Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Railway Children, The (1968)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Railway Children, The (1968)
BBC, 12/5-23/6/1968
7 x 25 minutes, black & white
DirectorJulia Smith
ProducerCampbell Logan
ScriptDenis Constanduros
From the novel byE. Nesbit

Cast: Ann Castle (Mother); Jenny Agutter (Bobbie); Neil McDermott (Peter); Gillian Bailey (Phyllis); Mary Healey (Ruth); Frederick Treves (Father); Gordon Gostelow (Perks)

Show full cast and credits

The comfortable lives of three Edwardian children are shattered when their father is arrested on suspicion of betraying state secrets. The children and their mother are forced to move to a modest cottage in the Yorkshire countryside, where their new lives centre around the local steam railway line.

Show full synopsis

In 1951, Edith Nesbit's story became one of the first children's novels to be adapted by the BBC. The broadcast was not recorded but its popularity meant the serial was remounted in the studio a few months later, in hour-long episodes. It would be impossible to depict trains and the great outdoors without location filming, and some outdoor work took place for the original version - these film inserts were reused for the later remount. In 1957 The Railway Children was remade from scratch, but stuck closely to Dorothea Brooking's 1951 script, possibly with a little more location filming. The 1957 version was the first shown nationwide and earned a Radio Times cover.

The next BBC version, from 1968, survives - viewed today it's apparent that the episodic serial adaptation helps to disguise the lack of real narrative development in Nesbit's original magazine serial tale. For its time, this is an excellent production, with an abundance of location filming on Yorkshire's Keighley and Worth Valley Preservation Railway. Given Jenny Agutter's involvement in both the 1968 TV serial and subsequent 1970 film version, comparison is inevitable. Unfairly, the film's more sentimental telling makes the more realistic 1968 serial retrospectively disappointing. Particularly galling on backward viewing is the flat presentation of the final, tear-jerking "My Daddy" reunion scene.

A reasonably lavish television movie for 2000 featured Agutter once more, this time playing Mother. An excellent adaptation, it largely concentrated on the themes of Nesbit's novel in the more literal style of the 1968 serial, underlining the class discourse with the expansion of a scene in which working-class bargees throw coal at the three children, calling them "posh bloody kids". Nonetheless it was still in the thrall of the 1970 film - Bobbie and her Daddy were reunited in slow motion amid clouds of train steam.

Alistair McGown

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Recognition letter (2:37)
2. Secret case (2:47)
3. The paper chase (5:44)
Complete episode: 'The Rescue' (24:15)
Railway Children, The (1970)
Brooking, Dorothea (1916-1999)
Smith, Julia (1927-1997)
Children's TV Drama
Children's TV in the 1960s
Children's Television