The host of the most British show on TV would like to bring that show down under.
SBS Guide

12 Jul 2017 - 4:36 PM  UPDATED 13 Jul 2017 - 8:57 AM

Michael Portillo, the host of the quintessentially British travel history show Great British Railways, was recently interviewed by Mediaweek where he not only gave some interesting insights on how they film the show, but also  offered his thoughts on Brexit.

And then there was his revelation that he would love to bring the show to Australia.

Great Aussie Railway Journeys? 

There's nothing official on the cards just yet, but the host of Great British Railway Journeys, Michael Portillo, has revealed he is very interested in filming his show in Australia.

“I have been there a couple of times and I would very much like to film there. It is not my decision and I don’t know what might be the complications,” he said. Portillo later indicated that it was likely.

An Australian series sounds like a natural fit for Portillo, with Great British Railway Journeys going since 2010 with 8 series and 170 episodes so far. Each week the show takes viewers on a journey across the railway networks of Great Britain and Ireland, detailing the history of how various destinations have changed. Portillo also hosts sister series Great American Railway Journeys and Great Continental Railway Journeys, taking him across the US and Europe, respectively. 

Great Australian Railway Journeys would sit very comfortably alongside the other shows.


As a former MP in the British Parliament and as man increasingly well-traveled, Portillo obviously has some strong views on the recent Brexit vote: 

“I am very sceptical about the European Union, but I would have preferred there not be a referendum. My feeling was because we were out of the single currency, the euro, I thought we were free from most of the dangers.

“But we did have a referendum and I voted for Brexit. However, this extraordinary election result we have just had means we are not going to have the sort of Brexit Mrs May had been planning. I find it hard to predict where we might end up. Maybe with some sort of middle of the road fudge probably,” he explained.

Filming Great British Railway Journeys

Since the show started in 2010, the series has become a lot more sophisticated in the way it is made. But, not necessarily in the way that you think. In some regards, the production is still very traditional: “We don’t use many drones," Portillo revealed. "In the UK we charter a helicopter to fly the routes we are filming. In Europe we sometimes buy in helicopter footage. Very occasionally we get to use a drone.”

The show's crew is also lean, with just a 6-person production team: “The director and the camera person are one. We have a sound man, and I have only worked with two different sound guys in nine years.

“We have an assistant producer who literally keeps the show on the tracks – looking after the rail timetable and who we have to interview next. Normally we then have two younger people, one who normally drives our van and the other who downloads the footage each day to a hard drive.”

So, where's the sophistication? Better cameras. “We have invested significantly in the cameras, giving the series a much more cinematic look,” he said.

The British Bradshaw

Fans of the show are very familiar with the British Bradshaw, the historical guide that informs Portillo on the history of the areas explored on the show. On the shoot, it has become a sacred text.

“It is a very, very precious thing and we treat it with great reverence. As soon as I have finished reading from each episode it is put away in a box. The box is actually illustrated with Thomas the Tank Engine and I am constantly followed by a young man or a young woman with that box with a Bradshaw’s in it. It is not unlike my ministerial career where I was followed around with a person carrying a red box of official secrets.”

You can catch more of Michael Portillo on Great British Railway Journeys every Thursday night on SBS at 7:30pm. Episodes are also streaming via SBS On Demand:

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