Comment • reviews • Nordic Noir • whimsy
We’ve seen James Bond use (and often destroy) many modes of transport: planes, boats, cars and trains. In Skyfall, Bond and Silva chase through the London Underground. But if all had gone to plan some years previously, we’d have seen Bond fight to the death on a railway that’s been largely hidden from public gaze. Part of the underground Post Office Railway, later known as Mail Rail, reopened to visitors last year within London’s excellent Postal Museum. And it is not widely known that the 1969 movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service came close to featuring a scene on that little-known but important line.
Charles Helfenstein’s book The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service contains the details of the abandoned scene, most of which – including all of the sequence on the Post Office railway – did not get shot. The sequence starts in the College of Arms, where Bond realises that Phidian, a junior member of the College’s staff, has been listening in on his plans to trick Blofeld. Bond chases after Phidian and we see them jumping down from the College rooftop to the street level, running across what is now the ramp down to the Millennium aka Wobbly Bridge. According to the storyboards, the chase would have moved into the King Edward Post Office building, through the depot and down a chute and onto a conveyor belt belonging to the Post Office Railway. Bond follows Phidian into the train tunnels but it’s Phidian who ends up killed by one of the tiny trains. Bond covers up the circumstances of Phidian’s death by placing his body on a main line train from St Pancras which he arranges to be crashed.
All that’s left of this scene in the eventual film is the introduction to Phidian when Bond arrives at the College of Arms, and a reference to the St Pancras train crash on the front cover of the Daily Express held by Campbell when Bond arrives in Switzerland.
But now that a short section of the railway is accessible to the public, it’s perfectly possible for
sad middle-aged men budding Bonds to attempt to recreate the scene. Just remember that if you’re trying to play the part of a secret agent, best not to attract the attention of the museum staff. And do try not to get run over.
Here’s a link to the Postal Museum. It really is worth a visit even without the link to Bond, telling a fascinating story about postal services through the ages and with plenty of exciting artefacts. If you want to travel on the Mail Rail itself, which I thoroughly recommend, you need to book specifically.