Sunday 7 January 2018


Illustration: Amazon

By Dave Roberts

Britain's canal system is now so much a part of the 'leisure industry' that many people alive today have never known it in any other way.
In the 1960s the whole network was in transition from an industrial carrying facility to the system we know today, largely given over to pleasure cruising and holiday-making.
In fact if the 'leisure boom' had never happened our canal system might now be just a memory, and the courses of old canals given over to nature trails and country walks in the same way that many - too many, some would say - old railway lines have.
In 1967 Granada Television in Manchester made a children's drama documentary on colour film.
In fact this was the first colour programme made by Granada. Colour TV came to BBC2 that same year, but it would be 1969 before BBC1 and ITV moved to colour. So the programme makers obviously had an eye on the future, though, ironically, to my knowledge this programme has never been seen again on any TV channel.
The Flower Of Gloster tells the tale of a group of youngsters moving an old narrowboat, converted for cruising use, from a boatyard in Wales to London.
Many people will have fond memories of watching the series on 405 lines in black and white the year it was made.
Almost inevitably the boat's journey along the network brings it to Middlewich, where the Shropshire Union meets the Trent & Mersey, or as producer and narrator Bill Grundy (long before his Sex Pistols encounter) puts it, 'where the Welsh canal meets the Trent & Mersey'.
There's a memorable encounter with the one of the legends of the waterways, 'Chocolate Charlie', who boasts of his boat being 'twenty years old', giving it a birth date of around 1947. Now, of course it's seventy years old. A reminder of just how long ago this series was made.
We have a vague memory of  the youngsters getting into trouble with a lock-keeper  for trying to get the boat through a lock during the hours of darkness. Seemingly moving boats in the dark is a serious transgression of the rules, or was in working days at least.
They should be grateful that Auntie Maureen never caught them at it.
The Flower Of Gloster is a precious record of Britain's canals in the 1960s and we can heartily recommend that you order your copy now!

Middlewich canal country, mid-sixties
For a full description of this photo see this diary entry

P.S. There's a real life mystery surrounding the NB Flower of Gloster, of the kind which we love here at the Middlewich Diary. Canal enthusiasts have, apparently, argued long and hard for decades about the boat's true identity, and whether or not she still exists. Some say she was originally a horse-boat called  Vulture,  others that she was nothing of the sort.
 Did she later become a hotel boat? Was she broken up in the 1990s? We'll probably never know. 
And there's a subsidiary mystery about the original films which, like most of Granada's archive, ended up with ITN and lay abandoned there for decades. As recently as 2011 canal aficionados were mourning what was then thought to be the almost total loss of this iconic series. Rumours abounded that only two episodes had survived and that copies of those episodes could only be obtained 'at a cost of £4000'. Thankfully those rumours proved groundless and we can now enjoy the entire series in colour at a fraction of that extortionate price.

First published 6th May 2015
Amended and re-published 7th January 2018

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