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Night Mail

The film "starred" Parallel-boilered Royal Scot no 6115 Scots Guardsman.
Directed by Harry Watt
Basil Wright
Produced by Harry Watt
Basil Wright
Written by W. H. Auden
Narrated by John Grierson
Music by Benjamin Britten
Editing by Basil Wright
Distributed by Associated British Film Distributors
Release date(s) 1936
Running time 25 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Night Mail is a 1936 documentary film about a London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) mail train from London to Scotland, produced by the GPO Film Unit. A poem by English poet W. H. Auden was specially written for it, used in the closing few minutes, as was music by Benjamin Britten. (The two men also collaborated on a rail-documentary on the line from London to Portsmouth, The Way to the Sea, also in 1936.) The film was directed by Harry Watt and Basil Wright, and narrated by John Grierson and Stuart Legg. The Brazilian filmmaker Alberto Cavalcanti was the sound director. It starred Royal Scot 6115 Scots Guardsman.

As recited in the film, the poem's rhythm imitates that of the train's wheels as they clatter over the track sections, beginning slowly but picking up speed so that by the time the narration reaches the penultimate verse the narrator is speaking at a breathless pace. As the train slows toward its destination the final verse is taken at a more sedate pace. The famous opening lines of the poem are "This is the Night Mail crossing the border / Bringing the cheque and the postal order". The poem however remains under copyright.

Such is the iconic status of the film, it was used as inspiration for a famous British Rail advertisement of the 1980s, known as the "concerto ad". [1]


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