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The Orient Express

David Heathcote takes a trip on the Orient Express and meets James Sherwood, the man who restored the old 1930s carriages to their Art Deco glamour in the 1970s.


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Art Deco turned travel into an art form.

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For a lucky few in the 1920s and '30s, the train became something luxurious and wonderful

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and the journey as much a part of the experience as the destination.

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That's really lovely.

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The height of this luxury was to be found on board the Orient Express.

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-Hello there.

-Good morning, sir.

-Thanks.

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In the 1920s and '30s, international travel

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was a stylish and elegant affair.

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For those that could afford it.

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I'm going to fulfil the dream of a lifetime and travel on this,

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the world-famous Orient Express, all the way to Venice. I can't wait.

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I haven't seen one of those since I was a kid.

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And what we used to do is stand here, and the train would jiggle about, and you could actually

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see the tracks underneath. And it was all part of the scary excitement of train travel.

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Ooh! I'll get out of your way.

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Sorry.

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And here, look, you can see forwards. It's fantastic.

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It's the Battersea Dogs Home.

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It is! It is the Battersea Dogs Home!

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The Orient Express took a 19th-century idea, the train, and re-invented it into a luxurious

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trans-European hotel on wheels, patronised by royalty, diplomats

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and wealthy business travellers.

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In the 1930s, the Orient Express and other luxury trains connected Europe's capitals.

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The London to Paris boat train was known as the Golden Arrow.

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When I was a little boy,

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I was brought up in Bickley, briefly, and my dad used to take me out in the pram and hold me up

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over a bridge, not to kill me but so I could see the Golden Arrow come whizzing past.

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And I remember - I was only very, very small - the square end

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of the train with a big golden arrow across the front and this whoosh of steam come up over the bridge.

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And every time I see The Lavender Hill Mob,

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I think of that bridge and the Golden Arrow.

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I'm a bit overwhelmed.

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This carriage is just absolutely sumptuous.

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And the thing about the Orient Express was it was a brand.

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It's a very old train. The train started

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in the early 1880s, and it was a number of routes that went across Europe, ultimately to Istanbul.

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But because of politics and other things, it went by different routes over different times.

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And the English end of the Orient Express really wasn't the Orient Express.

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That began in France.

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But it connected.

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I'm so used to the commuter train

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and everyone hating it and people being grumpy.

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It's smooth, it's comfortable, there's no traffic, there's no noise.

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And, erm, yeah, I could get used to this.

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When the tea cools down.

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And looking around the carriage, I mean, you've got a lot of time to take in

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all the details - the details are crucial.

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And one I really love more than all the others is this little lit-up seat number here, number 12.

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And up here, the emergency chain has a wonderful thing above it which says "Penalty for improper use £50."

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But the pounds on the 50 is just a lovely, lovely bit of typography.

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The original Orient Express ceased in 1977.

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But this was not the end of the line for this illustrious marque. Hello!

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-Hello.

-Hello.

-On board today is the man who bought and restored the train.

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-May I join you?

-Yes, please do.

-Thank you very much.

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So, James, where did the idea come from to relaunch the service?

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In 1977, there was such a tremendous interest in the fact that

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the train was discontinued

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that I thought it might be worthwhile to restore the old train

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to its glory of the 1920s and 1930s

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and put it back into service.

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I bought the first two carriages of the continental train

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in an auction in Monte Carlo...

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-Wow.

-..in October of 1977, and they were the carriages used in the film

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Murder On The Orient Express, which appeared a couple of years earlier.

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And so, in a fit of madness,

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I bought these two carriages. But that was just he beginning, of course. Ultimately, we had to acquire

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-25 of the continental carriages.

-You bought 25 carriages?

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25, which we located all over Europe, particularly in Spain and Portugal.

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So, Shirley, what did you think when your husband bought a train?

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Well, I thought he was out of his mind, quite definitely.

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But then, after a bit,

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you begin to see

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the charm of what were really battered, beat-up carriages

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with no lovely interiors but some of the marquetry left and so on.

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So it got quite exciting seeing them stripped down and started again.

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And the son of the man who'd done the marquetry repaired it.

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-And how did you find him?

-Oh, we found him in Chelmsford.

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And I'm not quite sure how we did find him, but we went to see his work, and, I mean, it was superb.

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And he got very excited about it.

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And these were restored using original veneers from the 1930s,

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which have laid in a warehouse, all rolled up.

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And they're very beautiful.

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When did you decide that you were going to take charge of the interior restoration?

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Oh, no, I didn't take charge of it, but I got very interested in it and I wrote a book about it.

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And, you know, I researched the history of each of the carriages.

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Why do you think these trains have become synonymous with Art Deco?

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-Well, a number of the carriages were from the Brighton Belle...

