Dir: Jan Darnley-Smith
Starring: Sydney Tafler and Ronnie Barker
A group of children save their branch line and foil a railway robbery in the process
This Children’s Film Foundation short adventure story is filmed almost entirely on the Longmoor Military Railway, which together with The Great St. Trinian’s Train Robbery (qv) stands as a great reminder to this long-gone system. This delightfully charming film centres on ‘Barming’, which was in fact Bordon BR station, the northerly terminus of the ex-LSWR Bordon Light Railway which was adjacent to Bordon station on the Longmoor system. The former LSWR owned Bentley and Bordon Light Railway had closed to passengers in 1957. The star of the film is Matilda, actually Hunslet ‘Austerity’ 0-6-0ST No.196 Errol Lonsdale disguised with fake outside cylinders, an extended chimney and given an elaborate lined-out livery (just a shame its in black and white!?). The loco hauls the branch train made up of a single ex-Southern Railway ‘birdcage’ coach. The crooks plan to use the locomotive to steal a mail coach, actually a Southern Railway PMV that they have detached from the morning express, and they help the children bring Matilda back to a fully operational condition after years of lack of maintenance. The robbery sequence, and the children’s attempt to foil it, make great use of the line, particularly at Borden, Whitehill Junction, and on the Hollywater Loop, though Longmoor Yard is also used for some exciting parallel running. At one point, both Matilda and the mail train are following each other on the same block section! These quite exhilarating scenes are reminiscent in some ways of Oh, Mr. Porter! (qv) and are a real joy to watch. The scenes with some of the children climbing up the back of the train and hanging off the sides where actual stunts, though in reality the train was barely moving, and the completed film has been ‘speeded up’. Meanwhile, the express train is hauled by WD ‘Austerity’ 2-10-0 No.600 Gordon, now preserved. Note that the stock of the express varies in some shots suggesting that filming took place over a number of days. At one point a small inspection coach appears directly behind Gordon. Early in the film the railway inspectorate arrives at ‘Barming’ in Wickham petrol trolley No.WD9033 which, like Errol Lonsdale, also appeared in The Great St. Trinian’s Train Robbery. It isn’t all Longmoor though, as a few other trains and interesting items feature in this film. There is a stock shot of an express departing from London Paddington station behind ex-GWR ‘Castle’ Class 4-6-0 No.7020 Gloucester Castle, and a ‘reversed’ stock shot from Platform 7 at London Victoria with a distant steam-hauled train approaching. The final scenes at the end where the train reaches ‘London’, feature a cleverly disguised Longmoor Downs station with an art department ‘overlay’ to give it the look of a modern 1960s station similar to those being constructed at the time for the new route modernisation of Britain’s main lines. This is in fact a retouched and animated picture of an original work entitled ‘London Midland Electrification, Stafford Station’, which was painted by John Greene in 1963. During this final sequence there is a driver’s eye view from the front of a train arriving into Brighton station and a 6 PUL EMU is visible in the adjacent platform. The CFF made some lovely little films, two of which, this one along with Night Ferry (qv), largely centre around railways with plenty of trains on show. A very pleasing but somewhat unrealistic touch is that all the children help out with the running of the railway, from cleaning the trains, to uncoupling the coaches, and even driving Matilda! Thanks to reelstreets (rs) for providing most of the pictures.