By Mark Sinclair

This week BBC4 screened All Aboard! The Canal Trip, a two-hour real-time journey down the Kennet and Avon canal in England. The graceful movement and lulling sounds of the waterways made for compelling ‘slow TV’ but perhaps the cleverest part of the project was the use of type that appeared on bridges, passing boats and even on the water…


The Garden Productions’ film, which originally aired in May and is now on the BBC iPlayer, was billed as a gentle antidote to television’s usual pace. And in fixing a camera to the bow of a boat, the beauty of The Canal Trip was its simplicity – a single 120-minute shot brought home some of the sights and sounds that people experience on the water.

But with the journey from Top Lock in Bath to the Dundas Aqueduct offering up numerous opportunities for conveying historic detail, the programme also aimed at being informative. So how to convey the relevant information without shattering the calm with an intrusive voiceover? Subtitles?

Well, in a way, yes – but the actual solution created by visual effects and animation studio Compost was far more in-keeping with the aesthetic of the film and a masterclass in subtlety.


From the opening shot – showing the lock at Bath, see image at the top of the post – it was clear that this film was going to be a little different and, as it progressed, snippets of social history appeared without fanfare on the surrounding environment.

Alongside archive stills sewn into the footage to show where old buildings had once existed, or what the canal had looked like when it froze over (see third image below), text was also placed over the film at various points, delivering facts about a particular part of the canal or its place in local social history.


Typography has always been linked with Britain’s canals and waterways through the signpainting tradition, and, for All Aboard!, this treatment was replicated a few times on the sides of passing boats.


Text also appeared on various bridges as the camera went under them and in panels which floated on the water. While the water-borne type was locked off in panels (and thankfully didn’t obey the ups and downs of the current), the bridge-based type often seemed to hark back to the time period in question.

The end result was a perfect match of film, subject matter and type which came together to make the whole two-hour journey even more enjoyable.

Compost has a showreel of sequences from the project on its website at Producer: Luke Korzun Martin; Sound Recordist: Marc Hatch; Director of Photography: Steve Robinson. All Aboard! The Canal Trip is on the iPlayer here.

Read more here:: TV's two-hour canal trip, complete with slow typography