It’s understandable that a wistful air of nostalgia might have taken hold during the escalating Coronavirus crisis – to a Prelapsarian time when things were simpler, events less instantly global and the stakes much lower.
If you, too, hanker for the past, I have the answer – the Children’s Film Foundation Bumper Box Vol. 2, a physical product (remember those?) and three-disc set from the BFI that collects films made, on location, initially in black-and-white, and laser-aimed at the young.
Mention of the CFF – founded in 1951 as a non-profit and subsidised by a levy on UK box office receipts – will get the nostalgia glands working overtime for Generation X-ers like myself, born into a less tricky world (certainly for kids) before computers, interconnectivity and selfies. Our parents had no choice but to let us run free, having first warned us not to fly kits near electricity pylons.
Saturday Morning Picture shows started up here after the war, with local cinemas showing imported American serials, Daffy Duck cartoons and something daft starring Will Hay. This is where the CFF showcased its wholesome adventures, where the baddie was always a grown-up and justice was served. My memory of ABC Minors, as the cinema chain christened its junior patrons, was one of happy chaos.
It’s only now that former beneficiaries of subsidized cinema for kids realise how lucky we were. As the new CFF set confirms, there’s joy in these hour-long films, the best of which were produced in the 60s and 70s when bombsites were still seen in rebuilt towns, and dens were vital for the self-respecting gang. (There were no postcode skirmishes in those days.)
Many future TV stars earned their spurs in films like 1963’s Seventy Deadly Pills – a Bash Street-style caper in which drugs are mistaken for Smarties – with future Railway Children and Man About the House star Sally Thomsett and not-yet-Alf-Garnett Warren Mitchell. Other CFF graduates included Denis Waterman, with the likes of Dad’s Army’s Arnold Ridley, Ronnie Barker and Steptoe’s Wilfrid Bramble popping up in Vol. 2 too.
The full-colour, flared-trouser Sky Pirates is a particular favourite of the box set’s curator Vic Pratt, who tells me he particularly likes its “floppy fringes, playing in the woods, fizzy pop and Airfix model kits.” More seriously, he describes the set as “a fascinating cultural record of everyday British society and changing ideas of childhood.”
A valuable treasure trove of innocence, it’s certainly one you could watch with your kids or grandchildren – each film is rated “U”.
The Children’s Film Foundation Bumper Box Vol 2 is available from Amazon