Filmed on location in the UK, in a world of back gardens, bombsites, terraced streets and small town backwaters, the Children’s Film Foundation, as their name suggested, produced films aimed purely at children and young people. The fictional storylines aimed to reflect children’s own experiences of life in the late 1960s and 1970s, and featured casts with chipped teeth, chopper bikes, cap sleeved T-shirts and relatable and ever resourceful methods to solve whatever problems the world threw at them.
What made these films so compelling was that the children employed as the actors were often unknown; they were a bit like us and the people we knew, and the story lines were often just more exciting versions of our own lives.
At a time when there was a creeping American influence on entertainment, the efforts of the CFF were a welcome relief from any high budget, glossy, Disneyfied take on life. CFF productions were reassuringly free of canned laughter, Californian sunshine, high-end dentistry and the Brady’s astroturf lawn. What took their place were the familiar surroundings of drizzle, go-karts, tins of Spam, and Ford Cortinas which were used as the backdrop for the films’ clear storylines, all which followed the Foundation’s mission to produce “clean, healthy, intelligent adventure” that would never “play for sensationalism or unhealthy excitement or vulgarity”.
Founded in 1951, the CFF was initially funded by the Eady Levy, which was a tax on cinema box office receipts. The films were not only a vehicle for aspiring actors to appear alongside more established cast members, but more importantly most of these aspiring actors were often children themselves.
From its inception until the funds dried up in the 1980s, the films were regularly shown at the children’s Saturday morning pictures shows, which were a feature of the UK during the 1960s and 70s, and often received a second showing on television. The Foundation’s aim to both entertain and educate, saw their output include themes like knuckling down at school or staying on the right side of the law, all wrapped in the veneer of a riveting storyline without ever being obviously “lecture-y”.
The films were designed to appeal to “children’s strong instinct for fair play and a pronounced sympathy for the underdog”, and there was a lot of footage dedicated to the foiling of dastardly deeds and the ill-thought out plans of bungling crooks by right-minded groups of moral, well-meaning children.
The best known of the CFF output is probably the made for televison series “Get On Board With the Double Deckers”, which took the CCF’s familiar themes and techniques to an international audience, and was co-produced by 20th Century Fox.
In a way, this was their appeal; girls and boys working together to make a better world, full of fun, discovery and excitement along the way. That was the real lesson, and one that appealed to our own internal underdog.
With our underdogs suitably empowered, it wasn’t much of a stretch, a few years later, to begin taking on the real villains; of dead-end jobs, boredom and the mass-produced popular culture that we had grown to despise. The Children’s Film Foundation didn’t cause Punk Rock, but it might have sown the seeds for us to more easily recognise societal wrong-doings, and helped to embolden us to search for some radical new solutions, all in ways the Children’s Film Foundation probably never intended or imagined.
By complete, some might say spooky zeightgeist coincidence, this Saturday, 20th October 2018, London’s Cinema Museum is showing the Premiere of a brand new documentary film all about the CFF followed by a Q&A with director Jason Gurr. Details HERE.