A joint enterprise between Rank Film Distributors and the most out-of-touch government you ever did see, created to serve as a regular source of cheap and cheerful cinema entertainment for the kids of Great Britain (and not at all an opportunistic way of sucking up some of the money generated by the UK government’s Eady Levy on cinema takings) the Children’s Film Foundation turned out mini-masterpieces of pre-pubescent crime-solving about five times annually for over 35 years. Not to be confused with the Children’s Film Unit (which came later, was partially Channel Four-affiliated, and actually employed the kids in writing and production roles as well as running about in tracksuit bottoms on the trail of Bernard Cribbins), the CFF gave early breaks to a galaxy of top flight thespian talent. Stars as diverse as Phil Collins and Keith Chegwin, Sadie Frost and, er, Matthew Wright cut their teeth on its rigid dramatic formula, in front of either a fleapit full of disinterested Kia-Ora throwing ankle-biters of a Saturday morning or, latterly, a school-be-numbed nation of tie-loosening stay-at-homes of a Friday afternoon on BBC1.
Either way, crooks were foiled, bullies were trounced, pompous council officials were brought to rights and wacky inventions exploded on a regular basis on some waste-ground just outside London in much the same manner for over three decades, with a few, mainly cosmetic, alterations – the widening of the trousers, the democratisation of the protagonist’s accents – along the way. The CFF films remain one of those odd cubbyholes of popular culture that are fondly recalled almost by default – not because of any inherent greatness in the films themselves, or any general joy to be had in watching them at the time, but more because they were so heavily plugged by local fleapits, the Beeb and well-meaning headmasters at end of term film shows, that they formed a part of the patina of everyday life, in the manner of the Toffo ads or Nationwide. In short, they were always on, we can’t not remember them. Whether we choose to just doesn’t come into it: the retina of folk memory is well and truly branded with the woozy after-image of these upstanding, healthy, tenuously educational and morally outdoorsy endeavours. Collectively they form a kind of Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme for the eyes, clad in a fetching zig-zaggy zip-up cardigan.
It’s amazing how long this fleabitten endeavour lasted, until the twin evil henchmen of plummeting cinema takings and the matinee-destroying behemoth that was Tiswas conspired to force the Foundation first to get into bed with the small screen enemy by reforming as the Children’s Film and Television Foundation, and then to cease production altogether. (Last time we looked it was, tragically, reduced to one partitioned mini-office in Elstree Film and TV studios, occupied by one large chain-smoking man and a never-ringing phone.) So, as a monument to the lost art of chasing overweight cockney smugglers across some very green countryside, here are all the venerable institution’s feature films (shorts and serials like The Magnificent Six and a Half and Chico the Rainmaker will, sadly, have to wait until another very wet afternoon). But first, in the tradition of the appetite-whetting opening feature, a breakdown of the CFF formula’s essentials.
TEN ICONS OF THE CHILDREN’S FILM FOUNDATION
1) A RED-FACED, BOWLER HATTED AUTHORITY FIGURE GETTING HIS COMEUPPANCE
As far as the Foundation was concerned, those in power are seldom up to any good (exceptions are the police, who are always helpful but tend to turn up too late). Ronnie Barker in A Ghost of a Chance (1978), David Lodge’s corrupt councillor in Cup Fever (1965) and countless others had their pomposity pricked by spirited youths. Comeuppances generally represented by said authority figure slipping in a puddle and falling on his arse.
2) A STIFF, STARCHY SCHOOLTEACHER WHO JUST DOESN’T GET IT
As perennial as those dastardly councillors, anyone in gown and elbow patches is grist to the Foundation’s revolutionary manifesto. Many an adventure was held up by pesky demands for homework and detention, but the most impressive of all was Jeff Rawle’s apoplectic history master ‘Sniffy’ Kemp, forever putting the kybosh on the time-travelling fun of A Hitch in Time (1978).
3) A BUNGLING HENCHMAN
Every criminal mastermind in CFF films somehow felt obliged to employ a clueless sidekick whose stupidity allows the kids to foil his dastardly schemes and make good by teatime. Roy Kinnear in High Rise Donkey (1980), Bernard Cribbins in Night Ferry (1977) and Bill Maynard in Sky Pirates (1977) are archetypal criminal dunderheads.
4) A HEALTHY OUTDOOR ACTIVITY
Anti-authority they may have been, but it was still an odd boy who didn’t like sport in the world of CFF. Football aside, there was cricket in Egghead’s Robot (1970), cart racing in Go, Kart, Go! (1964) with Dennis Waterman, skiing in Avalanche (1969), scrambling in, er, Scramble (1969), and athletics in Sammy’s Super T-Shirt (1978), albeit illegally helped by the titular tiger print garment. By 1984, the kids were allowed to participate in such rebellious activities as forming a ska band (Pop Pirates), as long as they foiled some record-copying villains along the way.
5) A KINDLY RAG AND BONE MAN
The middle-aged may be untrustworthy councillors to a man, and young men are inevitably hoodlums and petty crooks, but old people are, of course, always on the side of the kids – rag-and-bone men more so than anyone else, for some reason. Wilfrid Brambell, funnily enough, majored in these roles in The Salvage Gang (1958) and High Rise Donkey. Sadly he wasn’t on hand for A Horse Called Jester (1979), in which a knee-high Sadie Frost saved a tinker’s flea-bitten nag from the knacker’s yard.
6) A KINDLY BUT INEVITABLY RATHER TATTY FANTASTICAL FRIEND
Wonders were performed on microbudgets to bring to life such magical creations as Electro-Nic, the ski-wearing electrical educator in Michael Powell’s The Boy Who Turned Yellow (1972); a Battersea-bound Yeti saved by William Hartnell in Zoo Robbery (1973); the titular giant rabbit in Mr Horatio Knibbles (1971); Glitterball (1977), a ball-bearing from space, no less; and Kadoyng (1972), the environmentally-sound alien who saves a small village from motorway obliteration. Speaking of which…
7) THE ENVIRONMENT, BEING SAVED
Your bog-standard CFF kids have little time for those who would defile our endangered wildlife, as The Peregrine Hunters (1977), The Last Rhino (1961) and, er, Calamity the Cow (1967) make plain. Elsewhere pollution was the enemy, in whimsical man-seal fantasy Mr Selkie (1979) and The Battle of Billy’s Pond (1976), and even nuclear meltdown in quarrybound Welsh nailbiter One Hour to Zero (1976). Failing that, a bit of National Trust conservation is always good for a laugh: the kids saved John Pertwee’s branch line in Runaway Railway (1965), and of course the crumbling dwelling place of loveable old ghosts Jimmy Edwards, Patricia Hayes and Graham Stark was rescued from bowler-hatted demolition in A Ghost of a Chance.
8) SUPER POWERS CONFERRED BY MUNDANE OBJECT OR OCCURRENCE
Providing wish-fulfilment for many a child, and an easy way of getting out of ‘scrapes’ to boot: super strength conferred by t-shirt (Sammy’s Super T-Shirt), invisibility conferred by a pair of plimsolls in Paganini Strikes Again (1973), invisibility conferred by ingestion of ‘chemical chunks’ in Where’s Johnny? (1974) and, perhaps most desperate of all, clairvoyance conferred by a bump on the head in What’s Next? (1974).
9) A DAFFY BUT LOVEABLE PROFESSOR WITH AN UNRELIABLE INVENTION
The kind which, naturally, adventures could start from, such as a time machine, invented by Patrick Troughton in A Hitch in Time and John Bluthal in The Flying Sorcerer (1973), a robot in Egghead’s Robot, a teleporter in Junket 89 (1970), a sky bike in, er, The Sky Bike (1967), and superglue in Hoverbug (1969). They don’t have to be old: David Spooner invented a ‘goal repeller’ in Blinker’s Spy Spotter (1972) and, improbably, Keith Chegwin cloned his sister in The Troublesome Double (1967).
10) A BOY WITH HALF A PLASTIC FOOTBALL ON HIS HEAD
As modelled by Plastic Head in gang war drama Terry on the Fence (1985). Never quite took off the way it might have.
SPANGLES ‘N’ STARDUST: The Children’s Film Foundation Catalogue
Please find enclosed a now rather too comprehensive CFF film catalogue. Savour the aroma of Bird’s Eye Beefburgers between two slices of Slimcea, clatter about the park on your raccoon-tailed Chopper while wearing your many-badged denim jacket with pride. Trim your bowlcut at the local “leave the sidies on” barbers. Then, nick a bottle of Cresta and a packet of pickled onion Horror Bags from the Spar and plonk yourself down on the brown pouffe for an afternoon of classic Britertainment starring future bland pop stars battling old music hall comedians.
ADVENTURE IN THE HOP FIELDS (1958) Oh Lord, don’t you just love it when these big long alphabetical lists get off to the dullest conceivable start? And this is indeed what we find, as little Jenny Quinn accidentally breaks her mother’s favourite china knick-knack. To raise the cash for a replacement, she indulges in a spot of hop picking. In order to do this, she must visit the Kentish hop fields. Can you see what’s coming? “This,” the cinema catalogue blurb we have in front of us, and which will be helpfully quoted at length in the many occasions ahead when our own collective memory fails us, “involves her in exciting adventures.” And who, quite honestly, are we to say otherwise? All together now: “It gets better, honest!”
