Dir: Lionel Jeffries
Starring: Jenny Agutter and Bernard Cribbins
The adventures of three London children, moved to Yorkshire after their father’s wrongful arrest
This family drama is probably the most successful British railway movie to date. It enjoyed considerable box office success and remains a perennial Bank Holiday TV favourite, as well as being a permanent advertisement for the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, the line on which it was filmed. A number of K&WVR staff members played peripheral roles in the cast and the line today remains justifiably proud of its contribution. Perhaps fewer people realise that The Railway Children was in fact a children’s book by Edith Nesbit, originally serialised in The London Magazine during 1905 and first published in book form in 1906. The film is said to be quite a faithful reproduction of the book. The 5-mile Keighley & Worth Valley Railway had only recently been established as a heritage railway at the time, but it could still provide a ready-made steam railway for the film-makers with the added advantage of a range of motive power and rolling stock. The two main locomotive stars are Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Barton Wright Class 25 0-6-0 No.957, painted in its fictitious ‘L&NWR’ green, and GWR 0-6-0PT No. 5775 painted in a light brown livery of the fictitious ‘Great Northern & Southern Railway’, reminiscent of the Stroudley livery of the old London Brighton & South Coast Railway. Contrary to most beliefs neither of these locomotives were painted in these fictional liveries specifically for the film. The K&WVR had a number of steam locomotives available for traffic in the early days of preservation and all were given a different colour scheme just to brighten up the line! The heritage movement at the time was not as obsessed as it is these days in portraying accuracy. No. 957 is the first locomotive that the children wave to when they run through the fields to the line. No.5775 appears as the loco hauling the ‘Old Gentleman’s Train’ and also features in the most memorable scene where the children stop a train from colliding with a landslide by waving their red petticoats as a warning. The landslide sequence itself was filmed in a cutting on the Oakworth side of Mytholmes Tunnel and the fields of long grass where the children waved to the trains are situated on the Haworth side of the tunnel. A leaflet, The Railway Children Walks, is available from Worth Valley railway stations or the Haworth Tourist Information Centre. The old gentleman’s saloon is ex-NER Clerestory saloon No.1661, rebuilt in 1904 from an earlier Stockton & Darlington Railway vehicle of 1871. Loco No.957 appears again in the tunnel scene where the children risk their lives to rescue that of a young runner. The tunnel was important to a number of scenes and was just another reason why the Worth Valley line was chosen for filming, there were just so few private lines available at the time that featured a tunnel. Mytholmes Tunnel, however, is only 75 yards in length and a temporary extension to the tunnel was made using canvas covers to make it appear longer than it actually was. The line does have a second tunnel at Ingrow, which at 150 yards is more than long enough but the proximity of the tunnel to the station at Ingrow West and to local housing precluded it’s use. The station central to the story was Oakworth and two other locomotives can be seen in the scenes shot here. Ex-Manchester Ship Canal Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0T No.67 brings the family to Yorkshire and hauls the train at the end in the highly atmospheric and tearful reunion of their father, and ex-LNER N2 Class 0-6-2T No.4744 is the loco passing through on the ‘Scotch Flyer’ (both locos were resident on the line at the time but have since moved on). The exhilarating scene whereby Bobbie waves her red petticoat to stop the train only to faint just inches from its bufferbeam was rather cleverly edited. The locomotive was in fact moving backwards, with the film then simply reversed as the production team felt it was too dangerous to film the other way around. There is one additional railway scene that was not filmed on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway as when the family make their initial journey from London to Yorkshire, there is a stock silhouette shot of a train crossing the Barmouth Bridge in North Wales. One feature of this classic, perhaps revealing the innocence of the original story, is that it includes the most nonchalant amount of trespass you will ever see in a family film. No sooner have the children seen No.957 pass than they are on the track, using it as a path to get the station. Perks the stationmaster (played by Bernard Cribbins) watches their arrival but barely raises an eyebrow! Similarly, a school paperchase casually heads into the tunnel as two platelayers walk out. One makes some comment or other, but his mate couldn’t care less. Then there is the landslide scene, and the end credits, where half the village seems to be out on the line. All this on what is supposed to be a main route to Scotland! In fact, when so much fuss is made about film companies providing inaccurate representations of period trains The Railway Children is no different. For instance, the story was set in 1905 but only loco No.957 is old enough to have featured having been built in 1887, and why would the family be crossing the Barmouth Bridge on their way to Yorkshire? But the film is so well produced, and really is such a joy to watch, that everybody appears to be happy to overlook its faults! Prior to this movie there had been three BBC adaptations of the book appearing in 1951, 1957 and 1968. This last version was filmed on the Keighley & Worth with Jenny Agutter starring as Roberta. The 1968 dramatisation was a big success and following on from this the film rights were bought by the actor Lionel Jeffries, who wrote and directed the 1970 film, which was given the big money makeover by EMI and saw Jenny Agutter reprise her role as Roberta, the eldest child. In October 1999 ITV made a further adaptation, as a made for television film, with Jenny Agutter now playing the mother! This was filmed on the Bluebell Railway but was not entirely successful. Of all the TV adaptations, only the 1968 version is known to be extant (it is currently available on DVD); the rest may be lost. The familiar story became a stage musical in 2005 and then a full stage production in 2008. It is interesting to note that a number of shots depicting the ‘stars’ of the film have cropped up in other movies. L&YR 0-6-0 No.957 appears briefly in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (qv) also filmed in 1970, whilst The Crucifer of Blood (1991) and Dracula (1973) (qv) both feature excellent shots of the ‘Old Gentleman’s Train’, the latter of which appear to be unused clips from The Railway Children.