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Childhood Trauma Revisited: It's Killing Time!

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Unlike The Finishing Line before it, Robbie and its variants enjoyed quite a lengthy run of being shown in schools across the UK, unnerving assembly after assembly with its powerful message about the dangers of trespassing on railway lines. At some point, however, the powers that be decided that it was maybe time to consider putting it out to pasture, and to try their hand at creating a new educational film, tailor-made for the youth of the 1990s.

Hence there was Killing Time, one of two safety films sponsored by the British Railways Board in 1992. A film of two halves, it opens with the story of a group of teenagers who decide to liven up a dreary afternoon by tempting fate upon the railway tracks, with predictably gruesome consequences. The second half consists of interviews with railway staff who’ve had the misfortune to witness similar atrocities first-hand, police officers charged with the task of having to inform the families of victims and, ultimately, a mother who lost her sixteen-year-old son in a tragic accident, when a bit of larking about during a train journey with some friends turned deadly.

A sobering experience it is too. In contrast with the colourful, comparatively amicable Robbie, it’s decidedly bleak, washed out-looking stuff, brutally straightforward in its approach and completely lacking in any form of comfort or reassurance.

And that’s Killing Time. A grim little film which still hits hard after just shy of two decades, even if the drama aspect isn’t quite on a par with Robbie.

I never saw Killing Time while in school, and didn’t learn of its existence until a lot later on, when I was starting to delve voluntarily into the history of the educational safety film. Wikipedia cites it as the direct successor to Robbie, although judging from the age of the characters in the initial story, and of some of the victims mentioned in the interviews, I have a sneaking suspicion that it was intended for a secondary school audience (if anyone can actually confirm that for me, I’d be grateful). Of course, we never actually had any railway people come in to talk to us while I was at secondary school, nor were we made to watch cautionary films of any nature. The closest we had was a group of twenty-something Canadians who came in to lecture us about the joys of chastity while in Sixth Form (interesting, but they completely lost me when they said that masturbation was “selfish”).

Still, I hadn’t seen the last of those railway officials when they left after showing us Robbie. Oh no, I mentioned that Killing Time was only one of two safety films made for the British Railways Board in 1992 for classroom viewing. There was another. And, unlike Killing Time, it was flashy, fast-paced and even tried to inject a dash of heavy-handed macabre humour into the proceedings (judging by the reaction of the railway official present I assume the scene in question was intended to be funny), but it pushed the disturbance buttons with every bit as much vigour, if not more so.

I was in my last year of primary school when they came back (to think, another term or so and I might have missed it altogether). I remember them saying, “Some of the older children may remember us coming before and showing you a film about a boy and some football boots. Well, we have a new film for you to watch today.” (Erm, yay?) About forty minutes or so later we left that assembly hall, and I was never quite the same again. Whereas Robbie had merely reinforced my already well-established resolve not to play on railways, after this film I never wanted to so much as look at another train for as long as I lived.

Since then, I’ve scoured the internet long and hard in the hopes of finding some kind of reference to this film, really just to gain some reassurance that I wasn’t alone in being so viciously psychologically battered by it (added to which, reading about it from a fresh perspective might help me to finally come to terms with the uneasy memories), but have come up short every time. It didn’t help of course that, while much of the content of the film had been permanently etched upon my memory, and continues to rear its unwelcome head every time I have to travel by train, I couldn’t actually remember the title (though I knew it was something fairly gimmicky, in keeping with the flashy spirit of the film). Robbie and The Finishing Line have been talked about at length, and Killing Time sometimes gets a mention (albeit never in the kind of heavy detail that you’ve just witnessed here), but that’s as far as the subject usually goes. It’s almost as if it never existed at all, but I know that I didn’t just dream it.

Finally, my mission may just have borne fruit. I recently came across this entry within the British Film Institute’s database, and I firmly believe that it may well have been the one. The title seems right, and the description is pretty much dead on: BFI | Film & TV Database | ONLY FOOLS BREAK THE RULES (1992)

The BFI entry is the only reference I can find to Only Fools Break The Rules, anywhere. Really people? Am I the only person out there who was traumatised to hell and back by this thing? Doesn’t anyone else want to rant at length about how it made them too terrified to take a window seat when travelling on a train for the next five years?

Well, needless to say, that’s all about to change. Next time, I’m going to do my damndest to describe this film, in all its horrific detail, from memory, just so that you can gain some insight into why I became as terrified of all things railway-related as I did. I’m sure you can’t wait.

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  1. Nour386's Avatar
    m-m-mu-mum-mumm-mummy! waah! *sob*sob*
  2. Iteru's Avatar
    Where is your Britishness?!
  3. Paperhorse's Avatar
    Wow, that video sounds kinda scary. The suspense seems really terrifying as you watch it since you know what the horrible outcome is going to be.

    I don't really approve of showing videos like this in classrooms, because I feel like they sometimes have a backlash. All the kids will either be scared, or some of them will just laugh throughout the entire thing to try and ease the uncomfortableness of it. Either way, it doesn't really work because a) you're either traumatized or b) you laugh it off and don't listen (and the kids that laugh it off are the ones that really needed to pay attention in the first place)
  4. Kyumorph's Avatar
    The closest we had was a group of twenty-something Canadians who came in to lecture us about the joys of chastity while in Sixth Form (interesting, but they completely lost me when they said that masturbation was “selfish”).
  5. Karamazov's Avatar
    What a nice movie. Definitely something I'd be showing to children.
  6. garrison-san's Avatar
    @Iteru: I have great difficulty writing "arsehole". I guess I just prefer the softer spelling. I'm sorry to let the side down. :(

    @Paperhorse: I do think you make a very good point - it's for precisely that reason that The Finishing Line was such a controversial film in its day (it incited much debate between those who felt that it was necessary to "scare 'em straight", and those who felt that deliberately traumatising children was a step too far). As I say, as a result of these little sessions I wound up becoming totally afraid of anything and everything to do with trains, which probably wasn't quite the intended effect. Mind you, it hasn't exactly changed much - I'm an adult now, and I have an ever-expanding collection of psychological scars from being exposed to countless PIFs about speeding and drink driving, for which I doubt that I'm even the target audience (for one thing, I'm not a driver).

    @Karamazov: If you think this is bad, just wait until I get round to Apaches. :p


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