by Marc Hernandez
Last week James Bond director John Glen, Production designer Peter Lamont and actresses Carole Ashby and Alison Worth returned to the Nene Valley Railway to help celebrate the railways 40th anniversary with many of the volunteers and staff who had helped out behind the scenes in 1982 during the filming of Octopussy and then in 1995 when Peter had been on set at the NVR preparing for the Train V Tank scenes in GoldenEye (1995). In-between these he’d also been to the NVR for some of the train scenes in Top Secret (1983) starring Val Kilmer.
Earlier in the year when the NVR’s General Manager Sarah Piggott was planning the 40th anniversary celebration for the long-standing volunteers, she asked if I could help her arrange for a few Bond related guests to visit on 1 June, exactly 40 years since the first train set off on the newly opened preserved railway. With the sad news of Sir Roger passing away the week before, I really wasn’t sure if they’d be able to attend and when they hadn’t arrived by 11am, I was beginning to think they were otherwise occupied. “You haven’t seen our special guests have you ?’ asked Sarah as I was waiting in the station building foyer. Then with almost perfect timing we saw Peter appear over our shoulder, and then the door opened and John walked in followed by Carole and Alison.
I was just a kid when they filmed Octopussy in 1982, and only got to visit prior to the filming starting. Peter’s art department spent the summer of ’82 transforming the railway to resemble Karl-Marx-Stadt in East Germany. My Grandad brought me down to the NVR one weekend to see the huge watchtowers at the border crossing that were being built and I’ve been coming back ever since!
John and Peter were both interviewed by local news crews from the BBC and ITV with reports on that evenings BBC Look East, and ITV Anglia and there was a lot of interest in the local press of the occasion It meant over the weekend of 4-5 June when the railway was open to the public, it became the busiest weekend for many years in terms of visitor numbers.
After speaking to the news crews the drinks reception at Wansford Station platform (Karl-Marx-Stadt in Octopussy) was now in full flow. Our Bond guests mingled, I introduced them to some of the men and women who’d been involved since 1977, before chairmen Keith Parkinson gave a short speech to the assembled guests saying “The main stars today are the people who in 1977, first having re-built the railway from the basic condition left by British Rail when the line was closed, set out to start to run the passenger services. Many of these people are with us today and I would like to see this as a sort of school reunion and affectionately call them ‘the class of 77’ and extend an especial welcome to them. We are really here today, to celebrate the last 40 years of this Railway and in particular the people who have worked tirelessly to keep it in operation, enabled its development and allowed this celebration to be possible.”
Keith who’d started as a volunteer in 1982 and helped with some of the track work required for Octopussy also led a minutes silence saying…
“There are unfortunately, some people who started the Railway in 1977, but cannot be with us today, having been called to “a higher station”. It is entirely right and fitting that we remember those and many of the members of the railway will have special memories of our dear railway friends no longer alive.
It is also appropriate, that as with so many gatherings of this type both in this country and all around the world, we remember the recent tragedy in Manchester and the 22 lives needlessly lost. And as well, a dear friend of Nene Valley Railway, Roger Moore who passed away only a few days ago.”
The minutes silence was impeccably observed and started and ended with the sound of a locomotive whistle. At midday passengers boarded a specially chartered train, hauled by visiting loco Royal Scot to travel over the 7 ½ length of railway whilst being served a buffet lunch. The sun shone brightly, and there was many happy memories shared as old friends met up to recount stories of their involvement in the railways success as a visitor attraction and film location.
Peter sat with his daughter Madelaine, and John with his wife Janine. Many people will know that the couple met whilst she was working as Cubby Broccoli’s secretary. Janine told me a memory she had of visiting the NVR on one of the days Cubby came up to see filming. (It was during the scene where the Mercedes was fired into the river).
Having missed out on travelling on the train with the Octopussy circus girls in 1982 on account of being at school that week, I wasn’t going to pass up on the chance of sitting with Carole and Alison this time! They were both so charming and remembered their time working with Roger. Carole said to me “”Roger was a true gentlemen and great fun to be with. I did two Bonds with him so he was my Bond and I shall miss him dearly”.
It was also nice to hear that Carole and Alison are both still friends (Carole is godmother to Alison’s son) and they showed me some photographs on their phones of a recent holiday they’d been on together to St Lucia celebrating Alison’s son birthday. In one Carole was hurtling down a zip-wire! Exactly how I’d always thought an Octopussy circus girl would spend her holiday !
I also got the chance to ask them both, a question that’s always puzzled me about Octopussy.
‘You know the part when Q says to Vijay “007 on an island, populated exclusively by women ?! We won’t see him until dawn’. Well now that you’ve both here, can you tell me which one of your characters was ‘Dawn’ ?
I expect it’s a question they’ve been asked before, but they were both gracious enough to tell me they hadn’t.
As part of the 40th Anniversary Celebrations Ferry Meadows Station was officially re-named Overton, with the plaque unveiled by the Queens representative, Deputy Lieutenant Mrs P Walkinshaw. ‘Overton’ was the stations original name when it first opened in 1854 and in recent years has been a hub of volunteer activity. Much of the construction and transformation work to here has been carried out by the NVR’s youth group aged between 13-18. Under the guidance of station master Phil Marshall and Justin Fletchter Hawkins, the class of ’77 saw how the class of 2017 will continue their ongoing legacy.
Following the renaming, NVR’s General Manager Sarah Piggott and myself made a short presentation to John and Peter Lamont. I’d put together two framed montages of Octopussy film posters and had got all the NVR volunteers involved in the film to sign with their brief claim to fame. John and Peter both seemed genuinely surprised by this and Peter said a few short words on their behalf thanking everyone for inviting them back and for all the help they’d been given in making Octopussy and GoldenEye.
To have them back, to help celebrate their railways 40th anniversary is something I’ll never forget, but as all James Bond fans know, all four are great ambassadors for the series and they made the day special for so many of the volunteers.
Later that evening as I sat down, and tried to take in what had just happened hours earlier, Brian, one of the NVR volunteers from 1982 who’d been a fireman on the footplate during some of train scenes sent me a photo over email.
At Overton/Ferry Meadows station, I’d helped put together a visitors display in the station building of behind the scenes photos from the NVR archives of Octopussy and GoldenEye. It was being opened to the public for the first time that weekend so John, Peter, Alison and Carole were among the first to see it that day.
To my amazement Brian had taken a photograph of John Glen holding up one of the ‘007 on the NVR’ displays I’d put together. John Glen, the director who’d made probably my favourite Bond film had a huge smile on his face and was holding up something I’d made. It was the perfect end to a day I’ll never forget, and one which over the last week I’ve had so many phone calls and emails from all the volunteers about.
The Nene Valley Railway is never going be as iconic to the series as places like Piz Gloria or Stoke Poges, but it’s a place forever linked with two of the films and somewhere, I hope to welcome the JBR family in the future.
Article by Marc Hernandez