-Yeah.

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..which was pure, classic Art Deco.

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-Mm-hm.

-I mean, most of the carriages are Art Deco.

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You know, when we first got on the train, I didn't really like

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Art Deco very much but have become very excited by it since.

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Somehow, I always think, it's appropriate to transport, because most people don't have

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an Art Deco house and so it's a style that is linked to things like ships

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and trains and department stores and cinemas, kind of luxury but semi-public experiences, you know?

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Yes, I suppose that's true, yes.

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The Sherwoods even commissioned one of the last surviving designers of

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the Art Deco era to create the posters for the relaunch.

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There was a time when the carriages of the London to Paris service were loaded onto a ferry.

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But for us, it's the tunnel.

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At Calais, a gleaming rake of restored carriages a quarter of a mile long awaits us.

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Thank you very much.

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Agatha Christie wrote, "All my life I'd wanted to go on the Orient Express."

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"When I travelled to France or Spain or Italy, the Orient Express had

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"often been standing at Calais and I'd longed to climb up into it.

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"Simplon Orient Express. Milan, Belgrade, Istanbul."

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-Can I have your name or cabin number?

-Yeah, my name's David Heathcote.

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-Brilliant. Cabin five.

-Right.

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Ah, I see.

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Wow! Do you know, this is a perfect little room.

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Masses of shiny wood and brass and marquetry, tiny little fan.

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And it's a bit like being on an old ship.

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Everything is tiny and perfect and in its place and there's lots of little cubbyholes I can explore.

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Switches, lights

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and reflective surfaces generally.

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Look, this is the marquetry. This is so Deco.

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I think this is by Rene Proux.

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Even the octagonal shape just really shouts out Deco. And these flowers.

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Very French. Not the American Deco at all.

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They're colourful, they're bright, and it just makes everything a bit more domestic,

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almost like this lampshade, which is improbably pink.

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Even the upholstery on these seats is

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a really lovely jazzy pattern.

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These big flowers again, very Deco.

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Somewhere, under all these cushions,

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is a bed. I have no idea where.

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TANNOY BEEPS

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'Ladies and gentlemen, good evening and on behalf of the crew welcome aboard the Orient Express.

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'The continental time is five past five.'

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The train leaves Calais in the late afternoon and we arrive in Venice this time tomorrow.

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In 1930, the journey from Paris to Constantinople took 57 hours,

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which is probably long enough, as the train has never had bath or shower facilities on board.

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But hot water is still supplied from coal-fired boilers located in each coach.

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I'm reading a Cook's handbook for Egypt and the Sudan.

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It is interesting, Cook's handbook recommends that you can

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catch a train down to Venice and then go on to Egypt.

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This edition is for 1925 and it includes, for the first time,

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a supplement about the discoveries in Egypt in 1922, when Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun.

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Egyptomania was really a very important part of Art Deco.

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Egyptomania was all the rage. The imaginations of Art-Deco designers were fired

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by the gilded and lacquered artefacts that Carter unearthed.

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While the Orient Express allowed the well-heeled to travel and experience

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the wonder of these ancient civilisations for themselves.

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Personal grooming. I think I need a haircut, perhaps some hair oil, to get that authentic look.

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HE LAUGHS

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I am an artiste!

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HE LAUGHS

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-Have a seat.

-Thank you very much.

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That is really lovely.

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You know, it's quite hard to define Art Deco because it has many styles,

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but the thing it really is an attempt to make a modern luxury.

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Sitting here in this dining room,

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you really get a sense of what Art Deco is properly about.

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It's an escapist movement.

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It's something that is trying to get away from the immediate past of World War One.

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The years after World War One in France were called the crazy years, because everybody in almost

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every way, was trying to throw the past behind them and invent something new.

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So it was a mood, and the great thing about

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a mood is you can apply it anything, from a salt cellar to a motor car.

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Paris is the birthplace of Art Deco. The International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Art

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held in 1925, exhibited the work of the world's most opulent designers and craftsmen.

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# There may be trouble ahead

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# Do, da, do-do, do... #

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As you walk through this train, every surface is decorated in some way or other.

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That is a really essential part of Art Deco.

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Everything, whether necessary or unnecessary, has some kind of decorativeness all over it.

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It is flush and shiny. There are no lumps or bumps or carving.

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It's just a lush material under a deep, glossy coat of varnish.

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I don't even know what this is. It's like jazz vegetation,

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but it's lovely!

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Looking through this architectural review of the Paris Exhibition of 1925, it is obvious

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the British were spitting with envy.

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Beside every lush photograph there's a bitter and long text about

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how un-modern, how ill-considered, how unfinished and how unprincipled French modernism is.

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That's what you would expect from

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an architectural magazine, where they are more interested in the modernism of Le Corbusier.

