Night Mail

A classic documentary
Night Mail
'Night Mail'  (1936) was produced by John Grierson with verse by W H Auden. This early documentary showed the Postal Special's nightly run from London to Scotland.

In 1986 the Post Office commissioned 'Night Mail II' complete with an updated verse by Blake Morrison and music by James Harpham.

A final view of the Night Mail for the Eighties appeared in a British Rail corporate advert at the end of 1988.


Image: BPMA's release of Night Mail on DVD.
| EXIT | Introduction | Night Mail DVD | Night Mail II | Night Mail III | Links |

Night Mail


Over the years since its making, Night Mail had been released on video, but it was not until 2005 that a DVD version was finally produced.

Night Mail DVD Collection (2005)

On 7th April 2005, The British Postal Museum & Archive released a collection of films on a single DVD under its (then) 'GPO merchandising theme':

 
Night Mail postcards Night Mail DVD parcel
The limited edition DVD was nostalgically packaged in the style of a 1930s GPO parcel and featured an exclusive set of 4 postcards, showing images of TPO ephemera.


Night Mail DVD cover Night Mail back cover
N I G H T   M A I L   (1936 B/W) 24 minutes
The classic 1936 documentary with music by Benjamin Britten and verse by W.H. Auden.

Plus 3 bonus films from the Royal Mail Film Library:

The Midnight Hours - Post Haste - Mail Rail  

Notes from the cover:

Night Mail

1936 Black & White 24 minutes
Produced by John Grierson. Directed by Harry Watt and Basil Wright. Music by Benjamin Britten. Verse by W.H. Auden.

"The most celebrated documentary made by the General Post Office Film Unit. Night Mail shows the Postal Special's run from London to Scotland. It has all the qualities of classic British documentary: realism, perfect structure and an inspirational appeal."


The Midnight Hours
1987 Colour 13 minutes

"A documentary showing each phase of the extraordinary operation of collecting, sorting and distribution of the nation's mail by road, rail and air. The structure of the film updates Night Mail, some 50 years on."

Notes: 'The Midnight Hours' gained the nickname 'Night Mail 2' because many years ago it was screened on TV immediately after the original version, but separated by a commercial break. Hence the second part was labelled Night Mail 2. The Midnight Hours was written by Eve Hunter with original material from TVS.

Poste Haste 1988
Colour 19 minutes

"A film celebrating 150 years of the Travelling Post Office train service, which revolutionised the sorting and delivery of mail around Britain."

Mail Rail 1987
Colour 10 minutes

"This film was made to mark 60 years of the Royal Mail Underground Railway - Mail Rail. This unique railway sits 22 metres below the streets of London and at its peak carried more than one third of the capital's mail."


Night Mail II (1987)

'The Midnight Hours' includes some elements of the filming by TVS from Night Mail II which was made in the autumn of 1986 and completed in 1987.

Night Mail II was produced by TVS - TV South (formerly Southern Television) to celebrate 50 years since the original Night Mail was made (1936-1986). The film featured an updated poem by Blake Morrison, together with music by James Harpham. Bob Franklin was the director and Peter Williams was the producer.

Night Mail II maintained the momentum and pace of the original Night Mail with aerial shots of the North East TPO proudly sporting the new 'Royal Mail Letters' red and yellow livery with corporate typeface. Aptly, the loco was 47515 'Night Mail'. The carriage numbers were 80365, 80422, 80320, 80362, 80421, 80363 and brake 80868.

[Reference: Mail by Rail - Peter Johnson 1995 edition ISBN 0-7110-2385-9 ]

Night Mail III  - British Rail Corporate Advert (1988)

Directed by Hugh Hudson with music by Vangelis. First shown 21:00 UK 25th December 1988.

"The 1988 commercial cleverly shows the enormous scale of BR's daily operation and the structure of the 'sectorised' business - Parcels, Railfreight, InterCity, Provincial and Network SouthEast. The opening sequence features the northbound Travelling Post Office with Auden's original verse, narrated by Sir Tom Courtenay. Auden's unique poetic style is then developed to underlay the freight, passenger and station film sequences. The footage includes many of the railway's iconic structures including the Tyne, Forth and Saltash Bridges as well as the latest rolling stock, including the Wessex Electrics, introduced in May 1988."


This is the Night Mail crossing the border, bringing the cheque and the postal order. Letters for the rich, letters for the poor, the shop at the corner and the girl next door. Pulling up Beattock a steady climb, the gradient's against her, but she's on time.

Passing the shunter intent on its toil, moving the coke and the coal and the oil. Girders for bridges, plastic for fridges. Bricks for the site are required by tonight. Grimy and grey is the engine's reflection, down to the docks for the metal collection.

Passenger trains full of commuters, bound for the office to work in computers. The teacher, the doctor, the actor in farce, the typist, the banker, the judge in first class. Reading the Times with the crossword to do, returning at night on the six forty-two.

This lavishly styled 150 second commercial was very expensive both to make and to obtain airplay. An edited 90 second version allowed for more widespread showings.


With thanks to YouTube contributors for video and some text.

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Links

Re-mastered versions of Night Mail are available via the British Postal Museum & Archive.

See also Night Mail trains under Travelling Post Offices.

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