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Keighley's Railway Children at forty
Scene from The Railway Children
A scene from the film version of The Railway Children - as shot on the KWVR

As the 40th anniversary of The Railway Children approaches, volunteers at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway (KWVR) are in celebratory mood.

It was back in spring 1970 that film crews first descended on Oakworth Station to make what would turn out to be a Yorkshire celluloid classic.

Four decades on and those who took part still have very special memories.

David Pearson, a KWVR volunteer who appeared in the film, says: "It was a colossal event for the whole valley."

David Pearson at the KWVR
David Pearson: Volunteer at the KWVR and a fleeting film star

The film is, of course, still a bank holiday TV staple today. Its tearjerking finale - with Jenny Agutter running along Oakworth Station platform towards her wrongfully-imprisoned father crying, 'Daddy, oh Daddy!' as he emerges through the steam - is always guaranteed to moisten eyes across the land.

But many - especially us in West Yorkshire - might argue that the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway is the film's true star.

David Pearson was 15-years-old at the time that filming started at Oakworth, but even with 40 years between then and now, his excitement at having made a 'starring' cinematic appearance alongside the KWVR's now famous steam engines is obvious.

He says the making of The Railway Children certainly brought people all along the railway line together: "It was a real community affair. There were hundreds of people outside the station watching the filming going on.

"It was beautiful weather even though it was Easter. It was almost a party atmosphere. It was lovely."

David openly admits that his role in the film is a blink-and-you'll-miss it appearance. But he is still proud of being part of a film classic - and one made on his doorstep.

He says: "I got roped into working the level crossing. It's the very final scene when the father appears out of the steam and Jenny Agutter [one of the film's young stars] runs down the platform.

Steam train at KWVR
The KWVR is ready for a year of 40th anniversary celebrations

"If you look through the steam you can see somebody doing the level crossing gates and, well, that was me! You just see my back and my feet and that's about it.

"I had to tell my wife it was me, put it that way."

Nick Hellewell was a fireman - a stoker - on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway at the time the film was made and that's how he also became a footnote in the history of cinema. He was on the footplate during another iconic scene as the children wave to a passing steam train.

Nick says that scene only came about with a little movie magic: "When the children were waving the film crew didn't want all the noise of the train so what they did was measure the pace of the train and then get a runner to run like the Dickens along the sleepers holding up white flags.

"The children's eyes could follow the runner as if they were waving to the train. We'd make so much of a commotion that you wouldn't be able to hear the children!"

As a thank you for their role in that day's filming, Nick says they were allowed to indulge in a spot of lunch with the crew and the stars - perched on top of Mytholmes tunnel near Oakworth.

He says it was a meal to remember: "It was one of those splendid lunches the way film companies used to do it. There was a splendid spread of smoked salmon and strawberries and cream.

"We just shared that with the crew and it was just a fantastic day."

Nick Hellewell at the KWVR
Nick Hellewell: On the footplate during The Railway Children

David Pearson says that when the film came out around Christmas 1970 nobody who had taken part realised how important it was going to be for the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway and the surrounding area.

He says: "We were running a train with a couple of coaches on in the depths of winter then, literally a couple of days after it came out, we were running a six-coach train with two engines and there were just thousands of people.

"We never looked back. Economically it was the greatest thing that ever happened to us."

Chris Lawson is the owner, or as he puts it the custodian, of what's become known as the Old Gentleman's Saloon - the carriage containing the character played by William Mervyn. It was the Old Gentleman who the Railway Children were seen waving to as his train steamed by.

Chris says even today the film has not lost its tearjerking appeal - and draws many people to the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway every year.

He explains: "We have lots of people who come and we can take them on board on special occasions. It's almost over-emotional for them.

"They find it a really moving experience to be able to travel in the vehicle that William Mervyn travelled in. When we arrive at Oakworth, we've had people almost in tears."

Chris Lawson at the KWVR
Chris Lawson: Owner of the iconic Old Gentleman's saloon

Nick Hellewell says everyone from the KWVR who took part in the filming is very proud of it: "We were lucky to be involved. It means a lot to us.

"It brought us a lot of publicity and also it bonded the railway to the valley folk. At the time we were regarded as rather eccentric, a group of amateurs running a railway. It changed their perspective, perhaps."

The fact that so many Keighley and Worth Valley Railway volunteers who 'starred' in the film 40 years ago are still working there in 2010 probably says a lot about how much they enjoy the work there.

In fact, David Pearson says he sometimes has to be reminded just what a privilege it is.

He says: "Just this morning I rang the guys on the engine and asked them to pick me up as they came past Haworth. They said they'd pick me up in 20 minutes.

"My wife said to me, 'You do realise that most railway enthusiasts anywhere in the world would give their eye-teeth to have a conversation like that?'"

"You don't think anything of it, it's just there all the time. You don't go into Railway Children mode, you just live the life!"

Forty years of The Railway Children will be marked at a series of special events at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway during the May Bank Holiday weekend on 1st, 2nd and 3rd May 2010.


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