Site unseen: Carnforth Railway Station, Lancashire
Friday 30 August 1996
It has always been fashionable to sneer at David Lean's 1946 film Brief Encounter, a tale of unrequited passion between a doctor and a housewife who meet on a railway station, fall in love but finally come to their senses and part - all to the lush accompaniment of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No 2 on the soundtrack.
Here is an accurate picture of a country which might have won the war but was shabby, down-at-heel and rationed. Sexual fidelity was valued and the Pill had never been heard of.
In any case, the story must surely strike a chord with anyone who has experienced a brief, passionate but doomed encounter. Only the flint-hearted or never been loved can resist.
Central to the story is the mythical station of Milford Junction, but more particularly its tearoom, where Alec (Trevor Howard) and Laura (Celia Johnson) spend precious moments together. The tearoom is presided over by the garrulous manageress (Joyce Carey) and patronised too by an admiring ticket collector (Stanley Holloway).
Whooshing steam trains bustle through the station at regular intervals, leaving behind a cloud of debris. How on earth did people keep clean?
Much of the film's authenticity derives from the fact that Milford Junction was not some unconvincing studio set but was a real location: Carnforth Station in Lancashire. But before incurable romantics go speeding off to see where Alec and Laura finally said farewell, don't. Their sad fate is matched by that of the station itself.
Since Brief Encounter was made in the brave new post-war world, Carnforth Station has seen the end of steam, the intervention of Dr Beeching and the arrival of InterCity trains which now no longer bother to stop here. Most travellers prefer to use the M6, which passes nearby.
And, worst of all, the tearoom has been closed and vandalised. It now stands boarded up and as unhappy as the doomed couple themselves.
What has happened at Carnforth is an all too accurate summary of the cavalier way we have treated both British railways and British cinema. Here, surely, is (yet another) deserving case for National Lottery money.
ANDREW JOHN DAVIES
Carnforth Railway, Station, Lancashire
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