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Page last updated at 14:57 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009
Alton line's silent movie stunt

The Wrecker tells the story of a criminal who organises train crashes (Courtesy Strike Force Entertainment)

A dramatic train crash on Hampshire's rail network was part of silent movie history in the 1920s.

The stunt was staged on the Basingstoke to Alton line, seven miles south of Basingstoke and was a ground-breaking moment in British cinema.

1928 staged rail crash
Twenty two cameras were used to film the crash

Hyped at the time as the "most spectacular railway crash in cinema history", the crash was the centrepiece of The Wrecker.

It tells the story of a crook who organises train crashes to discredit the railway, in favour of a rival bus company.

Ground-breaking stunt

The filming for The Wrecker was done on the Basingstoke to Alton light railway and other locations around the southern rail network of the time in the summer of 1928.

The stunt was groundbreaking for 1920s British cinema, still at the height of the silent era of the silver screen. Twenty two cameras were used to record the action, directed by German filmmaker Géza von Bolváry.

Bob Geoghegan
Bob Geoghegan has worked on remastering and re-releasing The Wrecker

Bob Geoghegan from the Archive Film Agency described the stunt: "They got up a really good head of steam, the driver jumped out just before the crash and the train ploughed off the line, steam goes everywhere. They set alight the carriages and they blazed - so it's an amazing event for British cinema history."

With only one take possible, a lot of detailed planning had gone into the stunt. The crash happened at 40mph (65kph), with two dummies left on the footplate for added realism after the driver jumped clear. Parts of the track were removed to ensure a truly spectacular derailing of the train.

Until the era of computer generated special effects, models were used for such sequences but could be a poor imitation of reality. Remarkably, the real crash in The Wrecker is still regarded as the most spectacular rail crash in British cinema history.

It was reportedly also a major local event with the Hampshire Constabulary having to close roads and employ crowd-control measures to keep back the curious onlookers - 200 workers from the railway company alone came down from the Midlands to watch the crash.

The route of the railway is now the A339

Despite the apparent destruction on the line, rail workers worked overnight to have the line ready to take normal traffic the next day.

Eighty years after The Wrecker was originally released, the 68-minute silent movie has been restored, digitally re-mastered and re-released with a brand new music score by the world famous silent film composer Neil Brand.

The films includes other scenes shot around the rail lines from Waterloo down to the south coast. Bob Geoghegan described it as a "time capsule" showing what life was like on the railways in the 1920s.

Rail line

The Basingstoke - Alton line served the small farming communities of north Hampshire, with stations at Cliddesden, Herriard and Bentworth & Lasham. The remains of some of the stations still remains today even though the track was lifted in the 1930s.

The line was closed in the 1930s and the crash site is now part of the A339 road.

It was not the only time the line appeared in the movies - Cliddesden station was used in the making of the Will Hay film Oh! Mr Porter in 1937.

Basingstoke-Alton light railway
The Basingstoke-Alton light railway closed several years after the filming

The Basingstoke to Alton line connected with the The Watercress Line - between Alton and Winchester - close to Butts Junction.

The Watercress line was, itself, closed in the 1960s but was reopened by a team of volunteers in 1976. It is now a major tourist attraction and has been used as a film location in more recent times.

The restored version of The Wrecker is released on DVD by Strike Force Entertainment.



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