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The Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box Vol. 2: Vic Pratt Interview

  The Children's Film Foundation produced dozens upon dozens of films for Britain's children from the 1940s to the 1980s, and the B.F.I. have released another compilation of nine titles to enjoy. Curator of the archive Vic Pratt was good enough to answer some questions on the set...

TSI: Can you tell us your duties at the B.F.I? What do you do to find these films and television programmes?

VP: I've been at the BFI for more than twenty years now - man and boy! - with a background as a film archivist, programmer, writer and curator, and now a producer - and we're lucky enough to have access to one of the greatest collections of film and television in the world - and just one aspect of that is that we are proud keepers of the Children's Film Foundation film collection, which we handle on behalf of the Children's Media Foundation, its custodians.

TSI: How did you get interested in film? Has it been a lifelong passion?

VP: Yes! My Dad is a big film buff and he got me interested in cinema.

TSI: Did you enjoy Children's Film Foundation films when you were growing up? Which were your favourites?

VP: I especially like the 1960s and 1970s ones, and my childhood favourite was Mr Horatio Knibbles - a film about a giant rabbit that only kids could see! Weird stuff! I never forgot it.

TSI: What do you think the cultural impact of C.F.F. movies has been? Is it still felt in today's productions?

VP: Yes, it showed society at large that there was a real need and appetite for quality films for children - and there still is today.

TSI: How did you go about choosing the films for the Bumper Box? What kind of mix did you want?

VP: I chose the films with the help of my BFI colleague Trevona Thomson - she's a big CFF fan too! We wanted ones that were fast paced and full of fun and adventure, and featured great locations and a sprinkling of stars. And we wanted to get a spread of films from across the decades the CFF was active - from the 1950s right through to the 1980s.

TSI: Did many of the child stars go on to adult careers in acting, or was it mostly a one and done arrangement?

VP: Some did, and some didn't. In this set you'll see great early performances from future stars like Dennis Waterman, Frazer Hines, Judy Geeson and Sally Thomsett. And brilliant performances from established adult stars like Ronnie Barker, Warren Mitchell, Lesley Dunlop, and Bernard Cribbins!

TSI: What was the motivation for the better-known stars to appear in these, the ones who were already famous? Was it prestige or a bit of fun?

VP: The better-known stars appeared for minimum rates because they believed in what the CFF was doing - providing quality films for kids on a modest budget! And I'm sure it was fun too - except for all that falling in the water.

TSI: Were there any surprises you encountered in researching these films? In attitudes or what they depicted, for example?

VP: The kids get up to all sorts of things that parents wouldn't allow today! And what freedom kids had to roam and play as they pleased. Crikey!

TSI: What do you think watching C.F.F. films can teach us about the past and the present? How valuable are they culturally?

VP: They're a great snapshot of Britain as it once was, and society's attitudes to childhood and children - and the ways that parenting have changed over the decades. And they're great nostalgic fun for adults and kids too. Fun for all the family, then and now.

TSI: Why do so many C.F.F. efforts feature characters falling into water? It seems to have been somebody's obsession!

VP: Yes, falling over has been funny since the days of Laurel and Hardy. And falling in the water is a good, easy, cheap stunt to shoot!

TSI: Do you think it was important for C.F.F. films to be educational in some capacity?

VP: It wasn't the main intention - they were designed to be good, clean fun. Not boring schoolroom stuff... but they weren't only for laughs - they often make you think. Evacuee drama Friend or Foe on this set manages to have a powerful anti-war message without ever being patronising or preachy.

TSI: If the C.F.F. had survived, what do you think they would have been producing today? Is there room for a modern C.F.F. now?

VP: There's always a place for quality films for children - and the CFF was a great idea. What's missing is the funding...

TSI: Do you plan to write another book along the lines of The Bodies Beneath? It was very entertaining.

VP: Glad you liked it! Yes, I've been chatting to my co-author Will Fowler about a follow-up, and meanwhile we're both getting together a couple of solo writing projects too.

TSI: What are the strangest things you have found in your research of British children's film and T.V?

VP: The past is another country, so they say - and kids' film and TV is one of the strangest lost continents of the televisual. Looking back on it now it all seems incredibly weird - even the mainstream stuff - just one for instance, what was that chap Mr Benn doing dressing up in a bowler hat and suit every day, but never going to the office? And take a look at The Sea Children in CFF Bumper Box Vol 2 if you'd like a splendid example of bewildering CFF bonkersness. It's about an undersea race of centuries' old kids who speak at super-high speed on a mission to save the world from stupid adults - as usual!

TSI: Are there any other B.F.I. projects you have coming up you'd like to share with us?

VP: Yes - another bewildering and bonkers film called It Couldn't Happen Here, directed by the great Jack Bond, starring the Pet Shop Boys, Barbara Windsor and Gareth Hunt - an incredible mad music film with all their greatest hits - brilliantly shot, and wonderfully choreographed by Arlene Phillips, and lovingly now restored in 4K for its Blu ray and DVD world premiere in June.

Many thanks to Vic for his responses, and the box set is available to buy now. On three discs are the following films:

Treasure at the Mill - Click here to read a review.
Wings of Mystery - Click here to read a review.
Seventy Deadly Pills - Click here to read a review.
Go Kart Go - Click here to read a review.
A Ghost of a Chance - Click here to read a review.
The Sea Children - Click here to read a review.
Sky Pirates - Click here to read a review.
The Mine and the Minotaur - Click here to read a review.
Friend or Foe - Click here to read a review.

As extra features, there are three shorts: A Letter from the Isle of Wight, A Letter from Wales and A Letter from Ayrshire, and two interviews, one with actor Simon Fisher Turner about working on the films in the 1970s, and the other with John Krish, the director of Friend or Foe, his last interview.

Author: Graeme Clark.


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Last Updated: 31 March, 2018