30 January to 1 February 2004 saw the Vague Film Club take up residence in Carnforth, Lancashire to pay homage to Brief Encounter. A letter from Celia Johnson displayed in the station museum inspired what follows (at least in part):
Introducing Mansergh Farm Cottages
The Mansergh Charity Farm at Borwick, near Carnforth, Lancashire has long since given up providing sustenance to the poor of the village. Today its 18th century barns have discovered new purpose and are re-christened the Mansergh Farm Cottages. They were to provide an awfully nice venue for the Vague Film Club Summit of 2004.
Mr Pennington and Ms Clarke were joined by Irish composer Ms Ní Ríain and Dr Lockhart in the Old Barn, which (despite its rustic naming!) provided surprising good accommodation, given its situation.
The hoi polloi, represented on this occasion by Jon, Kath, Jeremy, Katharine and Stephen were situated in the delightfully named Tudor Rose Cottage. They appeared none the worse for sharing their bathing facilities and were most accommodating, frequently sharing out the role of host with abandon.
The evening of Friday 30th, January 2004
The evening of Friday 30th, witnessed the guests arrive in quick succession, giving rise to quite a commotion. The Newtons had slipped away to brave the town’s seedier side, returning triumphant with an awfully nice curry courtesy of the delightfully named Ickys II. As ever, the guests had over-ordered and were, one has to say, roundly defeated by the meal.
Meanwhile, the ever cautious Dr Lockhart had transported a miniature chippy all the way from Salford! (One does wonder!) The contraption attracted many gasps from the other guests but, one is assured, performed splendidly on the night.
Fed and watered the guests settled down to view Brief Encounter on Digital Versatile Disk. Some friendly discussion followed and all agreed it a most splendid cultural document. (Though not, one must add to be safe, always for the same reasons – what a funny lot we are!)
The morning of Saturday 31st, January 2004
Awaking refreshed and eager on the morning of Saturday 31st, the guests were saddened by the dreadful state of the weather. While not the worst, by any means, that Lancashire has to offer, it proved most unsuitable for the pleasant country walk they had envisaged. However, all was not lost and the guests shared a hearty breakfast. (One should pause at this point to mention the most enormous farm eggs, which were delightful. Ms Clarke was even rewarded with a double yolk!)
The morning was saved by the supply of a range of quality newspapers and the Daily Telegraph. The latter was to occupy the guests with the most delightful recipes for marmalade and, in combination with its contemporaries, news of Lord Hutton’s disgraceful chastisement of the British Broadcasting Corporation. This sorrowful issue gave rise to some sternness it must be said, as his Lordship’s minor intellect and obvious corruptibility had brought shame on the entire legal profession.
A trip to Carnforth Station
Oh at last! The guests prepared for what was to be the highlight of the weekend: a trip to Carnforth Station!
A key location for Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter, Carnforth Station had recently benefited from the refurbishment of its delightful refreshment room, which is now to be found in much the same state (plus minestrone soup!) that it was in 1945. It is no coincidence that 1945 is the very year in which the film was made and in which it is set. What joy!
Alongside the refreshment room, an important visitor centre provided opportunity to educate oneself with regard to both the history of the film and of the railways. (Gasps could be heard as guests read the sternest of memoranda demanding explanation for a train arriving a full ten minutes late. Oh, that our standards had not fallen so!) All of this had been open for just a few short months and guests were keen to take the opportunity to pay homage to the classic 1945 love story.
Adapted from Mr Coward’s play, Still Life, Brief Encounter is set in the Home Counties of southern England. Its street scenes were shot at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire and the interior cinema and organ scenes at the Ritz Cinema (latterly the ABC) in Richmond, Surrey. The filmmakers headed north to shoot a delightful ‘little bridge scene’ at Middle Fell Bridge over Langdale Beck in the Lake District and, of course, to shoot the external station shots at Carnforth. Sadly, one is obliged to make clear that the refreshment room at Carnforth was not used in the film, but created at the Denham Studio at Denham, Buckinghamshire.
Having taken many photographs the guests looked much like those delightful Japanese tourists one witnesses gawping in London. (This factor led Jeremy to develop quite the red face. However, he quickly adapted and willingly posed as a British Patriot as soon as the opportunity arose!)
A minor mishap was avoided when a local dimwit, collared to prepare a group photograph, proved less than honest. But the situation was quickly rescued by a much kinder and willing gentleman, who better knew how to deal with the tourists who spend so much money enriching his town.
And so the guests returned to Mansergh.
The Silverdale Push-me-pull-you
No sooner had certain of the guests arrived back at base camp than they were off again to Silverdale! And a directionless wander on the beach and adjacent fields in the rain. However, all was made as worthwhile as can be when the Silverdale Push-me-pull-you made a rare appearance!
The evening of Saturday 31st, January 2004
The evening of Saturday 31st, saw the spotlight turn squarely onto Jon, with a full test of his culinary skills. One can report in all confidence that he was to emerge from his trial triumphant! The omnivorous guests enjoyed a plentiful supply of Coq au Vin (some unfortunate chickens unnecessarily slaughtered and cooked in a sauce characterised by the use of red wine – how typically Jon!) while the piscivorous enjoyed a delightful quorn roast made to a recipe of the chef’s own invention, served with a salsa sauce latterly revealed to be all the way from Mexico.
A heated debate!
With the feast completed with generous portions of a desert consisting of meringue nests filled with summer berries and topped with cream, the cry went up, ‘Let us have a heated debate!’ (A reference to the catchphrase of the 1990s comedy creation, Mrs Merton. And how prescient a catchphrase it was to prove!)
Full details of the deliberations appear elsewhere, but one would be performing a great disservice if one did not pause to congratulate to the team behind the wonderful Danish Dogme production, Elsker dig for evigt (or as we always prefer to call it, Open Hearts). Which was crowned Vague Film 2004 (sic; the year of award gives the impression of being more up-to-date). To add a word of caution, with this being a Dogme film, one should always avoid crediting the director, Susanne Bier.
Less honourably, but by far higher a margin, the award of Vague Turkey 2004 was bestowed upon the truly awful (one feels safe from contradiction on this score!) Russian Ark.
Fortunately, neither Open Hearts nor Russian Ark was the source of controversy! That honour was bestowed briefly on The Hours and in full force upon Être et avoir. In both cases, guests had formed readings so completely and utterly in opposition to each other that the grouping had no choice but to accept that most English of solutions: agreement to disagree!
The morning of Sunday 1st, February 2004
With no fixed departure time (how civilised!) the guests arose refreshed and breakfasted eagerly. All had departed by lunchtime or thereabouts, following the usual chit-chat.