THE ADVENTURES OF HAL 5 (1958) Although not, it seems, quite yet. Good old bloke Dicey (just watch how the cockney nicknames mount up) has to part with his faithful car HAL 5 (a vintage model Austin Seven of about 1928). Nasty salesman Goorly (told ya!) flogs it to the vicar, but it turns out to be crap, so the Vicar returns it to Goorly who plans to write it off for the insurance. But it doesn’t work, and he loses his job. Then the vicar gets HAL 5 back and repairs it – good as new! And, er, that’s it. There are some children in it, somewhere…
ALL AT SEA (1970) Cool kid Doug is on a cruise (an “educational” one, though), with a package for his pen pal in Tangiers. His mate Steve puts two and two together and reckons the parcel is “contraband” (note – not “drugs”. Oh no). Then the dodgy “Mr Danvers” appears, the parcel goes missing, and it all gets a bit nasty – Danvers was the smuggler! He’s tricked Doug and Steve! But it all turns out all right in the end.
ANOOP AND THE ELEPHANT (1972) Two bog-standard CFF-style kids (including – yes! – LINDA ROBSON) have adventures with Anoop Singh and his cute liddle baby elephant chum, Ranee. Evil adult this time is nasty circus owner Monty Barker (JIMMY “WHACKO!” EDWARDS), who wants the baby elephant for his circus (boo! hiss!) but Ranee eventually comes good, by rescuing an errant horse. Somehow.
AVALANCHE (1969) Posh kids skiing in the Tyrol try to climb a mountain. Dave and Rob, in authentic climbing loon pants, set out but Dave soon breaks his leg. The rest of the kids turn up, and move him into a nearby mountain hut. Then – oh, wonder of wonders – the hut is buried by an avalanche. But they get out in the end.
THE BATTLE OF BILLY’S POND (1976) Two boys acting as enviro-warriors see a pond becoming polluted. One of the boys is the snotty son of a professor type who has a very early video phone in his house with which he converses with his father. Also some character from the council whose help they enlist, that Welsh guy with too many teeth in his mouth, who rides around on a Honda scooter with a pudding bowl crash helmet on. Lots of chasing tankers around, double lensed camcorders, and the strongest dye known to man.
THE BIG CATCH (1968) Pony-napping capers on a Scottish island. Four kids try to capture a wild horse so they can sell it to mend an old boat. Quite. Then another kid turns up and tries to catch a pony himself, and the others try to stop him. A dire warning about the dangers of trying to catch a wild horse by yourself.
THE BIG FISH (1955) A Czech entry (with English narration dubbed over in that annoying Oskar, Kina/Legends of Tim Tyler way) featuring ferryman’s son Jirka (you heard), who has a pet carp, which gets attacked by a pike. With the villagers’ help, they finally catch it, though. This went on for an hour, you can imagine the padding they had to put in.
BIG WHEELS AND SAILOR (1979) It’s Convoy GB! The titular trucks are hijacked by a gang led by “Mother” (yes, we know). “Big Wheels” is captured, but “Mother” didn’t reckon with “Polly” and “Simon”, two bog-standard CFF kids who just happen to be on board. The baddies find them and stick them under a nearby derelict lime kiln, and force Simon to lure Sailor into their trap via CB. A Peckinpah-style chase ensues, stretching CFF budgets to breaking point with six trucks, several cars and a motorbike. OTT stuff.
Point of casting order: Playing the part of Simon was the man with a daily column in the Mirror… Mr Showbiz himself, Matthew Wright. The same Matthew Wright who appeared in a couple of Fruit Pastilles adverts around the same time, one of which featured a school outing to Stonehenge and the lines…
Teacher: “These rocks are believed to have lasted since the Neolithic Period”
Spotty Oik Schoolkid (aka Matthew Wright, for it is he): “Well, these Fruit Pastilles have lasted since the Geography period!”
BLACK IN THE FACE (1955) The adventures of a chimney sweep. That is all.
BLACK ISLAND (1979) Michael and Joe are larking about in and old boat (always an old boat) when they find themselves washed up on an island, and are captured by escaped convicts George Moody and Daker, who are holed up in a derelict cottage. When the convicts try to get food from the mainland, they are found out and police land on the island. A fire starts and hard-but-thick Daker pours petrol on it instead of water. The kids nearly burn, but will they really die? Hey! This is CFF. Come on…
BLIND MAN’S BLUFF (1978) Guide Dog-promoting story of blind kid Smithy helped by three other kids and dog Bella. One of the kids’ dad wins the pools, and Joe is kidnapped. Smithy and the other two kids… yeah, set out to look for him. Climactic chase through Docklands (as was).
BLINKER’S SPY SPOTTER (1972) Bring on the first of many silly titles. Blinker (DAVID SPOONER) is the son of a professor who’s just invented the usual “top-secret device”. He’s also goalie for the local kid’s football team, and himself invents a “goal repeller” which works, much to the chagrin of symbolically-named rival team The Masons. Then he invents a radar (about fifty years after Albert Taylor did much the same thing, but details, details) and discovers – shock! Some nasty-but-bungling crooks are after the top secret effort! So the team set out to foil them. As you might expect.
BLOW YOUR OWN TRUMPET (1959) Northern musical shenanigans with aspirant cornet players Jim Fenn and Tony Holroyd. Disadvantaged Jim has to save up to buy a cornet from kindly conductor Mr Duff. Nasty privileged Tony hides Jim’s cornet on the big audition day, but… his sister finds it at the last minute. Guess who wins. A moral tale.
THE BOY WHO NEVER WAS (1980) Salu is the son of the Busandi ambassador. Fair enough. Problem is, two embassy officials who’re after the president kidnap him at London’s fashionable “London Airport”, and swap him for a suicide bomber lookalike. Fortunately, two bog-standard CFF kids (including the brilliantly-named PAUL ATLANTIS) are on had to foil this cheap chicanery.
THE BOY WHO TURNED YELLOW (1972) Taught us all about the wonders of electricity. Boy is sent home from school. On Tube train home, there’s a flash, and everything turns yellow, including him. There’s some bloke called Nick (“Short for electroNIC”) who helps him travel down the mains circuits. Oh, and there’s something to do with mice. Quite surreal, but it did teach us that electricity travels at the speed of light. (“Or as we like to say, light travels at the speed of electricity”). An all-action finale involved rescuing a pet mouse from the Tower of London, with comical beefeater guards, ravens etc. Ha-ho! A prestigious entry, however, for not only was it one of the last collaborations of the great director/writer/producer team of MICHAEL POWELL and EMERIC “Nephew Danny” PRESSBURGER, but it won that year’s “Chiffy” award! That’s the award presented for the best CFF Film of that year. Still, not to be sniffed at…
BREAKOUT (1983) Two boys hiding in a bird watching den discover three escaped villains from the local prison. The boys are kidnapped because they recognise the villains and there is plenty of double crossing and arguing amongst the three rogues: like a CFF version of Reservoir Dogs, we suppose. Still sometimes repeated on Sky in the mornings.
THE BRNO TRIAL (1967) Tanya gets left behind when she travels to Brno with her parents. Two local kids help her find her way there. Thing happen on the way. She gets there in the end. Not a classic.
BUNGALA BOYS (1961) Aussie location alert as the (near) drowning of a kid prompts expat CFF brothers Brian and Tony to start a local lifesaving/surfboat club. They have to train to win a race to raise money to buy a new boat, their old boat is vandalised by rival saboteurs, all comes good in the end, etc.
CALAMITY THE COW (1967) The notorious PHIL COLLINS film. The future bald divorcee was just one of a handful of Farmer Grant’s kids, who get him to buy the eponymous bovine from Kincaid, a “rival farmer”. The kids restore the bedraggled animal to show-winning form, but on the day of the show the evil Kincaid pinches her. The Kids, of course, triumph, and Calamity goes on to win a “special prize” for catching the cow rustlers. Not a Bully tankard and darts, though.
THE CAMERONS (1974) Three b-s CFF kids this time, the titular Camerons, no less, who visit their Aunt Jane (standard-issue rural relative), but come across intrigue at the near by RAF base, where the Jupiter unmanned, silent spy plane is kept under wraps. Two mysterious men who the kids saw on the train up are after the plane’s engine, and the race is on to – yes – thwart them. Expect to see this remade as a party political broadcast in the near future.
THE CAT GANG (1958) A good start: Sylvia, Bill and John are suspicious of a stranger who nearly runs over Sylvia’s cat. Then (get this) when the kids are out plotting the locations of some bird’s nests, they discover some wire which leads to a hidden signalling post. It belongs to – yes, the cat squashing bloke, who is – yup, a smuggler. Thrilling adventures ensue, and rest assured that man’s smuggling days are over.
CAUGHT IN THE NET (1959) Now here’s a good’un. The work of Peter Ketley on Fisheries Research in Devon is, it appears, being “disorganised” by a mysterious new method of salmon poaching. And it doesn’t stop there. His young brother Bob, plus two other CFF standard issue kids, chase the evil nasty poachermen through the woods until they are caught. It stops there.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1966) Seasonal schmaltz with “big hearted” outpatient Gary pledging to get the other kids in his hospital ward a big old tree for Christmas. He joins up with his sister and little brother to make their own tree, and then they hitch-hike with it to the hospital with – whaddya know? – many an exciting adventure on the way.
