BACK in 1976, when Sylvester Stallone was playing Rocky Balboa for the first time and John Wayne, dying from cancer, was in his last movie The Shootist, a slightly less well known figure made his screen debut in Worcestershire.

Bob Toye may not have gone on emulate the career of George Clooney, but the film in which he appeared certainly scared the life out of audiences when it was shown on British television screens just before Christmas that year.

The Signalman, as it was called, was an adaptation of a story by Charles Dickens and part of the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas series. Most of it was shot on the Severn Valley Railway, hence the Worcestershire connection, and several local people were recruited to play characters and be extras.

At the time, Bob was a 26-year-old printer who worked on the railway as a volunteer. To take part in the four days of filming, he booked a week’s holiday. Understandably, he said: “I’d never done anything like it before. It seemed as though it might be interesting.”

The Severn Valley was chosen by the film makers for its authentic Victorian atmosphere and while they constructed a replica Great Western Railway signal box by the side of the track on the Kidderminster side of Bewdley Tunnel, the interior signal box pictures were filmed in the real life box at Highley.

Dickens’s story centres around the solitary, monotonous life of a railway signalman, whose lonely box is deep in a cutting near a tunnel entrance.

The setting makes it a dank, dismal and foggy place and the signalman is constantly troubled by visions of a ghostly figure which appears at the mouth of the tunnel waving a warning of a nonexistent approaching train.

The film climaxes when the signalman is hit and killed by an all-too-real train as he stands on the line, apparently transfixed by the vision. The original idea is believed to have come from Dickens’s own involvement in a rail crash at Staplehurst in Kent, which happened a year before he wrote The Signalman.

Bob Toye took several parts in the film. His primary role was train fireman, a job he also did on the Severn Valley before he went on to become a fully fledged driver.

However, he is also seen as one of the four men at the end carrying away the dead body of Denholm Elliott, the signalman.

Elliott, who was married to actress Virginia McKenna in the 1950s, was one of those character actors whose face was probably more recognisable than his name.

He appeared in more than 120 film and television productions and in the 1980s won three consecutive BAFTAs. He died of Aids-related tuberculosis at his home on Ibiza, Spain, in 1992.

“I suppose my one claim to fame could be that I carried Denholm Elliott’s leg,” laughed Bob.

He found the filming a very interesting and unusual world.

“There was a lot of standing around and then, ‘Action’,” he said.

“And then more hanging around.

It often seemed quite chaotic, probably because I never quite knew what was happening.”

One of his favourite memories was of a session filming the train at the south end of Bewdley tunnel near the sugar beet factory, which has now long closed.

Bob explained: “Just there the track runs through a deep cutting and it was one of the favourite pastimes of the local kids off a housing estate nearby to gather on the top of the bank overlooking the train and throw things down as it passed. They were a real problem because you couldn’t get to them very quickly. By the time you got up there, they had gone.

“Anyway on the day we started to film there, we looked up and saw a whole load of faces looking down at us. Those of us who worked on the Severn Valley knew just what was going to happen.

“The director (Lawrence Gordon Clark) called for quiet, but we thought there was a fat chance of that. The children kept on chattering and then he shouted, ‘Will you please be quiet, we are trying to make a film!’ And do you know they all shut up and were quiet as mice. I couldn’t believe it.”

Because of its attention to period detail – most of the railway workers appearing in The Signalman didn’t need costumes, they wore what they did every day on the railway – the Severn Valley is a popular location for film and television production units.

Among many, it was the setting for the 1990s sit-com Oh Dr Beeching with Su Pollard and Paul Shane, the 1978 film version of The Thirty Nine Steps was partly filmed on the railway and in the 2011 film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Holmes pushes Dr Watson’s wife, Mary, off a train as it goes across Victoria Bridge between Arley and Bewdley.

Over the years, the original television film has been repeated half a dozen times and is now also available on DVD, but sadly this has not improved Bob Toye’s bank balance.

“I think we got £27 for doing it and that was that,” he laughed.

Perhaps he should have got George Clooney’s agent to cut him a better deal.