Lost Empires

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Lost Empires is a Granada Television adaptation of J. B. Priestley's novel of the same name, starring Colin Firth as Richard Hemcastle and John Castle as Nick Ollanton. A number of 'star' names appear in cameo roles including Sir Laurence Olivier, Alfred Marks and Pamela Stephenson. Lasting around 8 hours, it was first screened between 24 October and 5 December 1986 as a mini-series of 7 episodes. It was nominated for six BAFTA awards.

The book is set in the last months of peace before the outbreak of the First World War. Following his mother’s death, young Richard Hemcastle joins his uncle Nick Ollanton’s variety theatre act. While they travel around Britain appearing at the "Empires" he meets other characters including fading comedian Harry Burrard (Olivier), and as he comes of age he sees the "whole wide world" from backstage as his uncle has promised him.[1] In the television adaptation, Hemcastle also acts as narrator, with the viewer being party to his unspoken thoughts.

Filming on the SVRSevern Valley Railway

Filming of railway scenes took place on the SVRSevern Valley Railway the previous autumn.[2]. The series made extensive use of the SVRSevern Valley Railway’s locomotives and rolling stock which appear in all but the final episode. In the first episode, Hemcastle’s ‘narrative’ explains that Sunday is ‘travelling day’ for the variety acts, and a number of scenes take place aboard trains and on station platforms during the weekly move from theatre to theatre.

External shots of trains used the LMSLondon Midland & Scottish Railway set, mostly with 46443 but also with 6960 Raveningham Hall, rather out of keeping with the production's pre-First World War setting. Both locomotives were facing south at the time. External shots are often used in conjunction with internal carriage scenes, although on occasion they are just used to suggest the passing of time or a change of town. Interior carriage scenes were filmed in the more appropriate GWRGreat Western Railway stock, including one of the GWRGreat Western Railway toplight nondescript saloons with its distinctive lengthwise seats and observation saloon 80969.

Scenes filmed at SVRSevern Valley Railway stations include platform 3 at Bewdley and platform 1 at Arley (both episode 1) and Highley (episode 2). A photograph of Sir Laurence Olivier with 46443 at Arley in November 1985 was published in SVRSevern Valley Railway News 79.

External shots of trains were taken at various points along the line, although 46443 is seen crossing Victoria Bridge in three different episodes, each time from a different angle on either side of the bridge.

The series has been released in DVD format and may also be found on YouTube.

See also

List of film and TV productions filmed on the Severn Valley Railway


  1. Lost Empires on Wikipedia
  2. SVRSevern Valley Railway News 78/79