CIRCUS FRIENDS (1957) The efforts of two circus children and their circus dog to retrieve the circus pony, given to a circus farmer in payment of a circus debt. Featuring Circus Sam Kydd.
THE CLUE OF THE MISSING APE (1953) Two kids on sunny-yet-colonially-stable Gibraltar uncover a plot to render said stability highly unstable, when they notice that one of the rock’s famous apes… ah, but that would be telling. Featuring George Cole as one ‘Gobo’, putting modern viewers in mind of a different rock altogether.
THE ‘COPTER KIDS (1976) A bunch of oil prospecting helicopters (led by dashing Captain Peters, aka top BASIL BRUSH fodder DEREK FOWLDS) become embroiled in a cattle rustling intrigue with “local undesirable” Benny Baker. The Captain’s kids nevertheless save the day, in time-honoured fashion. Those cynics who wish that time could do with being a bit more picky in the things it honours would do well to leave the hall now in an orderly fashion. We’ve got lots to get through here.
COUNTDOWN TO DANGER (1967) An old German time bomb is unearthed by a young boy. But he can’t get out! It’s trapped, and he’s ticking away! Oh, you know what we mean.
CRY WOLF (1968) Over-imaginative Tony is the boy who performs the eponymous act once too often, but when he overhears a genuine plot to kidnap a Commonwealth Prime Minister, the grown ups just won’t be doing with it. So, somewhat inevitably, off he goes with two of his mates to capture the captors.
CUP FEVER (1965) Mancunian junior league team Barton Utd are thwarted in their bid for the cup by the evil Councillor Bates, who turns their practice ground into a car park, and secretly wants his snotty son’s team to win. Council Sleaze! But wait! They are offered help from, natch, MATT BUSBY, who lets them Train at Old Trafford with the then current Man U side! Hoorah! They win! Much to the “chagrin” of Councillor Bates. Plus you got Susan George and Bernard Cribbins. Yes!
DANGER ON DARTMOOR (1980) More Dartmoor, more sheep-worrying. This time it’s “an elusive wild hound” that’s to blame, and Farmer Stock, a stock CFF farmer, is after it. Meanwhile, Jonathan, Robin and Louise get lost in the fog and captured and imprisoned in a cave by Green, a stock CFF escaped convict. The wayward Alsatian appears, frightens the baddie off, and, well… it all comes good in the end.
DANGER POINT (1971) Three irresponsible teenagers (tsk! Is there any other kind?) borrow a yacht belonging to the local Sea Scouts and run out of fuel. They hoist the sail in an endeavour to stop the boat drifting on to the notoriously dangerous Bradda Head, but find themselves in even greater trouble in the shape of a sea-mine. Those stoical Scouts come to the rescue, natch, putting aside their resentment over the theft, because they’re stout-hearted fellows to a man. Looking in, mainly from the safety of the shore, are Bernard Lee and Hattie Jacques.
DAVEY JONES’ LOCKER (1965) One of several early forays into good old bleached out Eastmancolor photography in the days when Britain was so colourless they had to sod off to Malta to get something noticeably colourful enough to point the camera at. With all this going on, the script had to write itself. Scuba diving, shipwreck, safety regulation-flouting peril. Oh, and Susan George.
THE DAWN KILLER (1959) Sheep-worrying saga with a loveable old sheepdog accused of ovicide and threatened with execution. Luckily kindly Mr. Hawkins agrees to train him back into doggie society. Kids in there somewhere, no doubt. Details, dear boy, details…
DAYLIGHT ROBBERY (1964) It was only a matter of time before the desperate casting about for plot ideas resulted in someone at the back of the room coming up with the ‘kids get locked in supermarket overnight with a bunch of criminals’ chestnut. Mix in a liberal dollop of tin can pyramid-upsetting slapstick and it’s ready to serve. Just add Norman Rossington, Ronald Fraser and James Villiers to taste.
DEEP WATERS (1978) Bird watching, tidal danger, illegal immigration. Trebles all round.
THE DOG AND THE DIAMONDS (1953) You’ve already written the entire plot in your head by the time you’ve read that second ‘the’, haven’t you?
EAGLE ROCK (1964) A boy rashly attempts the solo ascent of Eagle Rock and learns that teamwork is essential. If you’re too crap to climb a mountain by yourself, what do you expect? It’s just one humiliating ‘life lesson’ after another, isn’t it? Sigh.
ECHO OF THE BADLANDS (1976) Fiona and Clive are spending a holiday in Southern Africa. (Terry Scott writes: ‘They’ve got the right idea about law and order over there!’) They make friends with Thabo, a young African boy, who has been entrusted with the task of looking after his tribe’s pedigree calf. When the calf is stolen by Mobe the children set off in pursuit across the mountainous Badlands. After many exciting adventures they recover the calf and are rescued from the vengeful Mobe, utilising the remarkable acoustics of the Badlands. So we get a physics lesson on top of the poacher-bashing and the lukewarm racial integration, then. That’s value!
EGGHEAD’S ROBOT (1970) Mr Wentworth’s invention, a robot paratrooper made to look like Paul, is used by his children, Paul and Elspeth, to take over chores and Paul’s sporting activities, at which he is a duffer. Erie the robot upsets the Pack-Keeper, Harold, and in his determination to catch him, he often ends up in the compost pit. Owing to a series of accidents Eric also finishes up in the compost pit and blows his fuses so Mr Wentworth sends the Robot back to Famborough. Said boy inventor was no less – and, indeed, no more – than KEITH CHEGWIN himself, as was his brother Jeffrey, via the old ‘doesn’t quite match up wibbly wobbly dividing line’ split screen process. Also ligging about the frame: Roy Kinnear and Patricia Routledge.
ELECTRIC ESKIMO (1979) A young Eskimo boy is struck by a mysterious ray from the UK government and he becomes a human “electric eel”. All sorts of crooks and villains chase the Eskimo and his British friends throughout the countryside. The best line is by the speccy boy with the calculator: “If electric Eskimo ate three tonnes of sugar he could light up Piccadilly Circus for a week”. We’ll work some pseudo-scientific educational folderol subtly into the script…
ESCAPE FROM THE SEA (1968) Christopher and Jane Oakley, on holiday in Cornwall, are warned by a local lifeguard, Pen, and his friends Rabble, Mat and Meg, to keep his rubber canoe in rock pools. Ignoring this advice, Christopher gets swept out to sea. Robbie spots Chris, end with the help of his friends rescues him as he sweeps by the headland. But the tide comes in and traps them. Attempting to escape through an old mineshaft, they find it blocked and return to the beach, where Pen is injured by a further fall of rock. Rabble and Mat climb the cliff and call in the Navy to the rescue. All are happily saved by the end, and stern admonishments to the posh kids for not being such smug, ignorant townie safety-flouting arses are kept to an agreeable minimum.
EXPLOITS AT WEST POLEY (1985) Exploits, eh? Sounds good. ‘Somerset,1850.’ Oh, sounds less good. Boys down a cave getting stuck. Ah. OK, well, this shopping won’t do itself. Good day, now.
FERN THE RED DEER (1976) Belinda, an orphan, arrives at the remote Exmoor sheep farm owned by her aunt and uncle. Her cousin Tom resents the arrival of this ‘ignorant Londoner’ (hang on, haven’t we just been here?) but the children are soon united in caring for an abandoned deer calf, which they name Fern. A farm is no place for a wild deer, however, and Fern comes close to death more than once before the children finally persuade her to return to the wild. Where, of course, she still comes to her death in the end, but that’ll be out of shot and so won’t really count.
THE FIREFIGHTERS (1975) Adventures of the Grant children who live near a fire station and help out with fire drills (that’s nice) but become accused of arson when a series of fire start up. The kids, naturally, unearth the real culprits – including SAM “ORLANDO’S HIDEAWAY” KYDD. Cliffhanger ending when two of the kids are trapped in a burning warehouse. Will they escape? Well… yes, obviously.
FLASH THE SHEEP DOG (1966) You’ll have noticed a certain jaded fatigue setting in to these billings, and we’re barely a third of the way in. Apologies, we’ll try and be a bit more wide-eyed and big hearted for the next few. Not this one though, because it’s farm-centric ruralist bilge of the dullest kind on sale. “When Tom Stokes, a young English orphan, comes to stay with his Uncle and Aunt on a border sheep farm, he finds that life is very different.” Very different to what, precisely? This ‘English Orphan’ lifestyle we’ve been reading so much about in the colour supplements of late? Anyway. “Dougie Mackieson, the self-opinionated son of a neighbour doesn’t help matters.” They seldom do, those self-opinionated sons-of-neighbours. “But Tom meets Andra, a kindly shepherd, who introduces him to his first real Scottish friend, Flash, a Border Collie. Dougie challenges Tom to prove Flash against his own dog in the local Sheepdog trials. Despite Dougie’s efforts to interfere with Flash’s training, Tom and Flash win the day.” Winston Churchill writes: ‘There are only three things certain in life. Death, taxes, and lovable sheepdogs winning the day. Fortunately I carked it shortly before this film was made, ensuring none of my taxes were wasted on its production. Evenin’ all! (That was my catchphrase wasn’t it?)’
