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Fascination with the puffers still continues.

The Vital Spark is a fictional Clyde puffer, created by Neil Munro. As its captain, the redoubtable Para Handy, often says: "the smertest boat in the coastin' tred".

Puffers seem to have been regarded fondly even before Munro began publishing his short stories in the Glasgow Evening News in 1905. This may not be surprising, for these small steamboats were then providing a vital supply link around the west coast and Hebrides islands of Scotland. The charming rascality of the stories went well beyond the reality of a commercial shipping business, but they brought widespread fame. They appeared in the newspaper over 20 years, were collected in book form by 1931, inspired the 1953 film The Maggie, and came out as three popular television series, dating from 1959 to 1995.

The original BBC Series Para Handy- Master Mariner, which ran from 1959-60, starred Duncan MacRae (Para Handy), Roddy McMillan (The Mate), and John Grieve (Dan MacPhail, the engineer). For the short film to accompany the 1963 album Highland Voyage, the cast was augmented by Alex Mackenzie, who appeared as The Engineer, causing Grieve to move to play The Cook. In the second series, The Vital Spark, McMillan took the role of Para Handy, and Grieve reprised his role as McPhail; Walter Carr (Dougie the Mate) and Alex McAvoy (Sunny Jim) completed the crew, and the series ran for two series between 1974 and 1976. The series also featured guest appearances from the cream of British comedy acting such as Fulton Mackay, Eric Idle, Peter Sellers and Richard Wilson. In 1994 BBC Scotland produced "The Tales Of Para Handy" which starred Gregor Fisher as in the Lead role alongside Sean Scanlan as Dougie, Andrew Fairlie as Sunny Jim and Rikki Fulton as Dan McPhail. The series also featured a young David Tennant in one of his first acting roles.

The deck of a "puffer".

In her captain's own (islands accented) words, the Vital Spark is "aal hold, with the boiler behind, four men and a derrick, and a watter-butt and a pan loaf in the foc'sle". The way these steam lighters with their steam-powered derricks could offload at any suitable beach or small pier is featured in many Vital Spark stories, and allows amusing escapades in the small west coast communities. The cargoes carried in the hold vary from gravel or coal to furniture to livestock, the crew's quarters in the forecastle are taken as lodgings by holidaymakers or lost children and the steam engine struggles on under the dour care of the engineer McPhail. Tales are recounted of improbably dramatic missions in World War I. Others scoff at her as a coal gaabbert, reflecting the origins of the puffers, but an indignant Para Handy is always ready to defend his boat, proudly comparing her 6 knots (11 km/h) speed and her looks with the glamorous Clyde steamers.

Eilean Eisdeal dressed as the Vital Spark.

The stories sparked considerable interest in the puffers, and many books explore their now vanished world. When VIC 72, renamed Eilean Eisdeal, ventured from her home at the Inveraray Maritime Museum to visit the Glasgow River Festival in 2005, she proudly bore the name Vital Spark in testimony to her continuing popularity. Now in 2006 she proudly is the Vital Spark of Glasgow having been successfully re-registered.

The Argyll brewer Fyne Ales, situated close to Inveraray, where the current boat rests and Neil Munro was born, produces a beer called Vital Spark[1] in tribute to the series.

In December 2007, the Vital Spark Clyde puffer returned to the Forth and Clyde Canal - the place of her 'birth', as reported on STV news'[2] Reporting Scotland.

A ship dressed as the Vital Spark at Crinan, in Argyll and Bute.

See also

External links

References

  • Donald, Stuart, In the Wake of the Vital Spark, Johnston & Bacon Books Ltd. 1994, ISBN 0-7179-4604-5 (ISBN 0-7179-4605-3 paperback)
  • McDonald, Dan, The Clyde Puffer, David & Charles (Publishers) ltd. 1977, ISBN 0-7153-7443-5

The Vital Spark is a fictional Clyde puffer, created by Neil Munro. As its captain, the redoubtable Para Handy, often says: "the smertest boat in the coastin' tred".

Puffers seem to have been regarded fondly even before Munro began publishing his short stories in the Glasgow Evening News in 1905. This may not be surprising, for these small steamboats were then providing a vital supply link around the west coast and Hebrides islands of Scotland. The charming rascality of the stories went well beyond the reality of a commercial shipping business, but they brought widespread fame. They appeared in the newspaper over 20 years, were collected in book form by 1931, inspired the 1953 film The Maggie, and came out as three popular television series, dating from 1959 to 1995.

The original BBC Series Para Handy- Master Mariner, which ran from 1959-60, starred Duncan MacRae (Para Handy), Roddy McMillan (The Mate), and John Grieve (Dan MacPhail, the engineer). For the short film to accompany the 1963 album Highland Voyage, the cast was augmented by Alex Mackenzie, who appeared as The Engineer, causing Grieve to move to play The Cook. In the second series, The Vital Spark, McMillan took the role of Para Handy, and Grieve reprised his role as McPhail; Walter Carr (Dougie the Mate) and Alex McAvoy (Sunny Jim) completed the crew, and the series ran for two series between 1974 and 1976. The series also featured guest appearances from the cream of British comedy acting such as Fulton Mackay, Eric Idle, Peter Sellers, Richard Wilson and Peter Stachura. In 1994 BBC Scotland produced "The Tales Of Para Handy" which starred Gregor Fisher as in the Lead role alongside Sean Scanlan as Dougie, Andrew Fairlie as Sunny Jim and Rikki Fulton as Dan McPhail. The series also featured a young David Tennant in one of his first acting roles.


In her captain's own (islands accented) words, the Vital Spark is "aal hold, with the boiler behind, four men and a derrick, and a watter-butt and a pan loaf in the foc'sle". The way these steam lighters with their steam-powered derricks could offload at any suitable beach or small pier is featured in many Vital Spark stories, and allows amusing escapades in the small west coast communities. The cargoes carried in the hold vary from gravel or coal to furniture to livestock, the crew's quarters in the forecastle are taken as lodgings by holidaymakers or lost children and the steam engine struggles on under the dour care of the engineer McPhail. Tales are recounted of improbably dramatic missions in World War I. Others scoff at her as a coal gaabbert, reflecting the origins of the puffers, but an indignant Para Handy is always ready to defend his boat, proudly comparing her 6 knots (11 km/h) speed and her looks with the glamorous Clyde steamers.


The stories sparked considerable interest in the puffers, and many books explore their now vanished world. When VIC 72, renamed Eilean Eisdeal, ventured from her home at the Inveraray Maritime Museum to visit the Glasgow River Festival in 2005, she proudly bore the name Vital Spark in testimony to her continuing popularity. Now in 2006 she proudly is the Vital Spark of Glasgow having been successfully re-registered.

The Argyll brewer Fyne Ales, situated close to Inveraray, where the current boat rests and Neil Munro was born, produces a beer called Vital Spark[1] in tribute to the series.

In December 2007, the Vital Spark Clyde puffer returned to the Forth and Clyde Canal - the place of her 'birth', as reported on STV news'[2] Reporting Scotland.

See also

External links

References








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