William Porter, an inept railway worker, is shunted off to a dead-end job in Buggleskelly, Northern Ireland, where several previous stationmasters have met a mysterious fate.
An always-welcome afternoon TV staple. Though he gets above-the-title billing, Will Hay was no more a solo comedian than Groucho Marx. This, one of his finest vehicles, finds him congenially teamed with sidekicks Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt in one of the British cinema’s greatest comedy gangs.
In a priceless opening, Hay, the latest in a long line of doomed souls, turns up at dilapidated Buggleskelly station with the presentation clock given him on departure from his last job only to find a row of similar, abandoned clocks on the mantlepiece, suggesting the dire fate of all the previous stationmasters.
Much delight comes in the interplay between Hay and Marriott, as single-toothed dotty old-timer Harbottle (asked when the next train is due, he says ‘next train’s gone’), and Moffatt, as chubby smart kid Albert.
The trio fail the most basic requirements of their railway jobs, but come up trumps in the Scooby-Doo stakes when investigating the ghost of One-Eyed Joe and his haunted mill and discover a branch line being used by cross-border gun-smugglers who are defeated in a spirited final chase.
There’s some slapstick with an escape from the mill in a high wind and the last ride of the venerable locomotive Gladstone, but Hay works best with character comedy, pompously reprimanding his subordinates for dodges he proceeds to pull himself, reacting to every ominous line with a perfect double-take and blithely surviving the chaos his character causes wherever he goes.
Hay, Marriott and Moffatt reprised their acts in the similar, equally delightful Ask a Policeman, Where’s That Fire?, Convict 99 and Old Bones of the River.
Comedy very much of its time but there are worse ways to spend a rainy afternoon.