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Canal Children, The

1 9 7 6 (UK)
6 x 25 minute episodes

The year is 1845 and the coming of the railways bites hard for those in the canal haulage business. To make matters worse for Colonel Russell (Eric Porter), head of the Warwick and Birmingham Canal Company, cargo is being stolen somewhere along the route north from Hatton to Knowle Locks.

Russell is too concerned with this business to notice much when his granddaughter Betsy (Maxine Gordon) comes to Cuttle Hall for the holidays. The Colonel had disowned Betsy’s father before his death and shows little affection to the girl.

Betsy is made of stern stuff, however, and when her new friend from below-stairs, lock-keepers boy Tom Brill (Andrew O’Connor) is dismissed on suspicion of aiding and abetting the barge thieves she resolves to help him clear his name.

At first, this Midlands urchin and his friend Dan Trugg (Peter Berry) are distrustful of such an upper-class “gongoozler” (a bargee word for a ‘useless person who lazes around while other folk work’) but Betsy’s spirit wins them over.

There’s a subplot about Betsy warming the heart of her cold grandfather, but its all rather low on adventure until the three children finally set off to catch the thieves. ‘Buggets’ are thought to be responsible – the ghosts who are said to haunt the long, dark tunnel at Shrewley – but is that likely, or might there be a more rational explanation?

Made with the usual BBC attention to period detail, this rather obscure serial might have been better remembered had it aired in the Sunday slot one might have expected rather than the Wednesday slot it actually occupied.

Tom Brill
Andrew O’Connor
Betsy Russell
Maxine Gordon
Sarah Russell
Gwen Cherrell
Mary Brill
Barbara Hickmott
Colonel Russell
Eric Porter
Walter Crumlow
Don McKillop
Joe Collingtree
Brian Hayes
Dan Trugg
Peter Berry
Charlie the Mule
William Wilde


A Gongoozler | Buggets and Tonnage | Poor Man’s Morris | Gunpowder | The Secret Agent | The Wager