THE FLOOD (1963) A storm is raging round isolated Willow Farm. Again with the farm schtick! Oy! Mr Weatherfield (fantastic name for a farmer in a storm) has to take his wife to hospital and the farmhands and their wives cannot return from market because of the rising water. The children, marooned, think it exciting but two irresponsible elder boys (ooh, those elder boys! Why does the innocence have to end so abruptly, in an explosion of hormones and shredded fragments of pornography?) make off in a dinghy with the provisions. The others make a raft and leave too. They find the food raiders clinging to a tree, the dinghy sunk. In desperation the children light a beacon which at last guides rescuers to the farm. Hang on, did Mrs Weatherfield get to hospital OK? Someone’s left their plot strands hanging here, we think.
THE FLYING EYE (1955) Mix-and-match storyline time. An eccentric inventor, an amateur sleuth in short trousers, a secret formula, a model plane, a bunch of bungling crooks. Perm any or all of the above, and the dividend forecast is… moderate. Postal claims only please.
THE FLYING SORCERER (1973) David has been helping Uncle Charlie (John Bluthal! Hooray!) with a secret invention… a time-machine. Again. When the machine is accidentally activated by Suki, the dog, they land outside a medieval castle where they meet Astrolabe, a sorcerer (Malcolm of Terry and June ‘Malcolm and Beattie’ fame), and Lady Eleanor, a Lindisfarne groupie. (Actually, she’s Debbie Russ, Tiger off of the Double Deckers.) The countryside is being terrorised by Dormantus, a fire-breathing dragon who’s mysteriously never shown all at once in any one shot. David and Charlie transport Eleanor and Astrolabe into the Twentieth Century… unfortunately, Dormantus too! The council aren’t going to like this! David eventually fixes a ‘time dispatcher’ to the dragon’s nose, and he is sent back. Astrolabe and Eleanor return to their century and David and Charlie promise to visit them. ‘A bit involved’ is the house verdict on this one.
4D SPECIAL AGENTS (1981) Some kids are playing in a disused dockland area. Jane, a policeman’s daughter, leads one group. The other is led by Steve. When they discover a box of stolen jewellery. Jane insists that they report their find to the police and the box is taken to her home. Steve, however, has managed to steal a large brooch. Two crooks retrieve the jewels, discover that the brooch is missing and kidnap Jane. Steve tries to exchange her for the brooch but is caught. They are imprisoned on a cruiser, which heads down the river. The children manage to send out an SOS on the boat’s radio and there follows a thrilling chase involving another boat, the River Police and a police helicopter! Crumbs! The “4D” bit was part of the tacked-on safety campaign – a “beware of strangers”-type affair. The 4Ds were 4 “don’t” rules – don’t talk to strangers, don’t go off with strangers… er, and two others. Class discussions were given, badges handed out, and no doubt, lives saved. Bless.
FRIEND OR FOE (1982) World War Two can be costly if big, panoramic battlegrounds are your thing. If, however, you’re just interested in some boys chasing a Nazi pilot whose plane crashed on some stock footage in the opening credits, then it’s a few pairs of grey Worsted shorts and an old Bud Flanagan record and you’re away. With lukc, there’ll be enough left in the kitty for a spot of Luke ‘Gonch’ Gardener casting.
GABRIELLE AND THE DOODLEMAN (1984) CFF management looks up momentarily from its dog-eared copy of Lilliput and realises it’s somehow the 1980s. Panic! What do the hep cats groove to in 1984? Go and find out, Wallace! What’s that? The BBC Model B microcomputer is where it’s at? Go out and buy a dozen! What’s that? OK, see if you can hire one for the day. And a bookish little boy – no, girl, that’ll put a spin on it, a – yes, wait, a paraplegic girl! She’s housebound, the computer’s her only escape! Wonderful! A-and… oh my stars, how long is it since we’ve done a ‘fantasy friend with special powers’ film? Too long! Right, a little man in the computer, that’s it! See if the one with the beard off of Relative Strangers is available. He is? Great! He’s called Matthew Kelly? Good lord, I never knew that. Anyway, there should be money left over from the savings we’ve made so far, see if you can pick up Eric Sykes, Windsor Davies and Gareth Hunt on tick. Oh, and don’t forget fifty pee for the effects meter! Marvellous! Right gentlemen, I think we can set the controls for ‘rest of afternoon off’, don’t you?
GHOST OF A CHANCE (1968) Kindly old ghosts living in an old mansion that The Kids frequent enlist their help (there’s a lot of this sort of thing) when The Council plan to tear down the house to build some child-unfriendly municipal construction. In the finale, the ghosts do all sorts of scary things to those dozy bowler-hatted council henchmen, resulting in humiliation for those nasty old grown-ups and victory for loon-panted kids and members of the undead alike. Hence the recently-born and the long-deceased come together to defeat the tyranny of late middle-age! The archetypal CFF fantasy adventure in so many ways, this set the template for a decade of low-budget Brit whimsy where the wonders of an unsullied juvenile imagination vanquished the humdrum realities of council-oppressed everyday life at a stroke. If only it were real, eh kids? The Ghosts: Jimmy Edwards, Bernard Cribbins, Patricia Hayes. The Council: Ronnie Barker, Terry Scott. The kids: ah, who cares?
GLITTERBALL (1977) It’s the late ’70s. STAR WARS is causing much damage screenwise. The Kids are deserting your nice, honest, provincial, low-budget adventures in droves. What to do? Put on a cheap-as-cheap-can sci-fi winner, that’s what. The “aliens” in this effort were – wait for it – animated ball bearings/silvered golf balls, who trundled jerkily around, devouring cakes, Marathons etc. while emitting a high-pitched bleepy noise. CFF mainstay DUDLEY SUTTON was the obligatory nasty grown-up who was out to exploit them for some reason or other. Two kids found one of the balls and “befriended” it somehow, getting into all manner of scrapes in and around the overcast environs of Hatfield, including being accused of shoplifting in a fully-fitted branch of Woolco. It all came to a head “down the rec”, where the balls had their revenge, massing up in less-than-spectacular manner to clobber the foe. The decorations on an archetypal seventies trifle never seemed the same again…
GO KART, GO! (1964) The Damson Street gang are Go-Kart enthusiasts but have so far only schieved a soap box on wheels. They are very envious of the Craven Gang’s proper Kart, and decide to build their own, but tune this up so much that it runs amok. Their parents buy them a Do-It-Yourself Kit to build a Go-Kart for the big race. The Craven Gang sabotage the go kart, but by superhuman efforts the Damson Gang get it repaired in time to beat their rivals. Yes, this was the Dennis Waterman-starring one, along with Wilfred Brambell and Graham ‘Simon Simon‘ Stark. Sadly the Craven Gang is not headed by a short-trousered you-know-who.
THE GREAT PONY RAID (1968) Two CFF children at a pony club on Dartmoor report some stolen horses to the police, but bugger me, they won’t listen. The standard kiddie detective shenanigans ensue, with, natch, the police stepping in at the last minute when it all gets a bit too much. The usual confused CFF moral stance on law and order.
HAUNTERS OF THE DEEP (1984) Back down that Cornish tin mine, everyone! Oops, the mine’s fallen in, trapping a bunch of kids. You’d think they’d have learnt by now. Not to fear, as here comes – um, the ghost of Andrew Kier to help. Be fair, you weren’t expecting that.
HEADLINE HUNTERS (1968) When Mr Hunter, the owner of The Clarion newspaper, is taken ill, Mr Bagshot, the owner of the rival newspaper, persuades Fuetwick, the Clarion’s sole reporter to come and work for him, hoping that this will force the Clarion to close down. But he has not reckoned with the three Hunter children, who with the help of Henry the printer, manage to keep the paper in circulation, despite opposition from Mr Bagshot. This is pretty much the story of the London Evening Standard‘s wavering fortunes in 2009, though in that case we think Henry the printer told them to go and stuff it.
HEIGHTS OF DANGER (1953) ‘Continental motor racing adventure,’ it says here. Both hopelessly vague and too much information at the same time for us, frankly. Plucky family racing team up against corporate sponsored bastard professionals who aren’t afraid to stoop to dirty tricks, you’ll be pleased to learn.
HIDE AND SEEK (1972) Fatherless Keith Lawson (PETER NEWBY) runs away from his “approved school” to find his dad, and ends up meeting local copper’s kids Beverley and Chris (played by – yes! – GARY “MUSCLEBOUND” KEMP!), but his dad is arrested by said other dad during a foiled bank robbery and Keith goes back to the approved. But not for long…
HIGH RISE DONKEY (1980) Those titles just keep coming. Top floor urban kids long for a pet in their dingy flat, until the kindly rag and bone man (appropriately enough, WILFRED “STEPTOE” BRAMBELL) is rushed to hospital, and they take charge of his donkey. A donkey on the top floor of a block of flats! Imagine the scrapes they’d get into. But it’s not all smiles, as two nasty-but-bumbling crooks (including regulation issue ROY KINNEAR) plan to steal the donkey to sell for – gasp! – horsemeat! Will the kids give in? Yes. Oh all right, no.
