168 of 173 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Industrial and social history in bite-size chunks. Entertaining and sneakily educational
This set of four DVDs is from the first series of Michael Portillo's train rides across England. (A second series has been shown on the BBC recently, but these DVDs are of the earlier adventure). Each programme is 30 minutes long and follows Portillo as he retraces four journeys which were first documented in Bradshaw's railway guide of the Victorian era, back in the...
Published on 3 Jan 2011 by Rowena Hoseason
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Available on YouTube
This is a great way to see railways and towns around Great Britain and now Ireland, all of these programs can be downloaded of YouTube for free, why is this?, are there no copywrite laws in the UK, even the third series is not there for the taking or watching. Andrew.
Published 21 months ago by Andrew Hope
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168 of 173 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Industrial and social history in bite-size chunks. Entertaining and sneakily educational,
This review is from: Great British Railway Journeys - Series 1 BBC [DVD]  (DVD)This set of four DVDs is from the first series of Michael Portillo's train rides across England. (A second series has been shown on the BBC recently, but these DVDs are of the earlier adventure). Each programme is 30 minutes long and follows Portillo as he retraces four journeys which were first documented in Bradshaw's railway guide of the Victorian era, back in the 1840s.
It's a surprisingly charming series which succeeds in capturing a snapshot of modern Britain (mainly England; there's not a lot from the rest of the UK). Each programme reviews how the areas visited by the railway have changed in the past 170 years.
So although you might at first think that this DVD is just for train buffs, that's a long way from the truth. Great British Railway Journeys opens a window onto English industrial and social development, and gives us plenty of glimpses of how the past has morphed into the present. The railway is a useful device and Bradshaw's guide provides plenty of Victorian description to compare with the modern situation. So this series isn't just for railway buffs, although there is plenty of footage of current trains in service, plus many wonderful moments in interesting stations.
Portillo takes four different journeys over the course of the 20 episodes, from Liverpool to Scarborough; Preston to Kirkcaldy; Swindon to Penzance and Buxton to London. Along the way he calls at thriving cities, hidden villages, sites of natural beauty, post-industrial deserts and meets all manner of interesting locals who explain about the area's cultural and industrial heritage. This is all linked to the impact of the rise and decline of the railways.
For instance, the railway connection to Hull meant that the fishing fleet could switch from catching an occasional whale, to full scale cod trawling. One segment demonstrated how the facility to transport the product from the harbour to the customers, hundreds of miles away, created a massive industry (so much so that cod stocks were under threat in the 1900s). Then we learned about the Icelandic cod wars, and finally how warming waters are driving the cod further north and how sea bass may be a more common catch in the same waters in future. Following that theme, Portillo donned waders and waddled into the North Sea to examine sustainable beach fishing for bass - all that, in less than eight minutes!
So each programme offers sneaky education across a broad range of topics, linked only by their relationship with the railway. There's not too much about trains, engines or civil engineering, but plenty about stations architecture, the delights of the Railway Hotels, and the lives of ordinary people in different locations. Because this is such an extensive series it's hard to mention many of the topics, but high points include the secret ammunition factory at Gretna, Portillo trying to speak Scouse, how the Jewish refugees of WW2 passed through Liverpool en route to America, exploring underground canals, Brunel's great steamship, and the scenic ride along the south coast Riviera - a railway adventure which will one day be consumed by the sea.
There is some railway trivia, too, including the first locomotive race, the first railway fatality, a visit to the railway village in Swindon, and the revival of the glorious St Pancras hotel. Nice too to hear again the explanation of `railway time' which finishes the series at Big Ben in London.
I also adore the archive footage which is shown with each episode. These are delightful snippets of the past, perfectly preserved and very often completely recognisable.
Initially I wasn't sure whether Portillo would be a comfortable guide through the social and economic history of Britain. But - some unfortunate sartorial decision aside - he proves to be a sympathetic and intelligent presenter. His enthusiasm for the heydays of the railway is obvious, and the background research for each segment is detailed and intriguing. Portillo skilfully allows the locals to explain their specialist subjects, steering the conversation without stampeding over their stories. Occasionally he interjects with wit and vigour - especially if he thinks they may be straying from the truth somewhat! I was surprised by how well he demonstrated a wistful longing for what-has-gone without compromising a fairly blunt assessment of the practical demands of the modern world.
Thoroughly good television, then. Very enjoyable to watch more than once, hence recommended for all with an interest in English history in general and our railways in particular. You can't possibly watch any of the episodes without learning something new, which always endears a programme to me...
