Filming in Dunstable

A MAN flees for his life alongside a railway track.

Sunday, 21st August 2011, 1:30 pm

It’s a scene from a classic movie called Night Of The Demon, adapted in 1956 from a creepy story titled Casting The Runes by M.R. James.

The reference books maintain that all the railway scenes were shot near St Albans.

But we are pretty certain that this particular sequence was filmed on the old Dunstable-Leighton Buzzard line, now disused, at Stanbridgeford Station (pictured, inset, in colour this year).

The source of our information is railwayman Paul Williams, based with Virgin trains at Euston, who was friendly with engine driver Charlie Caines who, alas, died last year.

Charlie used to talk about taking part in the film, which actually includes a shot of him and his fireman peering out of the engine.

Jim Knight of Totternhoe remembers cycling past the station late one night and seeing the place all lit up.

He peered over the fence and saw film crews. There was a steam engine and someone jumping off the train.

Eric Holmes also remembers the filming which he watched for some time. They were photographing a man running along the railway line in front of a train, he said, and the film-makers had clouds of black smoke blowing across the scene.

Unfortunately, neither Jim nor Eric ever found out the name of the film which is, perhaps, more highly regarded today than it was in 1956.

But the scenes described correspond to the climax of Night Of The Demon and Charlie can be recognised by his friends when his split-second appearance is frozen on today’s DVD.

Former railwayman Jake Milburn, who was based at the Leighton Buzzard and then Bletchley depots, confirms that filming took place on the Leighton Buzzard to Dunstable line, in the down direction from Leighton.

Our investigations into Night Of The Demon have stirred villagers’ memories about other films in the Totternhoe area, particularly some spectacular battle scenes shot in the Totternhoe quarries in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

But, alas, no-one has come forward so far with the name of the film, let alone any photographs.

Diana Rigg was in Totternhoe to make scenes for an episode of The Avengers and stopped at the Cross Keys in the village during the filming.

For one stunt the film-makers built a ramp along one of the steep entrances to the Green Lanes down which cars were launched, leading to some spectacular explosions.

> Yesteryear is compiled by John Buckledee, chairman of Dunstable and District Local History Society