HIJACK (1975) Three children, Jack, Jenny and Lucy, are playing on a beach when a youth, Colin, appears over the sandhills. He persuades them to give him a lift across the river in their dinghy. When they stop at their father’s yacht he invites himself on board, produces a flick-knife and a hand grenade, and forces the children to set sail for France. Police and naval authorities cannot help as Colin threatens to blow up the yacht and its occupants with the grenade. It is up to the children to get themselves out of their predicament. Let’s look at that again: Yacht, France, Naval authorities, explosion, flick knife… we’re forced to conceed that this particular offering had, by CFF standards at least, a budget. There’s a helicopter in there too. Lord Rank takes glance at expenses sheet, makes instant phone call ordering a year’s worth of films wherein some kids fart about in an old barn for seventy minutes with a pony (out of shot).
A HITCH IN TIME (1978) A kindly if slightly batty old professor (PATRICK TROUGHTON, no less) enlists the help of two kids when he invents a time machine (time-travel sequence a triumph of cheapo floaty-shapes animation). What they were doing, we can’t recall (although initial “late for school”-type shenanigans were no doubt on the cards), but Robin Hood and various other historical characters may well have been involved. ‘Sniffy’ Kemp was your stiff and starchy history master who could be relied upon to give the kids detention just when they really needed to get away.
A HORSE CALLED JESTER (1979) Tina believes that she can communicate with Jester the work-weary old carthorse of a junk collector. When Jester is in danger of being put down, Tina rallies the local children to raise enough money to retire it to an animal sanctuary. They discover a plot to rob a milk depot. Jester is instrumental in foiling the crooks and earns retirement from a grateful dairy company. Tina being played by Sadie Frost, we think we can safely say this is the most worthwhile thing she’s ever done.
THE HOSTAGES (1976) Two bumbling prison escapees (including ace Confessional cockney ROBIN ASKWITH) hide out in a farmhouse where they force the three kids left alone there to keep quiet and get ‘em some food and new clothes. The kids, natch, foil the ne’er-do-wells, in eminently slapstickable fashion.
HOVERBUG (1969) Dick and Jenny Brewster hope to win a race for home-made Hoverbugs. (Hoverbugs, incidentally, were sort of lashed-together miniature hovercraft often built by the ‘brighter’ kids for a CDT project in the sort of well-appointed public schools that could afford to subsidise this sort of thing. You’d see them occasionally on Newsround, rattling around the spacious school grounds on their platform-plus-big-fuck-off-fan-plus-one-wooden-school-chair-tied-to-the-front. The show-offs.) They build their own Hoverbug but their rivals Charlie and Sidney bend the rules by enlisting professional help. The main trouble with the Brewster Hoverbug is that it keeps falling apart. until Dick and Jenny meet Mr Watts, a real inventor, who has developed an instant glue, Wattstick. But Wattstick proves to be only a temporary adhesive. Tch.
THE HUNCH (1967) Ian, Janet, Henry and their cousin (who shall, it seems, remain nameless) set out in their grandfather’s boat to find the Norek, a Norwegian pleasure boat, abandoned when its engines failed. They find the Norsk and board her, but their boat drifts away. A small coaster finds them but rescue operations fail. They are resumed when another boat with the children’s father on board arrives. Good idea roping in the Norwegians for a bit of cross-funding goodness, a bit like that episode of Play Away that was made in Oslo and featured Norwich City in the studio, for no reason we’re aware of.
HUNTED IN HOLLAND (1960) Tim goes to stay with his Dutch pen pal Piet (see above entry, name of permanently damp donor country slightly altered) and accidentally falls foul of a tourist guide on his way across. This guide is one of a gang smuggling stolen diamonds into Holland; a bracelet is hidden in his walking stick and Tim, Piet and his sister discover this. They decide to take the diamonds to Fist’s policeman brother in Rotterdam and set off in Piet’s father’s barge. But the gang are after them. The children manage to lock them up in the hold and navigate the barge to Rotterdam, to safely deliver the diamonds. Go on, they wouldn’t miss just one… oh, you are well-behaved little prig – um, dears, aren’t you? It’s the realism we’re missing, you see…
JOHN OF THE FAIR (1954) Restoration costumes out of the mothballs, people, we’ve a tale to tell of lords and tinkers in this period fairground kidnap saga. Methinks a ruffled shirt or two wouldn’t go a miss, i’faith.
JOHNNY ON THE RUN (1953) More hands-across-the-water sanctuary-granting. This time a Polish lad is on the run and hitches up by a Scottish loch. Will he fit in with, or be fitted up by, the locals? Initially the former, inevitably the latter.
THE JOHNSTOWN MONSTER (1971) Low-budget Loch Ness-style monster-faking intrigue in the wake of good old 1970s Arthur C Clarke-stoked ‘unsolved mystery’ media hysteria, but set conveniently within the requisite fifty miles of Borehamwood. A youngster takes a photograph of the lake which indicates that the legendary Johnstown village monster might not be a legend after all. Tourists flock to the area, but the boom fades when the monster fails to appear, so our young friends create their own monster, and the tourists return – but the monster has the last word… and the last word is, isn’t it funny how a joke monster cobbled together by the kids out of a load of scrap is every bit as convincing as the ‘real’ monsters populating sundry other CFF fantasy classics? (See The Flying Sorcerer and The Monster of Highgate Ponds, in particular, for egregious plywood-’n'-papier-mache proof.) You’ve shown yourselves up there, Chiffy props department people. ‘Ooh! It’s all about capturing the imagination, you cynic! Er… Oh really, is that the time?’
JUNKET89 (1970) Junket’s troubles really begin when the Graeme-Garden-meets-Marty-Feldman-style science master allows Junket to borrow his experimental instant transportation machine. Junket enjoys life by dispatching himself to Africa and other foreign parts. Disaster strikes however when a new boy, Boofles Trowser-Legge (yes), joins the school, for he too is transported overseas and Junket is accused of kidnapping him. All appears to end well – until the instant transportation machine takes on a life of its own. With Linda Robson and Richard Wilson. Obscure title rather disappointingly explained by the fact that Junko’s school locker, where much essential gadgtry was stashed, was number 89.
KADOYNG (1972) A new motorway is due to be driven through the sleepy village of Byway, and Professor Balfour and his three children, Billy, Lucy and Barney rally the villagers in opposition. It seems that nothing can save Byway from destruction until a spacecraft arrives from the Planet Stoikal, containing a humanoid named Reject 842 with a small antenna, through which he can influence people’s thoughts and transport objects. The children call him KADOYNG, and take him to a meeting about the motorway. KADOYNG uses his antenna to disrupt the meeting, and tells the Balfour family that he can stop the motorway from coming through the village. Unfortunately, he makes a mistake in the formula being used with near-disastrous results. Not disastrous, just ‘near-disastrous’. It’s the CFF equivalent of those confusing terror alert levels, we think. Where ‘calamitous’, ‘catastrophic’ and ‘perilous’ fit in to this grand scheme of danger we’re not sure, though ‘hilarious’ must come somewhere near the bottom, we suppose. No record we can find of a ‘near-hilarious’ result, though a quick go over these catalogues with a crayon and a grumpy turn of phrase can soon fix that.
THE KID FROM CANADA (1957) Hark, the call of the Commonwealth! Andrew Cameron, a Canadian boy, is invited to spend a pony-trekking holiday in the highlands of Scotland. Being shy with strangers, he is consequently boastful and earns the dislike of Neil, his Scottish cousin. During a horse show Neil accuses Andy of bad sportsmanship. And soon proves himself, however, when he rides hard over dangerous country to the aid of an injured shepherd. Thus the New World builds bridges with the old, and Dumfries never runs dry of maple syrup again.
THE LAST RHINO (1961) Off again to one of the roomsize remnants of Empire to break bread with ‘our coloured brethren’ and save a weird-looking animal or two. David lives with his uncle, the warden of a game reserve in East Africa, and is a friend to the last rhino there, Black Beauty. When hunting tribesmen illegally track and wound her, she becomes very dangerous, and the warden goes out reluctantly to kill her. David and his girl cousin from England are sure that if the rhino’s wound is dressed she will recover her docility. Well, it worked with Bill Grundy. Risking great dangers from the wild country and from other animals they reach her and succeed in quietening her in time to save her from their uncle’s gun and the native hunters.
