About 25 years ago (well, just over 26 years ago – 23 May 1982 – if you insist on precision), I saw a TV Times billing for a Tales of the Unexpected in which Derek Jacobi played a Pied Piper figure. My 8-year-old self thought “that looks good” and then acknowledged that I’d never be allowed to stay up late enough. I wasn’t, but the same episode turned up on ITV3 a few weeks back and, thankfully, I remembered to record it.
Finally settling down to view it after quarter of a century, the first thing that struck me was that the setting was incredibly familiar, but somehow totally different. Soon, I realised that it was my local railway station, Lowestoft, in the days when it had a roof, full-on blue enamel British Railways signs, a news stall and a full complement of staff. Jacobi arrives in a slam-door DMU (after much Googling, I think it’s a class 105 – correction or confirmation received with equal gratitude) , in gaily-coloured cloak and top hat. He does a bit of sleight of hand when showing his ticket to the collector, then shows the children at the news stand a little magic before leaving the station and heading into town.
First stop is a market right outside the station. A change of road layout in the intervening 26 years means that this shot would be difficult to recreate today with a full film crew. However, with a small digital camera, it’s a piece of cake. The young girls depicted in the modern shot were quite clearly wondering what this old git on the bike was doing taking pictures of a semi-derelict railway station.
The roofline of the old Tuttle’s furniture store building can be made out in both shots, but the arched window on the station has long since been boarded up. Wetherspoon’s applied years ago for planning permission to turn this part of the station into a pub, but nothing came of the scheme, for saddening reasons that have now become quite apparent, more of which a little later.
For a final bit of magic, Pied Derek visits a flower stall, and kisses the hand of the flower seller in Lowestoft, before saying goodbye to her in Norwich. No, seriously. The first picture is recognisably the exterior of Lowestoft station.
Then, by the magic of television (and as this was Anglia Television, it was very special magic indeed, ho yus), the same woman, the same flowers and the same cart are whisked in a single film splice to the centre of Britain’s driest city.
After that, he prances around Norwich, goes past the Hog in Armour and kills Clive Swift, but that’s mere window dressing. Lowestoft station is the star of the show. Waveney District Council, who, if they owned a brewery, would use it for the manufacture of blancmange, is all for curtailing the tracks 400 metres away from town, putting up a bus shelter and calling it a station. This would then allow the rather nice 1855 building in Station Square – which still has its 1950s blue enamel British Railways sign on the front – to be demolished for flats, shops and other things the town doesn’t really need more of. This isn’t some sleepy halt, after Ipswich, it’s the second busiest railway station in Suffolk. According to the bobbins local quango 1st East, the new position is “at the heart of the town, with shops, offices and restaurants around it set off by a waterfront people can get to and not cut off by the railway line”. If my calculations are right, the new station would be right by Lidl, which while a good shop, is not at the “heart of town”. The station is already at the heart of town. The people of Lowestoft are being hoodwinked. Everyone will have further to walk to get their trains, the centre of town will be cut off, and the only ones benefiting will be the property developers and the Waveney District Council numpties that they’re courting. National Rail is against it, the local railway provider is against it, and so’s anyone with any sense locally. We should be campaigning for a new roof on the existing station, and a full restoration, not the further emasculation of the old place.