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But Vogue was interesting, because Vogue said that, "The Paris exhibition is like a city

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"in a dream and the sort of dream that would give the psychoanalysts a run for their money."

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Which is, you know, trendy and vague, but it gets the sense of drama,

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of glamour, of complication,

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and of something underlyingly erotic and passionate about Art Deco.

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It's the end of a long day and my room has turned into a bedroom, just like on a liner.

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And it's been a long day and a very interesting day.

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The whole train is gorgeous, it's like this huge horizontal hotel, full of drama, well-dressed people

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marching up and down, people having fun. It's like the audience of an opera but no opera.

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I'm looking forward to tomorrow when I can throw up this

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blind early in the morning and look at Switzerland.

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And it's strange, you go to bed in France, you wake up

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in a completely different other place with a completely other view.

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Tomorrow, the day should be beautiful, through the Alps

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and down to Venice, which I cannot wait to see.

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It's lucky they've got this piano here to hold me up.

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The thing about the train in the morning is it's the quietest it's been.

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It's almost like you've got it all to yourself.

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It's so peaceful. Actually, I can have a look at the decor.

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It's unusual.

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It looks quite old fashioned, but all the carriages have got the dates on. This one's actually 1931.

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But these tinted mirrors, which are very '30s,

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the actual detail is rococo revival,

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which came really before Art Deco.

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But the general shininess, and these low lamps and these

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gentle light effects, are also very much part of the Deco scheme.

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Pools of light reflected on to people, I think the idea is to flatter everybody.

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Even in the morning.

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I've come into the dining room again to a closer look at these Lalique panels.

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Lalique took part in the 1925 Art Deco exhibition in Paris, and this glassware is really

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synonymous with Art Deco all over the world because it was exported all over the world.

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And in the restaurant car here, this set of panels are

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particularly appropriate because it's a bacchanalian revel.

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You've got these grapes, you've got these nymphs dancing to a tune played by Pan.

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And of course, this link with mythology and with primitivism

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and with the savage life is all part of what Art Deco's about.

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And of course, in a restaurant, these figures

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imply to the characters in the restaurant that they're part of this great, luxurious, primitive life.

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DH Lawrence in Lady Chatterley's Lover described the train as having an atmosphere of vulgar depravity.

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But there were many others who loved its debauched grandeur.

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One of the things about the Orient Express was that it was a kind of fashion catwalk.

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All the public areas really are places to see and be seen.

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They're great social encounters with the great and the good of the day.

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And in the '30s and the late '20s, all the most fashionable people would have been on this train.

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But the arteries of fashion and style were magazines.

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New printing processes that allowed very detailed photographs to be put in magazines meant that

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everybody all over the world could keep up with the fashion of the day.

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So Art Deco spread very fast through the medium of the magazine,

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from Thailand to Tiger Bay, as they say, from France to America.

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And of course, there were new stars in these magazines, real, modern celebrities like Anna May Wong, here

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in a suitably Deco pose photographed by Cecil Beaton.

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The great thing about Deco was it was a complete style.

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From the magazines to the photographs to the cutlery to the fashion to the carriages,

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it all had the same luxurious but futuristic and very, very cosmopolitan vibe.

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Getting on the train at Innsbruck is Bevis Hillier, the original expert on Art Deco.

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-You must be Bevis.

-Ah, David, very good to meet you.

-Good to meet you. Shall we get on?

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Before you wrote your book, how widely understood

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amongst the general public was the term Art Deco?

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Well, in the period itself, I mean the '20s and '30s,

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the phrase Art Deco was never used.

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It only came in much, much later.

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In the period, they used the phrases Jazz Modern and Moderne, with an "e" on the end.

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-The phrase Art Deco, I think, was first used in 1966, in an article in the Times.

-So late?

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So late. I picked up on it because I was already taking an interest in what I thought of as the '30s.

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And a young antique dealer in Kensington Church Street London,

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called John Jess, said to me with a kind of muffled snigger, "Do you know what they're calling that stuff?

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"Art Deco."

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And a lightbulb went on above my head and I thought, "Ah, that's the right title for my book."

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Deco seems to have an interest in the primitive and the exotic and almost the savage.

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Where do you think that comes from?

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Well, in essence, Art Deco is to me domesticated Cubism.

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And if you think about Cubism, it's primarily from Picasso and Braque.

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And they, who were they influenced by?

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Primarily by what was then thought of, in the early years of the century

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and the '20s, as savage or primitive art of Africa.

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Nowadays, we take a much more enlightened view - Benin bronzes, nothing could be more sophisticated.

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No, exactly. Do you think there any national characteristics to different styles of Art Deco?

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Oh, very much so. I think you could say the most sophisticated, the best Art Deco was French.

