystwyth' series of six novels, in the style of Raymond Chandler and set in an alternative universe – who has now written a book about Jack Wenlock, the railway detective. Sounds like my kind of weirdo, frankly.

1. 'Brief Encounter', 1945

A man, a woman returning from Boots Lending Library, and a bit of grit in her eye.

2. 'Night Mail', 1936

A promotional documentary film produced by the General Post Office and featuring a poem written for it by WH Auden, with a score by Benjamin Britten. Love letters and final demands are sorted after dark, on the move.

3. 'The Thirty-Nine Steps', 1935

Quintessential British train movie in which Richard Hannay flees across Scotland handcuffed to a lady and to a plot that makes no sense.

4. 'Get Carter', 1971

Michael Caine journeys to Newcastle to avenge the murder of his brother. Much admired by train buffs because of the opening sequence filmed from the cab of – and I can't say this without swooning – an English Electric DP1 Deltic.

5. 'The Railway Children', 1970

The nation falls in love with Jenny Agutter as she stands on the track to stop the train. It comes to a halt an inch from her nose. Plucky girl. OK, they filmed that sequence in reverse.

6. 'Adlestrop', 1917

A poem by Edward Thomas and metaphor for the journey of life: the place where you might have found love if only you'd alighted. It's gone now: only the station signboard remains, decorating the bus stop.

7. 'Dr Zhivago', 1965

A match made in heaven: fur-hatted Julie Christie and wood-burning steam train. They chuff through magnificent Siberian vistas that are really Canadian. Well, this was the height of the Cold War – where would you have shot it?

8. 'Snow Country', 1956

A masterpiece of Japanese literature by Yasunari Kawabata in which a Tokyo gent travels to a tryst at a hot-spring resort in the mountains of Niigata. In the haunting opening sequence, a train steams through the snowy wastes.

9. 'The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery', 1966

Recent celebrity trials have ensured we won't be seeing the icon of the sixth-form temptress again, I suspect. But it's still a wonderful premise: the train robbers hide their loot in a deserted country house that is converted into a new home for the notorious St Trinian's school.

10. 'The European Rail Timetable', published since 1873

DIY romance. There are more than 10,000 ticket barriers listed in here. If that special someone isn't waiting at one of them, you are in the wrong universe.

Next week: Americanisms that were originally English (such as 'gotten')

Coming soon: Medical ailments in songs. Send your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, to

'The Case of the "Hail Mary" Celeste', by Malcolm Pryce, is published by Bloomsbury, priced £12.99