Film ID: YFA 3382 Video of YFA 3382 8 O'Clock Special 1962 8 O'CLOCK SPECIAL 1962 Visitor TabsDescription Made by Alan Sidi of the Mercury Movie Makers, this is a comical film that uses speeded up movement to show a train journey between Leeds and Bradford that takes less than ten minutes. The film opens with a shot of a station clock at Leeds Central Station that reads 7:55 am. It is coupled with the title of the film’s name, ‘8’O’Clock Special’. A business man in a bowler hat and suit, and carrying a long umbrella, enters the station and has his ticket checked at an old style ticket booth. He then boards the train, sits and reads The Times. The train moves out of the station, and surrounding buildings are viewed from the carriage window as it travels along the track. The film is then speeded up as the train continues along the journey. The train speeds past buildings, houses, stations and other trains headed in the opposite direction. The once composed businessman, still reading his paper on the train, now looks slightly distraught. From the driver’s window the train finally arrives at the destination station, Bradford Interchange. The man disembarks from the train looking flustered. He mops his brow and gives a quizzical look at the train, and he has to be helped out past the ticket booth by a guard. The film ends with a shot of the clock at Bradford Interchange that reads 8.05 am, to emphasize the fact that the train has been speeding. Context This was an award winning film made by Alan Sidi, a member of the Leeds cine group called Mercury Movie Makers. Alan passed away in 2011, leaving a large collection of exceptional films. A very innovative filmmaker, he invented a way of synchronising sound with 16mm film before this was commercially available. He also left many memories of a larger than life character - see Postcript below. This film won a Diplome D’Honneur, or a Silver Medal, at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, more specifically, the XV Festival International Du Film Amateur. The man playing the bewildered passenger is fellow cine member, John Rose. The history of the Mercury Movie Makers group is quite fascinating. They were members of another local cine club who wanted to branch cine off and make 16mm, and not just 8mm or super 8 film. They formed themselves into a club in 1959 as an offshoot of an adult education class run by Geoff Bolton; naming themselves after the Roman messenger of the Gods. At first meeting in a room above a pub in Guiseley, The Old Drop Inn, they rented Sexton Lodge from the Church of St Paul in Esholt through one of their members, Ken Dixon, who was a Church committee member. The cine group turned this into a cine showroom in return for upkeeping it and paying the Church a small rent towards the repair of their roof. When the TV soap Emmerdale started filming here they used these premises, bringing in a good income. Here they would put on film shows for the many other cine clubs from across Yorkshire, and for the public, especially the elderly. They also made a film of the making of Emmerdale, also on YFA Online, From Esholt to Beckindale. In 2008 they moved to Rawdon Conservative Club when the Church upped the annual rent from £150 to £3,000. The group made films as a collective, although individual members would also made their own personal films. Most of these are now collected together at the YFA. This film was made shortly after the group was formed and shows just how adventurous they were, making a fiction film as well as the many documentary type films that they were collectively responsible for. Alan Sidi was as well known for his ingenuity in the film making process as he was in making films. Sidi developed a synchronising device that allowed audio to be synchronised with 8mm film as they run at different speeds. There was certainly some ingenuity in the making of 8 O'clock Special; not least in getting permission for British Rail to allow a film camera into the engine cab. This however, is an old practise, going back to the ‘phantom rides’ of the early days of filmmaking. But perhaps the most famous example is that of the film London to Brighton in Four Minutes, produced in 1952 by the BBC Film Unit, showing a journey from Victoria Station in London to Brighton from the front of a Brighton Belle train, and shot at 2fps, making it a bit faster than this film. Alan Sidi has said that his film was made without reference to this famous predecessor, which was made as a speeded up film, whereas the humour of 8 O'clock Special comes from taking the perspective of the unwitting passenger. Alan sat in the front cab clicking the camera on and off with a switch at regular intervals to produce the speeded up effect. It being a long time ago, Alan couldn’t remember whether he had just the one camera or whether someone else filmed the train from an embankment as it passed. Alan notes that few people notice that the train gets reduced from four carriages to two. 8 O'clock Special was made just before the publication of the Beeching Report, ‘The Re-Shaping of British Railways’, in March 1963. From 17,830 route miles in 1961, there are now some 10,000. Some lines earmarked for closure did survive after hard-fought campaigns, such as the lines from Manchester to Buxton and Leeds to Ilkley. Under the direction of Dr Richard Beeching, formerly of ICI and the newly appointed chairman of the British Railways Board, a group of industrialists called the Stedeford Committee produced a report on the state of the railway. This proposed the closure of 2,363 stations and halts, of which 235 had already been closed when the Report was published, and closing around 5,000 miles, almost a third of the network. The Beeching Report caused major controversy, and even now still causes fierce argument, with those for as well as against. Supposedly set up to stem the losses the British railway was making, some have argued that the Report was a cover for the road lobby: the Tory transport minister at the time, Ernest Marples, was a director of Marples Ridgway, a major road building company and also a member of the British Roads Federation. There is also the argument that, after the railway union’s strike in 1955 forced a climbdown over pay, there was a desire by the government to weaken the power of the unions. Whatever the truth of this, the film was made without thought to this impending report, although the line shown in the film was probably one of those that closed after Beeching, giving the film added significance. References David Henshaw, The Great Railway Conspiracy, Leading Edge, 1991. Information on Mercury Movie Makers Beeching in Yorkshire Postcript: It is with great sadness that YFA reports the sad news of the death of one of Yorkshire’s most innovative and exuberant amateur filmmakers, Alan Sidi. Alan passed away at Horrogate District Hospital on Monday 14th June 2011, aged 80, leaving behind a brother and sister and two children, Fiona and Paul. Alan had been suffering from Crohn's disease for many years. Alan made a large number of high quality films, both on his own and as part of Leeds Mercury Movie Makers. Once the director of a Yorkshire wool factory, Alan had invented a new way to both spin and weave mohair, before the advent of man-made fabrics led to the demise of the business. But Alan turned his inventiveness in other directions, not least in the field of filmmaking. His invention of a cine-sync machine in the 1960s enabled audio to be synchronised with, and then added to, 16mm film. One room of his idiosyncratic house (later purchased by the Leeds United footballer Terry Yorath) was entirely devoted to film editing. One of those who often worked in there with Alan was his long-standing friend and fellow Mercury Movie Maker, Reg White. Alan was renowned for having crazy ideas, and putting them into practice. Reg has many tales of Alan’s antics, recounting one time when he helped to edit a film Alan made in Morocco of a native woman geeing on a reluctant donkey. As the film was silent Alan wanted to add a soundtrack. Reg come up with an idea to create the sound of the woman hitting the donkey, but Alan wanted something to reproduce the sound of the woman’s shouting. So Alan deliberately provoked his long-suffering wife Kay into a rant, which he recorded and played backwards onto the soundtrack to get the desired effect.