Virginia Barton

4 December 2015: Smut in her eye

 

4 December 2015

 

Be honest — would YOU make a 4-hour round trip from London to Carnforth in Lancashire to see a replica of the tea-room in Brief Encounter? And all the other memorabilia?

Well, I know someone who did just that this week — and came all the way from Connecticut to do it. There’s true devotion for you.

He encountered (and not that briefly) a late departure, and then a breakdown of his train. I warned him before he left about Virgin trains, notorious in the Western region. But, but.

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He saw the famous clock at the head of the stairs, the cafe of course, and the 70th anniversary exhibition. He kindly sent me a postcard of Trevor Howard removing the speck of smut from Celia Johnson’s eye. (Did he say, “Trust me, I’m a doctor”? I don’t remember. )

Were they able to replicate the smoke; the sour, sooty air and that defining whistle and hiss of steam trains? Questions to be asked when I meet the dedicated fan.

 

Unsurprisingly, Noël Coward, who wrote the screenplay based on his one-act play, was known as The Master. If you look up his credits on stage and screen, you wonder how he ever had time for brushing his teeth. Brief Encounter is top of his pops, followed by In Which We Serve, his homage to Mountbatten. (Not a favourite with with either BH or VB.)

Next in line features the brilliant, laconic Michael Caine in The Italian Job, with Coward himself playing a “Mr Big”, masterminding everything from jail. Who could forget Blithe Spirit? The list goes on and on and that’s not counting theatre, cabaret and music.

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Crossing the Atlantic to trace the American Civil War battle sites was a pet project I had — of course associated with one of MY “best films ever”, Gone with the Wind.

I have a sneaking feeling we’ve been here before…

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