LIONHEART (1968) A lion escapes from a circus and causes general alarm in the neighbouring countryside. We’d have thought the alarm would be of a rather more specific nature: you know, a sort of ‘Oh shit! It’s a lion!’ nature, but no, general, vague, and amorphous the alarm is. The army are called in with orders to shoot it (the lion, not the general alarm), little knowing that it has been hidden in a stable by a boy called Andrew and his friends Belinda and Robert. (A military man writes: ‘There’s a lion on the loose and you choose to trouble me with a list of children’s names? Sir, if you were under my charge in Aden I’d have had you shot myself!’) Robert rides off to find the circus and returns with the circus lorry to see Andrew standing in front of the lion to prevent the Army shooting it. The lion is put safely back into its cage, and the children are congratulated for their brave efforts. (A military man writes: ‘Well, I’m not such a dry old stick after all, I suppose. Good show! Now, about these confusing levels of danger…’)
THE MAN FROM NOWHERE (1975) In 1860 Alice Harvey, an orphan comes to live with her great-uncle at Tower House. On the way from the railway station she is approached by a strange man who tells her to return to the orphanage. Alice is befriended by four homeless urchins and her great-uncle’s housekeeper but continued threats by the stranger make her decide to return to the orphanage. The children persuade her to stay and they set a trap for the Man from Nowhere. It’s a period drama, so keep an eye out for more TV aerials and wristwatches than you would see in a film set in 1974. Which took place in a DER showroom. And featured nothing except people constantly asking each other for the time.
MAURO THE GYPSY (1972) Titular romany arrives at a Scottish village, and wouldn’t ya know it, the locals object. But, as ever, he’s befriended by Leslie (FIONA KENNEDY). And of course, when she gets trapped in a “secret cave” later on, with the tide rising fast, only Mauro can save the day, be accepted into village society, “oh, we were wrong about you”, etc. Nice.
THE MINE AND THE MINOTAUR (1980) On a Cornish camping trip, four CFF kids see a couple of “mysterious men” go down an abandoned mineshaft. They investigate, and discover a fake plaster rock wall hiding minotaur-shaped “valuable art treasures”. Smugglers! Needless to say, all is quickly foiled.
MISCHIEF (1969) A new pony, Mischief, gives a lot of trouble to his stable lad Harry, but Davy is able to calm him. Harry, seeking revenge, engineers Davy’s dismissal. When an Education Officer visits the riding stable, his daughter Pat insists on riding Mischief, who bolts on hearing some music, She is thrown on to the ledge of a quarry just as preparations are being made for blasting. But Davy, with the help of Mischief, is able to save Pat in the nick of time. Note rare occasion of an Education officer being presented in a good light. Not all those council men are bad eggs after all…
THE MISSING NOTE (1961) The old piano with the missing note is very important to Joan and her two brothers as they play on it and keep mice and blues inside. (‘Mice and blues?’ ‘Look, that’s what it says here, maybe Paul Jones wrote the script, I dunno…’) When by mistake it is sold to a junk man, the children start on what they hope will be a wild chase after it through London, hoping to buy it back. They do not know that a thief surprised by the police has also hidden some jewels in the piano and is after it too. That wild chase just got wilder! You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if it involved two workmen carrying a sheet of glass across the street.
MR HORATIO KNIBBLES (1971) Whimsical, low-alcohol Harvey clone. Mary Bunting’s parents refuse her a rabbit as a birthday present. Disconsolately, Mary is sitting alone when to her surprise and delight a six foot rabbit-elegantly dressed in frock coat and fancy waistcoat-appears, and introduces himself as Mr Horatio Knibbles. As he is a magic rabbit, he can be seen only by Mary, which naturally creates great confusion and misunderstanding. The rabbit, unfortunately, is of the ‘grown man with misshapen prosthesis plus sticky-up ears’ variety, which falls between the two aesthetically desirable camps of the basic ‘rabbit make up on ordinary human face’ on the one side, and the advanced ‘animatronic, caroony rabbit helmet’ on the other. The result – a nightmarish freak in a three-piece suit, teorrising the smallest children sat crosslegged down the front of the audience. His habit of continually vanishing and popping up didn’t help matters. For ‘tedious yet still terrifying’ anthropomorphic chills of a similar vintage, see that ballet film of The Tales of Beatrix Potter. Brrr. Dennis Potter, more like.
MR SELKIE (1978) A Selkie is a seal that leaves the ocean and comes ashore as a man. It’s the sort of folk legend Isla St Clair usually bores us all with in ballad form, but here it is in the council-run CFF ‘universe’, large as life. My, what will occur? When Eileen and Jimmy, entrusted with the Mayoral chain, unwittingly lose it in the sea (what the hell did the mayor expect?) Mr Selkie appears and makes friends with them. At the Town Hall an impassioned plea by Mr Selkie against sea pollution falls upon deaf ears, so the trio, aided by other children, dump piles of rubbish onto the Mayor and Councillors. Mr Selkie magically projects scenes of pollution on to the walls of the Council Chamber. The campaign is successful and Mr Selkie returns to the sea as a seal but not before rescuing the Mayoral chain for Eileen and Jimmy.
THE MONSTER OF HIGHGATE PONDS (1961) Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, though not so’s you’d notice. David, Sophie and Chris help their uncle to unpack specimens from Malaya and are given an unidentified egg. When this hatches into a baby monster their troubles begin. (Said baby monster looking like a vaguely orientally-racist puppet chicken doesn’t, oddly enough, figure high on their list of woes.) Pocket money only just produces enough food to satisfy its enormous appetite, and as it grows larger and larger they have to keep it in Highgate Pond. Two fair men seeking a new exhibit lure it into a stolen van. The children alert the police who recapture the monster and escort it to the docks, where it is given a send-off back to Malaya.
THE MYSTERIOUS WRECK (1954) A group of young Germans on holiday at a coastal village are intrigued by an old wreck in the bay. In real life, the locals would listen to their tell-tale accents for two seconds and send them packing with pitchforks and flaming torches, but we’re in an enlightened rural locale here. They visit the wreck by night and discover signs that they are not the only visitors on the forbidden ship. Their visit has, however, been discovered by the Shore Patrol, who confiscate their boat as punishment. The children decide that the only way they can retrieve their boat is by helping the Shore Patrol to discover what the other mysterious visitors were doing on the wreck. Clue: it rhymes with ‘juggling’. And it’s not juggling.
MYSTERY ON BIRD ISLAND (1954) To the Channel Islands, for tax-deducted birdwatching fun. Two mainland kids on holiday team up with a brace of native Aldernians to clean the local bird sanctuary of… well, what else? Smugglers. Which they naturally do, but only after ‘a great battle of wits’. We’ll be the judge of that, we think…
NIGHT FERRY (1976) Jeff, Nick and Carol live in a London suburb. But wait! One day Jeff notices two undertakers struggling with an “unusually shaped” coffin. (What he doesn’t notice is that one of them is BERNARD CRIBBINS, but never mind). The kids find out it’s a priceless sarcophagus, no less, due to be smuggled out of the country on the night ferry to France! (Note major location budget, and a rather surprising choice of co-host country here. Canada, Rhodesia, Norway yes, but France? ‘Alors, c’est la Base du Cinema des Enfants! Vite Alphonse, donnons un coup-de-pied à leurs culs!’) Time for some thwarting…
NOSEY DOBSON (1976) Nosey Dobson is a compulsive snooper who is determined to become a great detective but his clumsy efforts at detection enrage his village of Drumadoon and, in particular, the stern, shot-from-below features of Constable MacLean. When Nosey stumbles on a plan to steal priceless silver from Drumadoon Castle – all together now – Nobody Believes Him. When the silver is stolen Nosey is hot on the scent and, after a rare series of misadventures (where the hell does ‘rare’ fit into our ‘disastrous-hilarious’ consequence-categorising scheme? God, it just gets more confusing. I thought these films set out to offer simple moral guidance?), finally succeeds in trapping the thieves, under the very stern, shot-from-below nose of Constable MacLean.
ON THE RUN (1968) More post-colonial soul searching, this time with a more overtly diplomatic flavour. Thomas Okapi, son of a deposed (not to say clearly made up) African Ruler, is in the care of his Uncle Joseph in London, who plans to kidnap him. With the help of his two friends, Ben and Lii, he leaves London for a seaside town, with Uncle Joseph and his accomplice Baldy in hot pursuit. Capture is imminent, but Ben escapes and contacts the police who arrive in time to prevent the kidnapping.
ONE HOUR TO ZERO (1976) When Steve Rogers runs away from home, his sister and best mate Paul “go on his trail”, and find him in the abandoned slate quarry. But there’s problems in the village, as it’s been evacuated, without the kids (their shapeless kecks flapping in the wind as ever) knowing due to an imminent explosion at the nearby nuclear power station! How to save it? Enviro-friendly suspense peaked in the final cutting-’twixt-kids-and-station-staff countdownal climax.
ONE WISH TOO MANY (1956) Peter and the gang get hold of a magic marble which grants them any wish they choose. Life becomes a whirlwind of superfast go karts and massive knickerbocker glories (and not getting to see distant relations in just their pants at all), until they get greedy and ask for one wi – ah, you’re ahead of us.
OPERATION THIRD FORM (1966) When Dick is accused of the theft of the school bell and sent home by the headmaster, his class mates combine to try and find the real culprit and stumble on a far more serious crime – wait for it – the theft of a valuable painting belonging to one of the school’s governors. Dick and his friends not only manage to retrieve the school’s bell, but also return the painting to its rightful owner. In an hilarious final reveal, the painting turns out to be of the bell. What’s that? Oh, I know, but I get so bored, I get so bloody bored…
OUT OF THE DARKNESS (1985) It’s the Plague! Meaning more outings for that Seventeenth-century clobber that’s going to have to pay for itself somehow or other. Rather dark, this one, as you might expect, with a ghostly boy subjecting the superstitious bumpkins who did him in to floaty retribution.
