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Archives: Trains in the night

2020 14 Aug

The West Highland Lane

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Peter Handford has greatly enriched the archive of material relating to the steam age through his brilliant recordings which were initially made with heavy equipment that was difficult to transport to suitable locations. One of his specialities was that recordings frequently included local colour: the sound of semaphore signals changing position, sheep, bird song, bells and railwaymen exchanging information. The marvelous diction of the lady station announcer at York is caught wonderfully. He was born on 21 March 1919 and died in November 2007..

Handford joined the Denham Film Studios as a trainee sound recordist in 1936, followed by war and then working for the prestigious Crown Film Unit before joining MGM at Borehamwood. In the 1950s he started to record the sound of steam locomotives and began marketing his output on a small scale in November 1955 by placing small advertisements in Railway Magazine and Trains Illustrated.

A great affection was developed for the V2 class: „they were a recordist’s dream and for shear variety of sound had no equal“. Like photographers, he was frequently unlucky: bad weather, the class of locomotive was not used that day, and equipment failure (which was far more prevalent than that of cameras). He only just managed to capture the sound of the Midland 0-10-0 working on the Lickey Incline.

His own work: Sounds of railways and their recording. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1980 covers his career excellently and the discography which follows was taken from it. Since then much of the material has appeared in CD format. KPJ’s father was generously plied with Transacord records for his assistance in providing lineside permits: naturally these gravitated into his collection. His youngest grandson greatly enjoys falling to sleep whilst listening to a CD compilation which begins at Durham, travels via „This is York“, and if we are lucky is asleep before Peterborough, but hopefully not before we hear a V2 syncopating its way to Stoke Summit.

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