93 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A WONDERFUL PIECE OF RAILWAY NOSTALGIA,
This review is from: Great British Railway Journeys - Series 1 BBC [DVD]  (DVD)At long last the BBC have released this excellent set of cds on the subject of British railway history shown the through the eyes of Bradshaw, the Victorian gentleman who produced a comprehensive guide listing information designed for the railway traveller. This excellent programme first shown last year in 30 minute episodes is introduced and presented by Michael Portillo who is best known for his various cabinet posts in Margaret Thatcher's goverment.
His enthusiasm for the railway system of this country is clear for all to see. His style of presentation is first rate, he is allowing the story to unfold through the railway guide so paintstakingly produced by Bradshaw. The journey which he takes us upon is one where the viewer is treated to a delight of social and industrial history which helped shape the modern Britain in which we live today. This is an absolute must for railway enthusiasts and for those people who have an interest in the remarkable way that the developement of the railway system shaped our social history in Victorian England. I cannot recommend this set of cds highly enough, a little pricey but worth every penny.
62 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but where's the Blu-ray?,
This review is from: Great British Railway Journeys - Series 1 BBC [DVD]  (DVD)This is an awesome series and represents the BBC at its best. Michael Portillo is the perfect host, his excitement and enthusiasm evident at all times.
The locations and narrative hook you in from the very start and each half-hour episode is totally absorbing. There's never a dull moment.
The camera work is also first rate but I can't believe this isn't available on Blu-ray. This series (and the current series 2) look absolutely stunning on BBC HD - it's crazy not to put this out on Blu-ray. Whoever makes these decisions, please take note!
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A BBC Gem!,
This review is from: Great British Railway Journeys - Series 1 BBC [DVD]  (DVD)As one of the many now having withdrawal symptoms as Great British Railway Journeys, series 2, has just ended on BBC2, I am thrilled that the first journeys are available on dvd.
Michael Portillo is such a pleasant, enthusiastic and intelligent presenter - no arm waving, shouting or gimmicks - and with his camera/sound crew he shows us Britain at its best, based on the classic George Bradshaw railway guides printed in the 1800's.
Victorian engineering, steam trains, local historic sights, places of interest and places to stay are all detailed in each half hour programme. The archive footage included where appropriate is stunning and local historians are on hand to talk Michael through particular events and places.
The delight of Michael when members of the public stop to chat - and then give information on their local history - is a joy to see. Mr Portillo is unfailingly polite, witty and above all passionate about his subject. And his dress sense is impecable - he defines "smart/casual" for the middle aged man. I hope series 2 is released in the near future.
Bradshaw also wrote travel guides for Europe, China and Russia. Come on BBC, there are many more journeys to be made!
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent series,
This review is from: Great British Railway Journeys - Series 1 BBC [DVD]  (DVD)An excellent series, a series tucked away on BBC 2 with little advertising. It has been first rate. Michael Portillo has been a fine presenter, never getting in the way of the material, humorous and informative. His trips around the UK would be a perfect guide to the country, such a pity that there are not more shows like this. With his Bradshaw he has shown many fascinating places, buildings, scenery and hotels; as well as bringing a love of the Railways and political and social history (in particular of the Victorian period). In some ways, I wish he would spend even longer in the towns and cities - instead of going to two or three towns per episode.
Hopefully series 2 will also be available on DVD / Blu ray as well? (Maidstone, Kent, Chester, Scotland, Newcastle, Wales etc this time around)
Just checking Amazon, copies of Bradshaw are pretty expensive.. perhaps the BBC could have released a copy of the Bradshaw ? used on Portillo's travels.. or is there a Kindle version available (perhaps not so evocative of the Victorian period though)
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Using Bradshaw was a brilliant idea,
This review is from: Great British Railway Journeys - Series 1 BBC [DVD]  (DVD)"Great British Railway Journeys" follows the long and successful BBC tradition of "Great" railway journey programmes starting with a series in 1980 and three more in 1994, 1996 and 1999. All those series were outside the UK (except for one episode in three of the four series) and all had a different celebrity presenter for each episode. Interestingly Michael Portillo was featured in the 1999 series, unsurprisingly in Spain.
This is, I think, the first series devoted to Great Britain, and the format was changed so that there was only one presenter. Somebody in the BBC had the brilliant idea of basing the series around Bradshaw's "Railway Companion". This enabled each episode to be structured, with Portillo regularly quoting Bradshaw and searching for what remained of the buildings, trades and industries he described. The series was produced as entertainment but as is the case with the best of such series it succeeds admirably in combining entertainment and education. Portillo is an excellent presenter displaying an idiosyncratic sartorial taste.
