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The "Vital Spark" is a small cargo boat ('puffer') operating along Scotland's waterways.
The skipper is Peter 'Para' Handy (Roddy McMillan). His crew consists of the mate, Dougie (Walter Carr), the stoker, Dan McPhail (John Grieve), and the cabin boy, Sunny Jim (Alex McAvoy).
This motley crew try, without much success, to operate an efficient cargo service.
There was an earlier series called Para Handy, Master Mariner in which Roddy McMillan played Dougie and John Grieve again appeared as Dan MacPhail. This was transmitted on BBC Television during 1959-60.
The third (1974) series of The Vital Spark consisted of new colour versions of earlier (black and white) episodes.
In 1995, Gregor Fisher starred in a new programme (called The Tales Of Para Handy) featuring the crew of "The Vital Spark".