How Keighley and Worth Valley Railway keeps film and TV producers coming

Celebrations for the 50th anniversary of KWVR.
Celebrations for the 50th anniversary of KWVR.

It is a cherished Yorkshire institution steam-powered by nostalgia for a bygone era.

But the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway (KWVR) is proving a popular force among film producers in the modern age as the region’s screen industry renaissance continues to flourish.

The heritage attraction’s screen credentials began long ago, and is most closely associated with the Railway Children film released in 1970 - after which an “emergency plan” was enacted to deal with an influx of passengers.

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But as producers now flock to the region amid new studios and broadcasters setting up, operational manager Noel Hartley has said that enquiries have increased in recent years.

Keighley Station will soon appear on Netflix project The English Game - a Julian Fellowes programme about the origins of football - and the remake of Yorkshire classic All Creatures Great and Small.

Mr Hartley said: “For people who live here it certainly does reinforce that sense of pride in the area and lets other people know what a great area it is.”

He is keen to promote the railway, with its six stations boasting unusual, period features and vintage stock, as being “flexible” with producers.

He said: “Film companies find it difficult to film on the national network simply because the national network is there to move people around and not to be at the whim of the film company.”

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KWVR, meanwhile, has the capacity to shut operations down for the day for a number of filming takes - with trains able to move back and forth multiple times - as director’s instructions are “translated into railway speak” by Mr Hartley to the drivers.

The five-mile line had promoted itself as a filming location for portraying periods between 1860 and 1960, but has also doubled for contemporary locations.

Feature films include Yanks (1979), Jude (1996), Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997), Brideshead Revisited (2007) and Selfish Giant (2013).

Television credits include Peaky Blinders, The Great Train Robbery (2013), Spanish Flu – The Forgotten Fallen (2009), The League of Gentlemen, Last of the Summer Wine, A Touch of Frost (ITV Productions), The Royal, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Born & Bred and several period dramas such as The Way We Live Now (2001), Sons & Lovers (2003) and North & South (2004).

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Meanwhile, its steam and diesel locomotives, carriages and wagons complement the railway’s period atmosphere.

In the last few years, Mr Hartley estimates a 25 per cent increase in enquiries to film at the railway.

Between five and ten major productions come to it each year.

The Railway Children, however, remains the most popular source of film history for visitors at KWVR, said Mr Hartley, who became operational manager two years ago.

The institution opened in 1968 with just one line and the film was released two years later.

Due to its passenger numbers tripling, it had to create an extra line during an “emergency plan”, said Mr Hartley.

The line will next year begin Railway Children season, lasting 12 months, due to start on August Bank Holiday 2020.

Opening weekend is to feature Green Dragon locomotive used in the film and the brown Pannier Tank, the one that nearly ran Bobbie over in the film.