A mother (June Brown) weighed down with shopping makes her way through one of London's slum areas, which is already being gradually knocked down to make way for new housing. She still lives there with her fourteen kids, and dotes over them in spite of the children being far too numerous for her to handle properly, but two of them, Reg (Jack Wild) and Sylvia (Liz Edmiston) are almost grown, being in their mid-to-late teens and manage to assist her with the younger ones, including the baby. They do more than their mother's boyfriend (Alun Armstrong) ever bothers to, but while the family is just about sticking together, tragedy is around the corner...
The 14 was loosely based on a true story, a minor cause celebre of the late sixties where a large brood of children were left to fend for themselves when their mother died suddenly. The social services were at their wits' end trying to find a home for them, mainly because they were so determined to stay together and refused to be split up no matter how much it was explained to them that they could not be adopted by one single family, largely thanks to their general unruliness ensuring that nobody was interested in taking them under their wing. Although actor turned director David Hemmings depicted them with sympathy, you could well see why that was the case.
The family, their father(s) long gone, are a law unto themselves and act as agents of chaos, so much of a handful that they are their own worst enemies. Even when their plight becomes famous, or notorious might be a better word, and the public are on their side regarding the social workers as a bunch of meanies at best, not one of them are prepared to assist, preferring to criticise without understanding the size of the task ahead. At first the council send round a home help (Anna Wing, like Brown an actress who would make her name in popular soap opera Eastenders in the following decade), but the boys send her packing before the day is up, covered in mashed potato.
They are of a mind to not take orders from anyone now the mostly calming influence of their late parent has been taken away from them, which naturally makes them well nigh impossible to deal with as whenever they are taken to an orphanage they contrive to escape and reunite back at the increasingly rundown house they were brought up in. Hemmings obviously thinks they are little angels, though the less charitable may see them as a bunch of brats, but that did not mean he sugarcoated their plight into a typically Hollywood-aping weepie, as he and his screenwriter Roland Starke were careful to include many scenes of the kids' bad behaviour, it's just that they as filmmakers refused to pass judgement on them and their moves towards juvenile delinquency.
The tagline optmistically told potential viewers the 14 would make you laugh and cry and you would never forget them, which might be overstating it, yet the fact this was a true tale did offer it a memorable quality in spite of its occasionally contrived sentimentality - witness the scene where they all assemble for Christmas - and there was another reason this gathered a cult following. He was Jack Wild, the tragic star who saw his career blighted and pretty much ended by alcoholism, something which made his legion of fans want to mother him all the more, and here as often at this point he was playing younger than his years, in his twenties and acting a seventeen-year-old. He was well cast as essentially the father figure his siblings do not have, bargaining with the authorities to try and get the family's way but faced with the understanding yet pragmatic reasoning there is no chance of their wishes coming true. This slotted in with the kitchen sink, social responsibility tales of the previous decade and Hemmings worked up a contrasting grit with well-chosen locations. Music by Kenny Clayton.