PAGANINI STRIKES AGAIN (1973) Mike and Bill, on their way to a music lesson, get stuck in a lift. They hear a gunshot and see a pair of yellow shoes run past. They suspect some unseen criminal has robbed the nearby jewellery shop, but dagnab it, the police just won’t believe them. So, as ever, it’s up to The Kids once more…
THE PEREGRINE HUNTERS (1978) Similar in plot to Look and Read‘s Sky Hunter. Two 12-year-olds, Beetle Whitman and Alex Banks, decide to investigate the disappearance of Peregrine falcons owned by Hawkeye Brown and Beetle’s father. Their suspicion falls on Frank Bagley, a pet shop owner. When Alex finds himself trapped in Bagley’s van on the way to a disused airfield, Beetle and Hawkeye give chase on the latter’s iconic motorcycle and sidecar combination. They arrive just in time and, in an exciting finale, the motorcycle prevents the plane with the stolen Peregrines aboard from taking off. The sidecar plays a pivotal role in proceedings, as it should.
PERIL FOR THE GUY (1956) See what they did there? Fireworks, Frazer Hines and the oil crisis all come together in a mess of big business-thwarting slapstick.
THE PIPER’S TUNE (1962) During the Napoleonic Wars child refugees become involved with a Pyrenean escape route and the problem of whether to save a wounded enemy who is a danger to their own safety. Fortunately bandages look much the same now as they did then. That’s one less period doublet to worry about, costume department!
POP PIRATES (1984) A pivotal pre-Grange Hill role for mulleted heart throb Ant Jones. The Kids had a pop group, y’see, with (this being the early 80s) vaguely raggae/ska-ish inflections and lyrics like “Say what you wanna say/Baby, you’re the one”. Woo-hoo. The grown-up evildoers in this case were a pair of music pirates/smugglers (conforming to the fat nasty mastermind/dozy henchman whose stupidity is eventually their undoing format) holed up in a disused canal barge. Much sneaking about, getting discovered, being captured and locked up, trying to enlist the help of the local police who didn’t believe them (adults! Cuh!) etc. Needless to say, all was well by the time those credits rolled…
RAISING THE ROOF (1972) Right, here goes. Jack and Jill Robbins are lent a talking toucan by the cameo scene-stealing Duke of Bedford to enter a pets competition. But their nasty rivals nick the bird, substituting a Pythonesque stuffed version. But, o-ho-hof course, in the nick of time the real bird is rescued and is carried in triumph to the theatre! Good. Liz ‘Double Bunk‘ Fraser stars.
THE RESCUE SQUAD (1963) When Joe’s toy aeroplane flies in through the window of the lonely tower on the moor, the children are unable to get in despite everything they try. (Jimmy Savile writes: ‘Play safe!’) They involve themselves with paint pots, a brass band, and a wedding, with arrows, traffic and the local Hunt (not Gareth). The fire escape runs into the river, the arrows puncture a balloon and a bicycle collapses. When they do at last succeed in getting into the tower, the children are trapped there themselves, but Neddy, the donkey, shows them the way out. (Jimmy Savile writes: ‘What the hell just happened there?’)
ROBIN HOOD JUNIOR (1975) Yes, it’s KEITH CHEGWIN time again, now playing a chubby, chirpy Errol Flynn in this scaled-down retread of the old Notts chestnut. Kidnapped village children and the evil Baron de Malherbe are involved. Cheggers Buckles Swash, at great length.
ROCKETS IN THE DUNES (1960) The Allen children live by the sea in Devon and race sand yachts there until the Army takes over their dunes as a rocket range. As this threatens many local activities, the children help organise a protest meeting, though they cannot raise enough money to hire a hall until Joey sells his puppy, Rimbo. Rimbo runs away from his new owners and as Joey rushes after him he catches his foot in the loop of a buried butterfly mine. He and the puppy are rescued just in time by the Colonel, and the Army agree to use only a part of the dunes. They’re not such dry old sticks after… oh, we did that one.
RUNAWAY RAILWAY (1965) To delay the closure of the Barming Loop Railway, children try a minor act of sabotage on Matilda, the engine. Unfortunately it stops the eccentric Lord Chalk taking over the loop Iine. With the help of supposed railway enthusiasts they repair the damage, not realising that the enthusiasts are thieves planning to use Matilda for a mail train robbery. A trial run ends with the controls jamming and the engine runs away, but the children have found out about the robbery and unmask the gang. Lord Chalk, impressed by Matilda’s astonishing performance, decides to buy the line. Ronnie Barker and Jon Pertwee star.
THE SALVAGE GANG (1958) Kim breaks a saw belonging to Pat’s father and with his gang he tries to earn enough money to replace it. They paint a canal boat, with disastrous results, and wash a car which comes to pieces. They try washing dogs, and this, too, fails, Then their dog runs off, and while gang member Freddie is chasing him, reaches the street where his family is moving house and finds his brass bed which the removal men have left on the pavement. They sell it. For the gang this means a chase across London to retrieve it, and a long walk home, pushing the bed through the busy city streets with (and they really do say this on the box for this one) hilarious results.
SAMMY’S SUPER T-SHIRT (1978) Favourite of hazily-minded pub bores the nation over. “There was this kid, right? Called Sammy, and he had a…” Yes, well. This archetypal childhood Messiah fantasy gave the initially poor, put-upon and bullied Sammy a New Start In Life as the picture on his T-Shirt (which we seem to remember was one of those iron-on tiger’s heads, or something), when rubbed, gave off “magical powers”, due to some accidental chemical spillage incident wiv da shirt. Time stopped, sports day races were won and much mayhem ensued. Eventually, of course, something “went wrong” to make Sammy discard the shirt and “love himself for who he really is”. Or something like that, but that was the dull moral that all the kids always ignored anyway. Never mind that, though! T-shirts! Kids in Green Flash plimsolls! Achingly slow chase sequences over patches of waste-ground! Signs saying ‘TO THE SPORTSGROUND’! It’s got the lot!
SCRAMBLE (1970) Jimmy Riley, who has been in trouble with the police, makes friends with Colin and Brian Buxton, both keen scramblers at a schoolboys’ scramble club. The club’s organiser gives Jimmy a job in his garage, where Jimmy builds his own bike, Lennie and Cliff, old friends of Jimmy’s, steal wealthy Mr Hepplewhite’s car. Mr Hepplewhite buys his son, Oscar, a bike, which he has no idea how to control. Next week when the scramblers are away, Jimmy – left behind – finds the crooks with the car but will not join in with them. Oscar’s bike, again out of control, crashes into the barn. Lennie and Cliff escape in the car, but are caught by Jimmy and Colin on their bikes. Cue lots of freeze-framing of bikes in mid air, to a pumping rock – or more likely high octane skiffle – soundtrack.
THE SEA CHILDREN (1973) More maltese folderol. With Lesley Dunlop, for a point of interest.
SEAL ISLAND (1972) Conservation area is breeding ground for seals. The kids like the seals. Some men want to shoot them and sell the pelts. The kids save the seals. Everyone’s happy.
THE SECRET CAVE (1953) Ooh here’s classy, it’s a Thomas Hady adaptation. Sadly it’s a Thomas hardy adaptation about some kids going down a cave and getting stuck, making it scarcely different from any other CFF offering in this wise. Still, Johnny Morris is here, folks!
THE SECRET OF THE FOREST (1956) Forest burning! Antique theft! Can the two be related? They better be, we’ve only got about fifty minutes.
SEVENTY DEADLY PILLS (1964) A doctor’s car which is stolen and dumped contains deadly pills which look like sweets. The police are alerted, but the pills have been found by a boy, who uses them to buy himself membership of the Rocket Gang. The ‘sweets’ are shared out but Brian, the leader, decides that they shall be used as swaps the next day, and not eaten. They each take a packet home, but Gertie can’t resist eating hers, and is rushed into hospital. The police redouble their efforts to trace the rest of the pills. Brian hears an SOS message over the wireless, and warns the others just in time. Then he phones the Casualty script department demanding a Christmas two-parter at the very least.
SKID KIDS (1953) Speedway kids are harassed by The Man for being a pain in the arse with their bloody bikes, but come good when they help the coppers to thwart thieves who are after a different lot of bloody bikes.
THE SKY-BIKE (1967) When Tom Smith visits a disused airfield, he encounters an eccentric inventor, Mr Lovejoy testing the Sky-Bike, with which he hopes to win the prize for the first man-powered flying machine. Unscrupulous rivals are also using the airfield to test their own machine. Mr Lovejoy is kidnapped, and the Sky-Bike is wrecked but with Tom’s help, Mr Lovejoy is released and the Sky-Bike repaired. By this time the rival machine is airborne, and an exciting chase ensues in which everyone pretends very hard they can’t see the cables holding the blasted thing up, but they can.
SKY PIRATES (1977) When their model plane crashes Mike and Harry are befriended by ex-pilot Charlie Bradford and his niece Maggie, who teach them how to fly radio-controlled planes. When crooks steal Charlie’s latest model in an attempt to smuggle a stolen diamond across the Channel, the children embark on an ingenious and exciting plan to thwart them.
