Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Runaway Railway (1965)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Runaway Railway (1965)
35mm, black and white, 55 mins
DirectorJan Darnley-Smith
Production CompanyChildren's Film Foundation
Made byFanfare Films
ProducerGeorge H. Brown
ScriptMichael Barnes
Original StoryHenry Geddes
CinematographyJohn Coquillon

Cast: John Moulder-Brown (Charlie); Kevin Bennett (Arthur); Leonard Brockwell (John); Roberta Tovey (Carole); Sydney Tafler (Mr Jones); Ronnie Barker (Mr Galore); Graham Stark (Grample); Jon Pertwee (station master)

Show full cast and credits

A village train station is to be closed and its old steam engine retired. Four young train enthusiasts hope to clean her up for a new private line but haven't reckoned on the plans of two train robbers.

Show full synopsis

Like so many Children's Film Foundation entries, Runaway Railway is based around a just-about-credible childhood fantasy come true. Here it's the popular 1960s boyhood dream of driving a steam train. More surprisingly, simple wish-fulfilment is allied to real world events - the heist is clearly based on the Great Train Robbery of August 1963 and, although the factual background is never referred to in the film, Barming station's closure echoes the government 'rationalisation' of the railways, overseen by Dr Beeching, that closed more than 2000 rural stations during 1963. Although never quite satirical, Runaway Railway was at least topical and relevant when first shown in 1965.

The scenario might suggest something of a 'Little Ealing' and indeed the initial set-up of the 'little men' of England's picturesque rural communities looking to outsmart the might of faceless urban government is familiar. The arrival of the Man from the Ministry makes plain Ealing's influence - the umbrella-carrying pinstriped buffoon suffers the indignity of a hair-raising ride in Matilda the steam engine and is chased away by irate villagers.

But the over-riding threat of station closure can only be fought indirectly in CFF-Land and the film soon reverts to type with the kind of cops and robbers story prevalent in almost all CFF fare to this point. By outwitting the crooks (the usual 'brains and bungler' double act, although a turn by Ronnie Barker is naturally above par) the children win a reward that will help fund a private Barming line. Thus Barming wins out without having to take on government mandarins - a storyline which would hardly have made for an entertaining children's film.

The film's technical standards are worth mentioning - well lit and shot on 35mm, it marks a highpoint of CFF production that would noticeably slip during the imminent colour era.

Alistair McGown

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. A sad day (3:39)
2. Mr Jones and Mr Galore (4:30)
3. Hold-up (4:37)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Hunted in Holland (1960)
Barker, Ronnie (1929-2005)
Bloom, John
Tafler, Sydney (1916-79)
CFF: An Introduction
The Romance of Steam