The Flower of Gloster: The Complete Series – DVD Review
By Roger Crow
It’s a curious oddity The Flower of Gloster. A mix of drama and documentary, or edutainment that shoehorns chunks of historic factoids into a loose narrative; scenes occasionally stitched together with urgent narration.
The tale of a 72-foot converted canal barge en route from Wales to London Bridge with her young crew is simple but weirdly compelling. At times it feels like that terrific documentary from a few years ago, The Boat That Guy Built. In it, Guy Martin renovates a narrow boat, stopping off for informative adventures along the way.
In the first few minutes, The Flower of Gloster also reminds me of doom-laden public information films from the 1970s. Those warning kids not to climb electric pylons or play on areas with still water. Made in an era when health and safety was a lot more laid back in kids’ TV shows, it seems perfectly normal when one of the young protagonists accidentally cycles into a canal. Or Liz, the young dinghy-rowing heroine, almost drowns after being capsized by the eponymous vessel.
“I become nostalgic for a timeless era of long summers”
The script leaves a lot to be desired and the likes of Richard O’Callaghan and Elizabeth Doherty do their best with the dialogue, but though obviously shot on a budget and at speed, there’s an unusual charm to the show. It’s a floating flashback to an era when kids actually played outdoors instead of in virtual worlds. As someone who used to help open and close canal locks in the Midlands with my brother, it touches a chord, especially when the heroes pass through the same area. (The run-in with a gang of stone-throwing tykes is surreal).
I become nostalgic for a seemingly timeless era of long summers, though the chats with a badger boffin and a passing expert en route to Birmingham are gloriously awkward. I save checking the year of origin until the end of episode one, guessing it’s a mid-1970s show. The fact it’s from 1967 is astonishing.
The picture quality is pretty good (though it does feel like a bad home movie in places). But you’re unlikely to see this popping up on ITV4 or other channels specialising in vintage telly, which means the double disc set offers either 315 minutes of floating nostalgic nirvana or a strange 220-mile trip into a world when things seemed a lot simpler.
The fact it’s now 50 years old is remarkable. Possibly down to it being the first Granada series in colour, though initially broadcast in black and white.
There are many moments of charm: a blond tyke interviewing an eloquent repairman (cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth – the repairman’s, not the kid’s), about how long it will take to repair the narrow boat he’s working on is one. Another chat with a seasoned canal veteran is gloriously awkward, his eager interrogator asking him question after question as they walk along a riverbank.
The incidental music occasionally suggests hi-jinks that never really happen. (I wouldn’t mind a standalone CD with the often engaging soundtrack).
As with other vintage shows, it proves strangely compelling once you get past that first episode. It takes a while for my middle-aged brain to re-calibrate to the sedate era, but once I’m hooked, I’m watching into the early hours.
Produced by TV legend Bill Grundy, the tale of Michael, 10, sister Elizabeth, 12, and elder brother Dick is a trip well well worth taking. Even if Dick does spend most of the trip shouting at his fellow passengers.
In a perfect world it would be remade, preferably with Guy Martin at the helm.
‘The Flower of Gloster’ is £19.99 from Network