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After all, that's where it began, with designers like Emil Jacques Ruhlmann in furniture,

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and Jean Puiforcat in silver.

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But the most extreme and splendid Art Deco was in America.

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America was so powerful and rich in the 1920s before the crash of 1929.

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So in New York, you have the Empire State Building,

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the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the Channing Building, the Chrysler Building and so on.

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And do you think Art Deco was some kind of collective reaction to the First World War?

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Again, very much so. People had been through the most terrible time.

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Even worse than the Second World War, which I can just remember.

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Many had lost people in their family, loved ones, there had been rationing, there had been privations.

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Everyone in the 1920s wanted a respite from this and they wanted

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a bit of fizz and bubble and to let off steam. And they did.

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What do you think is the legacy of Art Deco?

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Well, in my little book about Deco of 1968, I described it as the last of the total styles.

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And I think that still stands.

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Of course, in the 1950s you got that style called contemporary,

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with those funny legs on tables with cocktail cherry bobbles on the end,

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but that did not affect everything in the way that Art Deco did.

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Art Deco not only affected the top range of things, hotels

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and liners, but also it affected ladies' handbags, lampposts, letterboxes, powder compacts.

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It was the last of the total styles.

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And the important thing is the designers took into account

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the machine and mass-production, perhaps for the first time.

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They didn't just want their objects to be for the rich,

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they wanted them to the mass produced for the less rich.

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In 1971, Bevis curated the largest exhibition of Art Deco ever held.

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It took place in Minneapolis and gathered thousands of Deco objects together for the first time.

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I'm keen to learn more over lunch.

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Minneapolis was able to offer a more or less unlimited budget,

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and so I was able to order things from Paris, New York and all around.

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I went to New York in 1970 to recruit exhibits and I met

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two of the great collectors, Barbra Streisand and Andy Warhol.

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And how many objects did he lend you?

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I'm not sure how many it was, but quite a load.

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I think a lot of people are fascinated by the period before their birth.

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And what you have to understand is that for my generation, our parents

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represented the '20s and '30s as a golden age.

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And, furthermore, the relics of the '30s were all around me in my infancy.

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I grew up in Redhill, Surrey, and there was a place called

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Earlswood Lakes near Redhill, which was a sort of pleasure ground.

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You could swim there or you could go boating, "Come in, number four, your time is up" sort of thing.

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And next to the boating lake there was this large shed,

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you could have tea there or coffee, but there were pinball machines.

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And they were in this marvellous zigzag, jazzy, Art Deco style.

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And I believe it was those pinball machines when I was about five that first turned me on to Art Deco.

0:25:440:25:51

So really, the '60s generation, the Pop Art generation, also were this first post-war generation,

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so they would revive Deco, because that was the style of their parents.

0:25:570:26:02

-That's right. Very much so.

-So in the end, how important a style do you think Art Deco is?

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It was immensely important in that it was the first style that

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really tried to end the enmity between the fine arts and the applied arts.

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In Art Deco, a potter could be as important as a fine artist. It was a style for everyone.

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The Second World War put the brakes on this way of life.

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After 1945, the world had moved on and planes and cars made a luxury train seem old-fashioned.

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The thing that you really realise about Art Deco in these trains is that the carriages

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are an industrial product and all this marquetry and beautiful wood and shininess is just a veneer.

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And Deco gave a veneer of luxury and

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quality to something which was just a load of metal.

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And that's what it does for everything it touches, transforms it from the ordinary to the luxury.

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I wish it could do it for me.

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-Thank you.

-Thank you very much.

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See you later.

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It's hot. Really hot.

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But I've had the journey of a lifetime, really.

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I've always wanted to be on this train and it's never unpleasant to arrive in Venice.

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Coming over that causeway, every time just makes you realise how beautiful it is.

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But I've got to get a beer.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

0:28:230:28:27

David Heathcote boards the Orient Express at London's Victoria Station and heads off for Venice, first settling into his perfectly restored sleeping cabin and then exploring the decadent charm and the extraordinary history of the train.

He meets James Sherwood, the man who bought the Orient Express in the 1970s and who decided to restore the old 1930s carriages to their Art Deco glamour. At first, his wife Shirley 'thought he was mad', but she became charmed by the challenge of restoring the Decorative art of a romantic train.

After enjoying the luxury of the dining compartment, Heathcote retires to his cabin and wakes up as the train chugs through the Alps. He is joined by Bevis Hillier, the expert who coined the phrase Art Deco and who describes the remarkable spread of the movement across the world from its origins at an exhibition in France in 1925.

However, it is not all luxury - the train has no air conditioning and the washing facilities are a bit basic. So, at the end of 32 exhilarating hours immersed in Art Deco, Heathcote steps off the train at Venice and heads for a beer and a shower.