This is the Night Mail crossing the border, bringing the cheque ...
July 22, 2017 11:04 AM   Subscribe

"This is the Night Mail crossing the border, bringing the cheque and postal order." The traveling post office, the specially designed and operated mail-sorting train, was invented in 1838 and documented as Night Mail in 1936. The British short film has become a classic of its own kind, much imitated (and parodied) by adverts and modern film shorts. Night Mail is widely considered a masterpiece of the British Documentary Film Movement, and schoolchildren often memorize W.H. Auden’s “Night Mail,” the ending poem that was added as almost an afterthought.
posted by filthy light thief (17 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Indirectly via Aphex Twin, thanks to the recently released afx - orphans EP, which is where I first heard a sample of W.H. Auden's poem.

Bonus links: Night Mail by Public Service Broadcasting (previously, twice), plus annotated on Genius.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:04 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]

Suddenly I got the context for something: Rudyard Kipling's Science Fiction story "With the Night Mail" was an extrapolation of the Night Mail trains. Neat.
posted by happyroach at 1:11 PM on July 22 [7 favorites]

BFI link is region locked, YT link has large chunks with missing sound.

And the glorious colonialism that has the train away from London known as the down train
posted by scruss at 1:23 PM on July 22

scruss, thanks for the notices. This YouTube version is quiet and right channel audio only, but I'm pretty sure the audio is complete. Here's the short in 3 parts on YT (playlist), the oldest uploads of this complete short. I'm surprised this isn't on, but it sounds like the copyright is still questionable.

While searching for a better copy, I found an episode of Casey Jones titled Night Mail. I haven't watched to see if they have their own version of the poem in the episode.

And I didn't understand the reference to the "down train" until reading the Genius annotations linked above, which currently annotates "down" with the following:
Typical London vanity – all trains to London are “up”, while those in the other direction are “down”.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:21 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]

I love old Wystan Hugh to bits, but I always find it so strange listening to him read his poems: He ponderously intones. Whereas the thing I've always liked best about them is their wry cleverness, quick and clipped. It's true that sometimes he goes slow and rolling but there's always the crack in the teacup...
posted by Diablevert at 3:03 PM on July 22

The BBC series "Full Steam Ahead" with Ruth Goodman and crew discusses the Night Mail in some detail in episode 4 available on Youtube. As usual, they try out the many activities required to run the operation with great enthusiasm.
posted by Botanizer at 3:42 PM on July 22 [4 favorites]

This is just to say that Night Mail is one of my favorite things in the world.
posted by maggiemaggie at 3:54 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]

Ruth Goodman and crew

Is there, like, a name for these folk's catalog of work. I loved their farm series but as someone not in the BBC loop I don't exactly know what all to look for to find more of the same. Many thanks.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:58 PM on July 22

This is the best summary of links to her shows that I have seen!
posted by Botanizer at 5:31 PM on July 22

Of course it's a metafilter link.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:39 PM on July 22

John Grierson, instrumental in the Documentary Film Movement, went on to form the beloved National Film Board of Canada. The NFB initially served a role as a propaganda unit but came into its own as it matured. Interestingly Grierson was dismissed from the NFB in 1945 due to supposed communist sympathies in some of the films. Regardless, many of the subsequent films from the NFB show a strong connection to that style of British filmmaking especially in regards to our ideas of what being Canadian means.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:23 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]

And the glorious colonialism that has the train away from London known as the down train …

Whether a train was considered an up or down service was not to do with whether the service terminated in Scotland (which never was a colony but ...).

The terms were used for all (or almost all) services with the "up" end of the service being the larger of two centres which the service linked.
posted by southof40 at 9:55 PM on July 22 [5 favorites]

While the night mail (and the postal order - and pretty much the cheque) has gone, it is worth noting that the sleeper remains as a method of crossing the border by night. The sleeper will carry the traveller away from the urban sophistication of London in the late evening - and will take them all the way "down" to Corrour by the next morning.
This is Corrour.
This is Courrour in Trainpotting.
Here are your local catering options, option.
That journey also merits a commemorative poem too, I think.
posted by rongorongo at 11:55 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]

the "up" end of the service being the larger of two centres

Notably Oxford and Cambridge: you remember Spooner's supposed instruction to the person who hissed his mystery lectures and was caught fighting a liar, i.e. to leave by the town drain.
posted by Segundus at 12:11 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]

All lost in the steam. Now it's more like
This is the email filling my inbox
With unsolicited pictures of guys' cocks.
(Shouldn't have clicked that! Son of a whore!
These aren't shots of the girl next door!)
posted by pracowity at 1:23 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]

An important travelling post office in Ireland was the one which dealt with incoming American mail. The big transatlantic Cunard and White Star liners used to dock at Queenstown (now Cobh) in County Cork, and the post was sorted on the train to Dublin.

The TPO & Seapost Society site has quite a lot of information about this - it seems to be a site for people who collect items postmarked from trains and ships. I would have expected the London post to go to the US via Southampton, but according to that site's London & Holyhead T.P.O page, at least some of the Transatlantic mail went the London-Holyhead-mailboat-Kingstown-Queenstown route. Maybe that was actually faster, if the Southampton liners always docked at Queenstown anyway?

My great-grandparents actually met because of that TPO ; my great-grandfather was a Dublin post office worker on the train back in the 1880s, and my great-grandmother was from just outside Queenstown (Cobh).
posted by Azara at 5:31 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]

Now it's more like
This is the email filling my inbox
With unsolicited pictures of guys' cocks.
We just have to be glad that giant sacks filled with unsolicited pictures of guys' cocks aren't hurled at us from a passing train that never stops.

"Dispatch by apparatus"—I can see how this would have seemed futuristic by steampunk standards. It's like a John Henry men-racing-the-telegraph story.
posted by XMLicious at 9:31 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]

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