The Hystericals “Brief Encounter”

By Bernard Taylor

During the society’s recent turkey & tinsel holiday to Lytham St Annes we visited the wonderful Lake District. I had discovered by various references to the Internet that the railway station located at Carnforth had been the actual site used during the filming of the age-old classic film “Brief Encounter” starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. A visit to Carnforth was on the way home from the Lakes to Lytham, and knowing what a nostalgic crowd our holidaymakers are, I booked a group visit. We were not disappointed; we were made to feel most welcome and were given a wonderful short talk by one of the helpers. The walls of the visitor centre were covered with photographs and the waiting room was modelled on the one in the film, which also starred Stanley Holloway.

Brief Encounter Poster

I thought that you would all like to hear the anecdotes connected with the film and also see some of the pictures taken during the visit. I have been given permission to use some of the text from the Internet site and my thanks go to Friends of Carnforth Station for allowing me to do this.

Carnforth Station

Carnforth Railway Station was opened in 1846 by the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway Company and was originally just a single platform. In 1857 it became a junction and a small engine shed was built.

In 1856, a small station was built following the connection of the Furness and Midland Railway lines. A year later a new station was constructed which remained open 1st August 1880, when a new station was constructed at a cost of £40,000.

Early Carnforth Station
Early Carnforth Station

Carnforth station was completely rebuilt in 1937 by the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company, financed by over £53,000 of government-funded money. As part of the improvements, an 890 ft long platform was added for the Furness trains, and the longest unsupported single piece concrete roof in Britain was erected. Carnforth developed into a bustling junction linking stations across the North West from Cumberland through to Leeds.

During the two World Wars thousands of servicemen passed through Carnforth Station en route to duty overseas


In 1945 David Lean filmed his romantic classic Encounter” starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard The Ministry of War Transport chose Carnforth, as it was remote and safe from attack. Filming had to take place at night between 10pm and 6am so as not to interfere with daytime train operations


The demise of steam and radical reorganisation of the railways by Dr Beeching in the 1960s led to a gradual rundown of the station


“Brief Encounter”

“Brief Encounter” was originally a half hour stage play, called “Still Life”, written by Noel Coward, but, under the Direction of David Lean, it was re-written, re-named and starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, filmed for Cinema release. The story is a love story about a Man and a Woman, both married, but not to each other, who meet in the refreshment room, at a Junction Railway Station.

Waiting room
The Waiting Room
Station CLock
The Famous Clock

By 1944 the main air raid danger to London, came from Vi and V2 rockets, which had no particular targets, but were just aimed generally at London. In July 1944 a mass evacuation had been ordered, and the LMS moved its office staff. The “Brief Encounter” production had originally been assigned a London station to film at, but Carnforth was considered to be safer.

Brief Encounter was filmed between February and May 1945. At least some of the film equipment travelled from London Euston to Carnforth on the weekend of the 3rd and 4th February, and the filming started on the evening of the 5th February 1945. Filming continued until the evening of Friday 16th February~ On Sunday 18th February sound effects of the steam engine and train were recorded, with the train moving about, and through the statio


Work on the film started late in the evening, after the last local train had departed, and finishing early morning, when the first local trains started arriving at the station.

February 1945 was very cold, and the Station Master, who is described as an “old fashioned gentleman” by Celia Johnson, allowed Celia Johnson to warm herself in-between takes in front of the fire in his office. This room has recently been refurbished and become a souvenir shop at the station.

Most of the platforms scenes were filmed at Carnforth, with the exception of the two scenes where Laura and Alec (Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard) arrive at the station, and walk down some steps and through the booking hall and onto the platform. This booking hall was actually a set in Denham studios.

It has been claimed that some of the filming took place at Watford Junction Station. There is no record of any filming having taken place at Watford Junction and there are no shots which show Watford Junction, in Brief Encounter.

The Filming

Celia Johnson wasn’t looking forward to the filming on Carnforth station, and in a letter described it, as “we have to go up North for 4 weeks’ location on some horrible railway station. I don’t yet know where”. She was soon to change her mind, and in a letter of the 11th February Celia Johnson describes how the atmosphere amongst the film crew was good, and that they were having a good time. In between takes she would play poker, or sit and do the crossword puzzle in the newspapers. She was very impressed with the Carnforth Stationmaster, who she describes as an old fashioned gentleman, who raised his hat every time he saw her, and allowed them to warm themselves in front of the fire in his office in-between takes. The winter of 1944/1945 was bitterly cold.

Every night at 01.30 the cast and crew would break for a meal, and this was taken in two dining cars, which were shunted into the Morecambe bay platform. The cast and senior production people going into one dining car, and the technicians and extras into the other. Celia Johnson didn’t enjoy the food from the dining cars, but the local extras thought it very good. Sweets and chocolate were handed out by the Brief Encounter production during the shooting, and local people thought this amazing, these luxuries having been rationed for years during the war.

The Carnforth station refreshment room (the station buffet) must have been open at least some of the time during the filming, as Elaine Maudsley, who worked in the refreshment room, remembers handing out cups of tea to the film crew. As she handed out cups of tea they chatted, and this chat got her a place as an extra in the film. At the start of the film, Stanley Holloway crosses the tracks, climbs the platforms and enters the Milford Junction refreshment room. As he climbs onto the platform, a young lady passenger can be seen walking up and down the platform, this was Elaine Maudsley. Stanley Holloway must have had a sense of humour, because he kept on trying to grab Elaine Maudsley’s leg. And she had to be moved up the platform a little way.

Stanley Holloway was concerned by the way that the express trains just suddenly appeared out of the darkness, and rushed through the station, and a local “stand in”, Bill Fawcett from Ulverston, was found for him. Bill Fawcett probably stood in for Stanley Holloway on the rehearsals, and possibly the wide-angle shots, that were filmed, but ended up on the cutting room floor. In Brief Encounter the person crossing the tracks and going into the Milford Junction refreshment room certainly looks very much like Stanley Holloway, and not a stand in. Elaine Maudsley was paid 37/6d per night, this was a fortune then and she worked for three nights.

Stationmaster's Office
The Station Master’s Office
Trolley with Luggage
Trolley with luggage

I hope you enjoyed this short burst of nostalgia and once again my thanks to everyone at Carnforth Experience.

Click here to go back to the Oracle page.