SMOKEY JOE’S REVENGE (1974) SMOKEY JOE is a neglected old steam roller with a mind of its… actually, no, it’s just a neglected old steam roller. We’ve got our overheads to consider here. Mr Williams wants to get rid of it because he has bought a traction engine called MIRABELLE, and for some unfathomable reason this particular patch of Pinewood waste-ground isn’t big enough for both MIRABELLE and SMOKEY JOE. (Perhaps if they didn’t insist on having their names spelt in capital letters it would be.) After a disastrous demonstration to a potential buyer (which goes exactly how you might imagine, complete with potential buyer getting an unsolicited whoosh of hot steam up the bracket), Mr Williams gives SMOKEY JOE to Debbie, Tom and Jim, who spend all their pocket money on paint (well, it’s a step up from thinners), and many hours restoring the engine. Finally, it is ready to enter a steam championship competition, where the toughest rival turns out to be – oh, wouldn’t you just know it? – MIRABELLE. SMOKEY JOE wins first prize, but Mr Williams snatches the cup from the children and assures the listening crowd that SMOKEY JOE really belongs to him. He tries to drive SMOKEY JOE away. . . but he has not reckoned with SMOKEY JOE who has decided that it is time Mr Williams was taught a lesson. SMOKEY JOE, there.
THE SOAP BOX DERBY(1958) The Battersea Bats and the Victoria Victors are two rival groups of boys, building racing soap-box cars. The Bats enrol Foureyes, who helps them to draw up and build an exceptional car. Another boy, Lew, is rejected by the Bats for dirty fighting. He joins the Victors, becomes their leader, and steals the blueprint of the Bats’ car. Foureyes is unfairly blamed, the short-sighted spazz. In desperation, Lew steals the Bats’ car and throws it into a quarry. Saved from total destruction, the Bats rush to the track and manage to win a thrilling race.
THE STOLEN AIRLINER (1955) Got a slightly ‘contentious’ story about a fractious Middle Eastern regime in the throes of bloody revolution? Simple, name it something daft like Fragovinia and you can have all the didgy coup d’etat-based jollies you like. We’ll even throw in a few young RAF cadets to keep to the child-friendly brief.
THE STOLEN PLANS (1953) WWII period hijinks with two kids enlisted to protect secret aircraft plans from nefarious Nazi snoopers. WWII bombsites are re-created with the deployment of convenient – er, WWII bombsites, which still haven’t been built on some twenty years after the fact. Knew they’d be useful for something!
SUPERSONIC SAUCER (1956) An early entry in the cheapo alien category. this time it’s a Venusian, in the form of a sort of floaty white feather duster with a tennis ball head and drawn-on monkey eyes. Of course the kids look after it, of course it helps foil some criminals with its special powers.
TERRY ON THE FENCE (1985) One of the last efforts farted out of the declining company’s cash-strapped ’80s decline, finally punted out to a couldn’t-care-less public in 1985, even though much of it had been filmed years before – and looked it. Gang rivalry, the unreconstructed wasteland of London’s Docklands (see what we mean about the rapid dating?), and a stolen radio add up to tougher ‘kid running away from home, getting into scrapes and seeing sense in the end’ hi-jinks than CFF were usually known for. One of the kids adopted the stylish gimmick of wearing half an old football on his head. Swish.
THEY FOUND A CAVE (1962) Four English orphans, Cherry, Brick, Nigel and Nippy (no, really) migrate to Tasmania, in the care of their Aunt Jandie on her farm. Weeks of good times follow before Aunt Jandie enters hospital, leaving the children in the care of Pa and Ma Pinner, her foreman and housekeeper. Tyrannical treatment by the Pinners forces the children to set up home in a cave where the children stay until they uncover a plot by the Pinners to swindle Aunt Jandie and succeed in foiling it.
TIGHTROPE TO TERROR (1983) The one that always turned up on Screen Test, for some reason. Four of your bog-standard children get stuck in a cable car over the Alps, with the inevitable swaying, creaking, screaming and snapping of steel ropes, intercut with impressive scenery that suspiciously doesn’t quite seem to match the quality of image of the stuff shot inside the cable car. Hmm.
TIM DRISCOLL’S DONKEY (1955) More asinine antics with the most easily-obtainable form of equine quadruped in the country. Eponymous Dublin ragamuffin Timmy D loses his pet nag to a stuck-up English family and, of course, goes after it with all guns blazing.
TOTO AND THE POACHERS (1958) Toto, an African boy who lives in Kenya, has a reputation for telling tall stories. Toto’s uncle, who is a scout on a game reserve finds a dead elephant killed by ivory poachers. But no one believes Tote when he says he has seen the poachers. After a series of exciting adventures involving many wild animals, Toto, trailing the poachers, himself gets trapped by them. The other game scouts come to his rescue and after an exciting fight, the poachers are captured. Incidentally, poachers counted for 76% of all Her Majesty’s prisoners by the early 1970s.
TREASURE AT THE MILL (1956) Presumably some kind of film equivalent to Saturday Night at the Mill. John is anxious to free his mother from having to work as a house-keeper to a bad-tempered antique dealer. (Is there any other kind?) He finds a clue to treasure and unravels the mystery involved, also working out the mechanics of the old windmill. Oh, that kind of mill.
TREASURE IN MALTA (1963) – Malta, with its deep blue sea! Treasure, with its sparkly yellowness! Eastmancolor film, with its ability to render both these bright and jolly hues to a reasonable degree of verisimilitude for the time! So… can we have a colour film camera and some air tickets please, Lord Rank? What’s that? Plot? Er, we’ll come up with something on the plane over.
THE TROUBLESOME DOUBLE (1967) Yet another Cheggers classic. Elspeth Wentworth is beaten by Sylvia and her friends in a swimming race, they laugh at her when she declares that she will beat them all and win Mayor Lewis’s Cup at the forthcoming Festival. Elspeth’s brother Egghead, a young electronics genius, comes to her rescue by making an electronic double of Elspeth, named Samantha, and programming her to swim the fastest crawl in the world! On the day of the race Elspeth and Samantha are abducted but Samantha escapes and wins the Mayor’s Cup. As Mayor Lewis presents it to her, her judo programme cuts in and she throws everyone into the pool.
UP IN THE AIR (1969) Freddie is sent to a boarding school run by the tyrannical Mr Figworthy (Jon Pertwee) with the aid of bullying prefects. (Ninety percent of audience instantly decide the stuck-up little git is getting what’s coming to him, and sod off outdoors.) Finding life unendurable, Freddie and his friends determine to run away. The idea of building a balloon occurs when they see the amateur balloonist flying over the school. Secretly they manufacture their balloon and set off to put their grievances before the school governor. Said flying scenes are obviously the big draw here, meaning the following ‘airing greivances before the school governor’ scene could be said to count as something of an anticlimax.
WHAT NEXT? (1974) Following an accidental bump on the head, Donald (PETER ROBINSON) finds he is occasionally able to predict the future. All goes amusingly well, with many harmless incidents, until he predicts the imminent escape of notorious banged-up crim Brewster with the aid of hitherto upstanding businessman Mr Phelps. As always the grown-ups just don’t dig it, so off go Don and mates on their own…
WHERE’S JOHNNY? (1974) The CFF films with sci-fi elements in them are often the better bets entertainment-wise, as you’re more likely to get some mad bit of scientific silliness mixed in with your standard, imagination-doging criminal thwarting capers. So often, however, the gnat’s chuff budgets stymie the whole deal, so why not make the sci-fi bit… well, literally invisible? And this is indeed what we find, as Johnny’s dog Rags chases a cat into eccentric Professor Graham’s lab, accidentally eats some chemical “chunks”, and becomes invisible. The capers that ensue are as exciting as they are cheap. Needless to say, two bungling crims wait in the wings planning criminal things.
WINGS OF MYSTERY (1963) Don and Jane help Mr Bell look after his racing pigeons. They live near a steel works where elder brother Ted is researching into a new secret alloy. When a small piece of it is stolen suspicion tells on Ted. The children suspect Mr McCarthy of being the real thief. When he goes abroad with pigeons entered in the great Belgian race, with Ted they follow him. Recovering the missing alloy they attach the piece to Bell’s fattest racing pigeon and he flies back to England. After an exciting chase McCarthy is captured and Ted’s name is cleared.
WRECK RAISERS (1972) Tom and his friends have been saving hard to buy the SALLY ANNE as a club boat, but are forestalled by the SEA DEVILS who offer to pay spot cash. The SEA DEVILS secretly take the SALLY ANNE out on a trial run and she sinks. Tom and his friends are blamed for this, and have to appear before a Juvenile Court. Their plea for an adjournment is granted and they attempt to raise the wreck hoping to find evidence which will prove their innocence. Naturally, the SEA DEVILS’ attempt to thwart their salvage operations fails. See, you demand straight, no frills billings and that’s the sort of thing you end up with. Well, we did warn you.
ZOO ROBBERY (1973) Yen-Sen the Yeti (OK, fine…) is stolen from London Zoo, and kids and WILLIAM “DR” HARTNELL give chase along the Regent’s Canal in rowing boats. Bizarre as ever. They’re mad, them kids. Someone phone the council.