The Railway Children is a children's book by Edith Nesbit, originally serialised in The London Magazine during 1905 and first published in book form in 1906. It has been adapted for the screen several times, of which the 1970 film version is the best known.
The story concerns the Waterbury family who move to "Three Chimneys", a house near the railway, after the father who works at the Foreign office, is imprisoned as a result of being falsely accused of selling state secrets to the Russians. The three children, Roberta (Bobbie), Peter and Phyllis, find amusement in watching the trains on the nearby railway line and waving to the passengers. They become friendly with Albert Perks, the station porter, and with the Old Gentleman who regularly takes the 9:15 down train. He is eventually able to help prove their father's innocence, and the family is reunited. The family take care of the Russian exile, Mr Szczepansky, who came to England looking for his family (later located) and Jim, the grandson of the Old Gentleman, who suffers a broken leg in a tunnel.
The theme of an innocent man being falsely imprisoned for espionage and finally vindicated might have been influenced by the Dreyfus Affair, which was a prominent worldwide news item a few years before the book was written. And the Russian exile, persecuted by the Tsars for writing "a beautiful book about poor people and how to help them" and subsequently helped by the children, was most likely an amalgam of the real-life dissidents Sergius Stepniak and Peter Kropotkin who were both friends of the author.
The story has been adapted for the games console, and for the screen six times to date, including four television series, a feature film, and a made-for-television film.
BBC radio dramatisation
E. Nesbit's perennial favourite was adapted for radio by Marcy Kahan and produced by John Taylor. It stars Paul Copley, Timothy Bateson and Victoria Carling and was first heard in 1991. The play is available on CD.
BBC television series
The story was adapted as a television series four times by the BBC. The first of these, in 1951, was in 8 episodes of 30 minutes each. A second adaptation was then produced, which re-used some of the film from the original series but also contained new material with slight cast changes. This had 4 episodes of 60 minutes each.
The BBC again revisited the story with an 8 episode series in 1957 and again in 1968. The 1968 adaptation was placed 96th in the BFI's 100 Greatest British Television Programmes poll of 2000. It starred Jenny Agutter as Roberta and Gillian Bailey as Phyllis. 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.
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