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Terry on the Fence (1985)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Terry on the Fence (1985)
16mm, 70 minutes, colour
DirectorFrank Godwin
Production CompanyEyeline Film And Video
SponsorChildren's Film & Television Foundation
ProducersHarold Orton
 Frank Godwin
ScriptFrank Godwin
PhotographyRonnie Maasz

Cast: Jack McNicholl (Terry Harmer); Neville Watson (Les); Tracey Ann Morris (Tracey); Jeff Ward (Mick); Matthew Barker (Denis); Brian Coyle (Plastic-head); Susan Jameson (Mum); Martin Fisk (Dad)

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A gang of tough kids forces eleven-year-old Terry to help them steal radios from his school.

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One of the last films made by the Children's Film Foundation (by now the Children's Film and Television Foundation), Terry on the Fence tries to suggest sympathy for the villain, a snotty youth from London's rundown docklands who's been scarred both physically and mentally by his abusive mother. It might seem a long way from the days of black and white bad guys, bungling bank robbers on the run, but despite its rougher edges it still attempts to demonstrate the "intimacy with good example" intended of the 1950s output, the moral of the story being that Terry should appreciate all that his 'decent' family do for him. The 'fence', as seen near the film's close, represents the dilemma faced by Terry, with a life of crime on one side and authority, honesty and decency on the other.

There had been 'gritty' CFF films before, but there was definitely a relative air of menace in this entry, much of it suggested by the grim, oppressive atmosphere of the decaying docklands - the location work in and around Greenwich, Southwark, and Shad Thames, Bermondsey took place just before the area was redeveloped and regenerated. One omission, however, is the knife that the original novel has Les use to threaten Terry.

Further evidence of the CFF's growing sophistication and the move away from stories that played to the stalls, this was nonetheless an adaptation of a ten-year-old novel. Bernard Ashley specialised in stories about the rougher side of young life; the BBC had previously serialised his Break in the Sun (BBC, 1981), and in 1986 adapted his junior crime thriller Running Scared. Such quality adaptations of similar work, funded by the licence fee and seen in the dominant medium made it increasingly difficult for the CFTF to claim financial backing for its no longer unique output. Completed in 1985, the film would have been screened to very small audiences - if at all - as CFF attendances evaporated. The film received far wider exposure when it finally received its TV premiere on BBC1 (tx. 20/5/1988).

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Terry runs into trouble (3:32)
2. Stealing the radios (3:14)
3. On the fence (3:04)
CFF: An Introduction