Saturday, 4 June 2016

This is York British Transport Film (1953)

Leighton Lucas is now largely forgotten as a composer. When recalled, it is usually for his film music.  Credits to his name include scores such as Ice Cold in Alex, The Yangtse Incident, The Dambusters (except for the famous Eric Coates March) and Target for Tonight. A generation of a certain age, will recall, unwittingly perhaps, his title music for the radio series Just William.

Leighton Lucas was born in 1903 and came to prominence as a member of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russe (1918-21) and at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre a couple of years later. His main occupation was conducting. After war service in the Royal Air Force he continued his career of composing and conducting alongside educational work with the BBC.  He was on the staff of the Royal Academy of Music.
Alongside his film scores, Lucas wrote a series of ballets, concertante works for a variety of instruments and various orchestral pieces. His best known concert work is probably the Chorale and Variations for brass band. Leighton Lucas died in London in 1982.

This is York was made in 1953. The inspiration for this nostalgic film came from an article in the Railway Magazine (1949) entitled ‘Twenty Four Hours at York’ written by the iconic railway historian O.S. Nock.  The basic ‘plot’ is a day in the life of the railway station. Greater interest is maintained by shots of the city streets, the countryside, as well as more detailed railway matters. The story is told through the eyes of the now old-fashioned Station Master who arrives at his office complete with bowler hat.

As presented on the Chandos album of film music by Arthur Benjamin and Leighton Lucas, the suite from This is York has four discrete sections.
1. Opening Titles,
2. Setting the Path – Diagram Lights
3. Thornton-le-Dale
4. Smoking Engine – Pan across York – Committee Room –Portraits – Railway Museum.

The time span of the film is from dawn to dusk, reflecting the original article. The opening credits feature gently-stated music which compliment the early morning: a view of the Minster, deserted streets of York and workers on their commute, during which the narrator tells a little about the city’s history and industry.  Much of narrative is routine, everyday operation of the railway.  Later on in the day the train spotters arrive and pay a penny for their platform tickets.
The most notable movement is the second section, in which the composer has created a locomotive sound that owes much to Honegger’s Pacific 231. There are good pictures of the then state-of-the-art signal box which had been commissioned in 1951. It has since been superseded by an electronic signalling system. There are lots of views of steam-hauled train entering and leaving the station, the locomotive shed and the carriage sidings.
The third ‘movement’ of the suite has a pastoral feel as the viewer meets 'Mr Barnes' at Thornton-Le-Dale who used the trains to send his prize rabbits to shows. Alas, the music also accompanies the railway motor van, which had replaced many local branch line goods services.
The last section of the suite moves into evening shadows. Romantic music complements traders and typists, merchants and clerks, heading homeward. The final moments portray the station master putting on his bowler and leaving his office. The music rolls through the credits with scenes of York by night.

The film was directed by J.B. Holmes, the script was written by Paul le Saux and was narrated by Frank Crossland and Denis McCarthy.
Atypically of film music from that era, the manuscript score was preserved by a member of the film company. It would appear to be the only one by Leighton Lucas to have survived.  The score has been edited by Malcolm Riley. 
The music of This is York can be heard on The Film Music of Arthur Benjamin and Leighton Lucas, Chandos, CHAN 10713

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