British Custom Comics: Captain Caution, Rail Safety Hero!

Back in 1985, National Rail came up with a superhero-inspired promotion, no doubt in the hope that Captain Caution would do for rail safety what the Green Cross Man had been doing to encourage kids to be careful crossing roads.

British Rail's

British Rail’s “Captain Caution” appeared in a railway safety leaflet released in 1985. Art by Ron Smith

The still nationalised National Rail commissioned 2000AD Ron Smith – then working on the daily “Judge Dredd” strip for the Daily Star – to create the look for a for the flying character, seen here saving two  New Engine Desperados from the line of death!

The look doesn’t quite work – whoever developed the project clearly thought an Enid Blyton schoolboy look to the potential trespassers was a great idea, despite the fashions of most genuine teenagers of the day. Still, either Ron or the ad agency came up with an interesting take on the British Rail double arrow logo that is still in use to denote Britain’s railways for Captain Caution’s emblem – counter to all the usual restrictions on changing it.

While Captain Caution made only the briefest of appearances in the world of British “Custom Comics”, the cover of the flyer still features in a Network Rail Safety Education pack for schools.

National Rail "Shocking Campaigns" Media

National Rail “Shocking Campaigns” Media – available as a PDF

British Rail didn’t just have Captain Caution saving kids from harm in the 1980s, of course – there was also the Rail Riders young rail enthusiasts club, originally called Great Rail Club, run by British Rail between 1981 and 1991, promoted by Keith Chegwin. It had its own quarterly magazine, Rail Riders Express.

Rail Riders Express Magazines, Image via eBay

Rail Riders Express Magazines, Image via eBay

Rail Riders Express - Sample Spread

Rail Riders Express - Sample Spread

Rail Riders Express - Sample Spread

Rail Riders Express - Sample Spread

The magazine featured some great art worthy of appearance in Eagle, Look and Learn or other such titles, cartoon characters dressing feature pages – and, we understand, its own comic strip starring BR’s chief test driver, Ben Stacey, although as yet we’ve been unable to find examples of this so it’s possible the character featured in text stories.

Former members recall he had a big “BR” emblazoned on his chest and was there to combat trespass and vandalism. He saved the Forth Bridge from being stolen by aliens, rescued the Maglev on the moon and more.

Membership of Rail Riders also entitled children aged 5-15 to discounted rail travel and free entry to the Rail Riders World model railway exhibit that used to be sited at York railway station, but closed in 2011 after British Rail was privatised and was moved by its owner William Heron to Hemswell Cliff in Lincolnshire, now operating as the Gainsborough Model Railway.

The club sponsored two Class 47 locomotives, one from 1981 to 1988 and another from 1988 to 1992, named 47406 Rail Riders and 47488 Rail Riders.

• Do you have copies of Rail Riders featuring the Ben Stacey stories? Let us know!

WEB LINKS

Bear Alley has small examples of the Captain Caution Custom Comic strip here, courtesy of Richard Sheaf

• The Southern Railway Publicity Site has images of various Rail Clubs of the past here, including the Sea Link Club and Rail Riders

There’s a terrific archive of British Rail ephemera here on Flickr, curated by Mike Ashworth – and an album of Railway Publicity here

Wikipedia: Rail Riders Page

Red Carpet Prints offers facsimile prints of “Captain Caution” on eBay

Bufferbeam offers replica Rail Riders merchandise on its web site

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The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



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8 replies

  1. Thanks again, John. I have again looked at the Eighteen film which, while homing in on trespassing, has the unlikely incident of the helium-filled balloon touching the 25,000 volt wire as the cause of death, rather than the much more common not looking and being hit by a train. I wonder where the film has been shown; and to what audiences. Schools would be the obvious place to show it. The online judicary.uk reports seem to go back only to 2013, but most were suicides, followed by other mental states, drunkenness and ignoring crossing signs, etc. Two were from not expecting a train on the other line of a double track route. Three were from conductor rails, one from an overhead wire, one when the person “was chased” onto the track. So, not being drunk and not ignoring foot and vehicle crossing signs seem to be more needed messages. Thanks again for your responses.

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