Thursday, 29 March 2018

The Children's Film Foundation

Note, this was originally going to be one overview of the CFF, selected highlights from their filmography and a little bit about how they worked. Well, best laid plans and all that, this has now turned into the first part of something that will be finished when I have managed to dig up enough resources, and watch as many of the CFF movies as I can get my hands on. So grab a 10p mixture, sit yourself down, and let's enjoy a selection of kid-friendly British movies.

Set up in 1951, the Children's Film Foundation AKA the CFF (later to become the Children's Film & Television Foundation, the CFTF) was set up with one very specific aim in mind - to make films specifically for children to be screened at Saturday morning matinees and used in schools. The foundation was supported by the British Film Industry and an annual grant from the Eady Levy  [a small tax on all cinema tickets]. In 1950 the Foundation received 5% of the total fund, and continued to be well funded. This enabled the Foundation to make five or six low budget films a year, all of which were made by producers who had been invited to apply for funding. Costs were kept as low as possible, and any profits fed back into the system to maintain a solid, impressive business model that produced child-friendly films for over three decades. The CFF weathered some storms, mainly in the form of increased competition from TV programming and the developing home entertainment market, but it managed to keep moving along until the Eady Levy was removed in the mid-1980s, effectively ending the funding of the foundation. Not that it would disappear entirely. Instead, it focused on televison, helping to commission The Borrowers and The Queen's Nose, amongst others. It also seeked to utilise monies available from The National Lottery, setting up, in partnership with The UK Film Council and the BBC, a "script development fund" for family entertainment. [1,2]

But that was then and this is now. Seemingly no longer active in the industry, a state that I hope means it is dormant rather than completely deceased, all we have left are some of the films, although they can be hard to get a hold of, and a selection of memories. Born in 1975 myself, I didn't really get to head along to the cinema on Saturday mornings. What I did get to do was head along to the local video shop before anyone had really managed to get a handle on the videotape explosion. Kids could head in, unaccompanied, and use a membership card to pick any number of eye-catching, lurid titles. Of course, officially, this didn't happen. But we all know that it did. Funnily enough, I wasn't quite the horror obsessive as a child that I am today. Which is why I would often head home with a CFF title. I can't even remember them all, but I know that I at least rented the following: The Glitterball, The Boy Who Turned Yellow, Sky Pirates, and Friend Or Foe. Did they go down well with every family member? I doubt it, but it at least gave some people a reprise from Freaky Friday (which I'd grown obsessed with thanks to the appeal and humour of both Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris) and The Ghost Busters (a tape consisting of two episodes from the old TV show, and I seemed to forget this every time I went to the shop and thought I would finally be seeing Ghostbusters). And they always stuck in my mind, which is the main thing anyway. Perhaps even back then I knew that these films weren't on a par with the glossy, modern Hollywood outings. But that didn't stop them helping me along the road to my complete love of cinema, despite me only being exposed to four titles from the entire library that I was at that time unaware of. Think of them as stabilisers on a bike that I would eventually use to ride around the whole world. And because I spend a lot of my time refusing to put away childish things, I decided to track down as many as I could, and to cover them here in a way that may throw up some surprises, stir up a bit of nostalgia, and allow for some more time spent simply celebrating all that the CFF did for a generation of young moviegoers.

One Wish Too Many (1956) - A young boy finds a magic marble, and finds out that rubbing it while making a wish leads to his wish becoming reality. This leads to lots of fun rearranging the environments around him, dealing with bullies, and even stopping time to avoid getting into any trouble for being late back to class.

The Adventures Of Hal 5 (1958) - A little car is sold by its owner, reluctantly, and ends up being used by a sneaky garage boss to wring extra profits from future customers. The car is not happy about the circumstances, as you can tell by the expressions drawn on the front of it. It's not exactly Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but it's enough to please undemanding youngsters.

Go Kart Go (1964) - A very young Dennis Waterman plays Jimpy (because, apparently, that was actually a name, at one point). Jimpy and his pals want to put a go kart together and take on the seemingly-unbeatable Harry Haggetty (Frazer Hines, a LONG time before his Emmerdale years). Unfortunately, Harry likes to win by any means necessary. Will Jimpy and the gang be able to win out againts any planned sabotage? Steptoe And Son fans may also enjoy seeing Wilfrid Brambell in a small role that is not entirely dissimilar to his most famous TV persona.