I don't think a single episode was boring and I learned a lot whilst also enjoying it. The programme told me something I did not know about Aylesbury (that there is only one remaining producer of the famous Aylesbury ducks and one restaurant serving them) even though I live nearby. Portillo did not get to Wales and was in Scotland relatively briefly, though he makes up for these omissions in a later serie, which will no doubt have its own DVD. For those who did not record and keep these twenty programmes this is a DVD collection well worth having.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME,
This review is from: Great British Railway Journeys - Series 1 BBC [DVD]  (DVD)This DVD is the first complete series of Michael Portillos journeys following Bradshaws guide about railways around britain if you missed the series on tv then I would highly recommend this dvd and I would also recommend the book as well. This journey must be every railway enthuiast dream to get a chance to see the country and visit places that people dont get a chance to see in a life time. I had the chance to meet Michael portillo whilst he was filming his second series. What makes this series so good is the places he visits, he gets to meet the local ordinary people and not just the bigwigs and its nice to find out about the history of the towns and villages. Micheal also tells about the demise of the railways and how they have changed since Bradshaw did his guide. I would also recommend the Bradshaws railway map of 1907-10 although the print is small on this map it still gives you a good guide as to how the railway system has changed over the years from nearly 23000 miles of railways down to 11000 miles today. Michael has just finished filming his second series and I hope he goes on to make some more as I think there is still a lot of the railway system to be explored. I dont think you will be dissapointed either watching the dvd or reading the book. Mr. R Richardson.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thanks for the Memory,
This review is from: Great British Railway Journeys - Series 1 BBC [DVD]  (DVD)This series has changed my opinion of Michael Portillo. He was rubbish as a Tory politician but has excelled as a presenter in this series. We have really enjoyed the series, which is presented in a very unstated manner and we think Michael has approached people in a very pleasant and friendly manner. OK there may still be a touch of politician meet and greet here and there, but nothing offensive (No babies were kissed in this series). The number of times he holds his hand up to his own political shortcomings in the later series shows that his presentation is probably quite genuine and very tongue in cheek. There are lots of interesting details revealed, we have learned quite a bit about our local history we did not know existed. No, give the guy the benefit of the doubt and enjoy the series for the great photography and sunny weather we do not seem to get very often. Perhaps Bradshaw was mentioned rather often at times, but you do tend to get wrapped up in the story and not notice the references over much. One reviewer complained about the "toffy" voice, though just about everything else as well, but Michael does speak in a very clear and precise manner, certainly not over the top posh. As a broad speaking northerner I found nothing offensive in his southern dialect, pretty middle of the road really. We have watched all of the third series on TV, we missed the first two hence buying the DVD, roll on the fourth, if there are any more railway lines to travel on.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great entertainment,
This review is from: Great British Railway Journeys - Series 1 BBC [DVD]  (DVD)When I first heard that the next programme on BBC2 was Michael Portillo presenting a programme about trains my immediate response was turn off the television.I don't particularly like Portillo or his brand of politics and I am not particularly interested in trains
How wrong I was, after forcing myself to watch 10 minutes of this series I was hooked. Portillo has obviously done his homework and researched his subject meticulously.Using Bradshaw as a framework to base the series is very clever, it adds authencity and depth to the programmes
Say what you like about Michael Portillo but he is an excellent host with an extremely dry sense of humour and a colourful sartorial style. He seems genuinely interested in the History of British Railways and of the people associated with them and shows great passion when discussing the subject
This is an extremely enjoyable series and is also highly informative
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ah! Trains + English countryside........!!,
This review is from: Great British Railway Journeys - Series 1 BBC [DVD]  (DVD)Living in India as I do, it's difficult to fully grasp the niceties of British travel and its way of life but anyone with some intelligence can definitely enjoy good scenery and filming, especially if one is engaged in amateur film-making himself!
Although I have never travelled on the routes that Michael Portillo does, the sheer beauty of the countryside, the wonderful photography and last but not least, the trains in which he travels, leaves one absolutely mesmerized. Watching this series on a SONY 46 inch LED, every little detail is greatly magnified and the beauty of the English countryside can be better enjoyed.
The wonderfully clean trains (are they always so clean or only on these remote routes are they so clean???) the seamless narration and editing makes the slick presentation even more enjoyable. As Michael travels the length and breath of the UK, he ensures that each episode revolve around trains and the Bradshaw's guide, which he uses as reference. However, it is interesting to note how hotel reservations are done in advance, how the hotel managers are there to greet him (a case in point Balmoral Hotel in Scotland)and 'doors' conveniently open. I understand that a lot of homework has gone into the making of this series and I would recommend it to any train buff or anyone who wishes to savour the beauty of the English countryside without having to leave his arm chair. Just pop in the DVD into your DVD/Blu-ray player and your journey is about to begin.
My only wish is that this series should have been released on Blu ray. Maybe one day it might actually happen. Let me assure the people at Amazon that should that happen, they have an eager customer waiting to pick up the Blu-ray of this fantastic series.
Go ahead and buy it, people!!
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Great British Railway Journeys - Series 1 BBC [DVD]  by Tim Brocklehurst (DVD - 2011)