Thursday, 17 December 2009

What a Christmas Cracker

Yes, Christmas is upon us, and ‘tis the season to be jolly, or so they tell me. Wiith that in mind I’ve been working towards the Grumpy Git Productions Christmas Special lately, as various previous blog posts have related.   I decided to use the Nene Valley Railway Santa Specials as the basis of a film, which has ended up going off in a completely different direction to the original idea.

Having spent a couple of cold and mud encrusted weekends getting lineside shots, I decided to use last Sunday for the close up station area scenes that I was after – the weather was dull and overcast, with promise of heavy rain on and off (mostly on).  Definitely not a day for trudging along the Nene Walk.

I arrived good and early to work out where I would need to be and when, which was when I bumped into one of the NVR volunteers, Barbara, whom I met at the Peterborough Model Railway Exhibition recently.  Barbara is aware of my frequent visits to the line for filming, and invited me aboard the first Santa Special of the day in case I’d like some interior shots to add into the film.  What an excellent idea – this would add a whole new dimension to the film.  Barbara introduced me to Jayne who runs the Wagon-Lits first class coaches, as these vehicles would provide my ideal backdrop to the interior scenes.  Plus I’ve always wanted to travel on the Orient Express, and this was an excellent way of doing so without selling a kidney.

Jayne asked for volunteers who would like to be in the film, as not everyone these days is willing to appear in front of a camera, despite what you may think from audition time at X-Factor.  All the Wagon Lits passengers were more than happy to be filmed and star in the video – as children would be some of the main performers I made sure that everyone concerned was aware that the video would be submitted to the NVR for possible use on their website, as well as on the Grumpy Git YouTube page.  It’s a sad reflection on British society these days that this has to be mentioned, but with the Government and The Daily Mail trying to make everyone believe that there is a paedophile hiding behind every tree, I had to cover some bases.  Remember when you were allowed to just enjoy yourself?  Thanks, Gordon.

Anyway, with groundwork covered and the train loaded up to capacity, off we went with cameras rolling.  On arrival back at Wansford, Jayne asked if I’d undertake a second trip as on the later trains the passengers have a lunch service that would look good on film.  Hmmm, let me see – cold and wet Wansford Station, or another trip in a nice warm first class train with coffee and mince pies coming my way.  I’ll think about it.  Thinking done, I set up for another session.  As well as the catering, I also filmed Santa himself, who meets and greets all the passengers on each train.

First-Class Wagon Lits place setting.

On the return journey, Jayne requested a group photo of her team, which was an excellent idea.  I also had one of my rare flashes of inspiration and, suggested they shout out a ‘Happy Christmas’ message on camera, as this would round off the film nicely.

Jayne's Team, with Jayne, middle row, centre.

With three return trips left to run, I sadly alighted from the lovely warm train onto the very cold and wet Wansford Station for the arrival and departure shots.  I wanted to give the impression that the train is steam hauled throughout, but in reality, the steam loco runs top and tail with a class 14 diesel loco.  Departure from Wansford therefore sees the steam engine dragged along in reverse, so I couldn’t use this at all.  I could use the coaches leaving, however, and the loco departure was filmed at Ferry Meadows instead.  Filming at Peterborough NV was also out of the question – the train overhangs the platform by around 4 coach lengths, so a classic station departure shot would not be possible.  Therefore Ferry Meadows and Wansford stood in here, with a departure of Peterborough taken from inside the train.  It sort of works once it’s all edited together, especially if you watch it with your eyes closed.  I’ve seen far worse continuity on some BBC dramas involving railways, believe me.

73050 arrives at Wansford ... or departs from Peterborough .. 
or passing Ferry Meadows ... depending on the situation at the time!

In between Santa Specials, I filmed Thomas shunting the mail coach that contains the presents for Santa’s Grotto – be warned, a Thomas video is under construction!  It’s Christmas, I can do what I like.

With plenty of footage available to work with, I set about creating a family orientated piece about the Santa Specials, with the idea of submitting it to the NVR for consideration for use on their website.  For this reason, the music had to be royalty free and licensed for commercial use.  This ruled out all my chosen tracks due to copyright reasons – see my bit earlier about the country banning enjoyment these days – and discovered Kevin McLeod who arranges and performs music for unrestricted website use – great!  I set about recreating the train journey, from preparations in the morning through to a return trip along the line and ending back at Wansford with a message from the NVR volunteers.

It’s worth pointing out that each Santa Special requires around 50 volunteers who have a journey of an hour in which to serve drinks, food, clean up, introduce Santa, dispense more drinks and clean up again.  Back at Wansford, the whole train must be serviced in 25 minutes ready for the next set of 300 passengers.  They work extremely hard and create a genuinely warm and welcoming atmosphere on the train; something you don’t appreciate until you’re behind the scenes watching it all.  I was most impressed with the organisation and enjoyment of my time on board the train.  Filming it is a lot easier than doing it, that’s for sure.

Grabbing a quick 5 minute break on the return trip to Wansford.

So loosen your tie, pull a cracker and pour yourself a Scotch - it's time for the Grumpy Git Christmas Special.


  1. Great Video, Martin. The railway certainly seems to put on a fabulous service and the staff are amazingly dedicated. I loved the sequences at 6.47 and 7.23, great shots of the loco. Another classic production from GG! Bit worried about the threat of a Thomas video... please give me ample warning so that I don't happen upon it unsuspecting lol. Well done,


  2. Thanks Iain. The service offered on and off these Christmas Specials really is second to none, and the atmosphere is fantastic. Another more railway orientated version of this film is planned - just a couple of sequences still to film at locations that need some good winter sun to do them justice.

    Thomas The Movie seemed like a good idea after a bottle of Christmas Sherry that had been carelessly left lying around ... the jury is still out. As will I be if I produce it!


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