BBC Radio 7, 4-8 July 2010
At heart The Railway Children is a conservative text that reaffirms the strength of nuclear family values - not only those of the central characters led by Father (Philip Voss) and Mother (Francis Jeater), but also Perks' (Paul Copley's) family, and that of the Old Gentleman (Timothy Bateson), who displays a touching affection for his unfortunate nephew Jim (Paul Downing). When Father is unfortunately called away - to answer a charge of embezzlement, as it turns out - it is as if the family have lost a limb; it cannot be cured, despite Mother's best efforts to make a living by writing. The children - Bobbie (Victoria Carling), Peter (Daniel Eyssen) and Phyllis (Kate McEnery) can only compensate for their loss by entering in to imaginative worlds of their own creation, in which logic seldom plays a part/
Nonetheless, in John Taylor's entertaining four-part adaptation, The Railway Children projected an optimistic view of perpetual sunshine in which the children believed - perhaps naively - that everything would turn out fine. Hence their trust in the Old Gentleman, despite their mother's misgivings.
The narrative turned out episodic, a series of adventures in which the children occasionally broke the rules - such as fishing in the canal, or writing begging letters to the Old Gentleman - but were invariably forgiven. Their actions were above all altrusitic, as they tried to make the best out of their reduced circymstances, while trying to assist Mother in the complicated business of running the house.
The story was narrated by Bobbie, the oldest child - someone caught at that difficult age between childhood and adolescence. She still quarrelled with Pater and was subject to fits of petulance, but she was mature enough to understand the difficulties of her mother's existence, particularly when she became ill. She even had the chance to fall in love with Jim; even though - as was customary in the Edwardian period - it was nothing more than platonic love.
A thoroughly entertaining and optimistic treatment of the Nesbit novel, well worth another listen, if Radio 7 should choose to repeat it.