Cup Fever (1965) - What do young boys enjoy more than movies? Yes, football, that's what. And this enjoyable tale focuses on a footie team who are all trying their hardest to overcome hardship, and sabotage, to win the cup. Filmed in Manchester, the big attraction here is the appearance of the Manchester United team, including manager Matt Busby. And it's not just a few seconds either. Oh no, there's a decent sequence showing the kids being allowed to visit Old Trafford and train with the players. Other "players" worth looking out for include Bernard Cribbins as a policeman, David Lodge as the adult wanting to spoil all the fun, and Susan George and Olivia Hussey as two of the young girls who help and support the team.

The Boy Who Turned Yellow (1972) - An oft-forgotten production from Powell & Pressburger, it is actually the final feature film for both of them, this stars Mark Dightam as John, the titular boy, and Robert Eddison as Nick ("comes from electronic"). When John is with Nick, he is able to travel through TV screens at the speed of electricity, which means he can hopefully sneak into the Tower Of London and find his pet mouse, lost there on a school trip at the start of the film. And I should mention John's smart friend, Munro. While the character himself isn't special, the young actor playing him would change his name from Lem Kitaj to Lem Dobbs and go on to help write a number of entertaining feature films (including The Hard Way, Dark City, The Limey, and Haywire).

The Battle Of Billy's Pond (1976) - Billy (Ben Buckton) and Gobby (Andrew Ashby) discover something amiss at the local pond Billy usually likes to fish at. The fish are all dying, which leads the boys to figure out that the water is somehow being polluted. They then have to figure out how to prove it, and how to capture the polluters. There are cameo appearances here for Geoffrey Palmer, Miriam Margolyes, and a fleeting appearance (at the corner of the screen during a family meal scene) for a young Linda Robson, who would also appear for seconds in the next film, which also stars Buckton.

The Glitterball (1977) - Max (Ben Buckton) and Pete (Keith Jayne) end up the carers of a small silver alien entity. Ron Pember is an adult thief who eventually suspects that he can make this situation profitable for himself, and the premise is a fun idea that retains a good dollop of charm, thanks to the lo-fi special effects and the central characters.

A Hitch In Time (1978) - Patrick Troughton is an inventor with a time-travelling device in his possession. And it has an acronym (OSKA = Oscillating Shortwave Kinetic Amplifier). No, Troughton is not reprising his Doctor Who role, but viewers probably couldn't help thinking of it, and smiling, during throughout this amusing time-travel adventure. Michael McVey and Pheona McLellan are the two children who end up making use of Troughton's machine, and Jeff Rawle is "Sniffy" Kemp, a harsh teacher who has a long line of unlikable ancestors. Sorcha Cusack also has a small role.

Sammy's Super T-Shirt (1978) - Young Sammy Smith (Reggie Winch) is training for a big race, with the help of his friend, Marvin (Lawrie Mark). But things get easier for him when his favourite t-shirt accidentally ends up in a lab, where it gains the ability to make the wearer physically superior in terms of strength and speed. Richard Vernon and Julian Holloway are the two adults trying to get their hands on the t-shirt, Patsy Rowlands pops up as Sammy's mother, and Hammer fans should derive some small pleasure from seeing Michael Ripper in one scene.

Black Island (1979) - The message here is quite simple. Always listen to your teacher. Two schoolboys who don't do this (played by Martin Murphy and Mike Salmon) end up in trouble. Having left the main group during a school outing, they take themselves on a small boat trip, losing control and ending up on a small island. But they're not alone, with the other main message here perhaps being never to trust gruff adults played by Michael Elphick or Allan Surtees.

Out Of The Darkness (1985) - Three children start to investigate further when one of them claims to have seen and heard a ghost. It turns out that the ghost is a young boy who lived during the time of an awful plague epidemic. And the local village has a bad history that it may want to keep hidden. An average supernatural tale is boosted slightly by the choice of location. Michael Carter had this to say about the village; "Shooting a children's ghost story about the plague, on locations round Eyam Derbyshire, was doubly eerie because relics of that terrible time were all around us. There is a register of deaths in Eyam church. The word 'plague' litters the pages, and outside, the headstones of plague victims dominate the churchyard."[3]

Terry On The Fence (1985) - A young boy runs away from home and ends up in the company of some troubled youths who bully him into helping them rob from his school. This children's film is very much a lesson to any child at risk of falling in with a bad lot, but it also does a surprisingly good job of fleshing out the background of the main "baddie".

To be continued . . .

1. Main statistics and information lifted from the Children's Film and Television Foundation website, a valuable resource for anyone looking to investigate their filmography further.

2. Essay excerpt from 'Providing healthy recreation for children': celebrating the Children's Film Foundation, by Robert Shail.

3. Essay excerpt from John Krish and Out of the Darkness, by Michael Carter

Race to pick up this set.
Enjoy some weird adventures with this set.
Experience some mild scares with this set.
And here are some tales set in the fine city of London.

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