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Battle of Billy's Pond, The (1976)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Battle of Billy's Pond, The (1976)
35mm, 56 minutes, colour
DirectorHarley Cokliss
Production CompanyIrit Film Productions
 Mark Forstater Productions
ProducerMark Forstater
ScreenplayHoward Thompson
Original story Michael Abrams
  Harley Cokliss

Cast: Ben Buckton (Billy Bateson); Andrew Ashby (Gobby McFarlane); Talfryn Thomas (Mr Pugh); Ann Beach (Mrs Bateson); Keith James (Mr Bateson)

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Two boys investigate industrial waste polluting their favourite fishing pond.

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There's just a little of the usual high-jinks and slapstick expected of a Children's Film Foundation production, but there's no doubting this is among the most serious of all its efforts, a film with a definite message. In a rare, considered contemporary overview of CFF output, Films and Filming critic Jenny Craven called this film, "an enthralling and condemning story about pollution [in which] the theme emerges from action rather than words."

A huge chemical company pays illegal dumpers for disposal of chemical waste dangerous to the environment, while adverts for its washing powder Breezee play endlessly on television, selling images of sunkissed cornfields and smiling children. The persuasive voiceover (courtesy of an authentic turn by the 1970s' king of the hard sell, Patrick Allen) makes hollow promises: "Washed nature's own way with a new organic detergent that whitens the same way as sunshine." The parable surely implies that consumerist society is damaging the planet.

The tough message is emphasised by some tense direction - notably a sequence of a waste tanker bearing down on Billy's bike and an exciting final fight sequence by leading stunt performers Derek Ware and Andrew Bradford which betrays the influence of adult crime TV series The Sweeney (ITV, 1975-78).

American-born director Cokliss attended film school in London and worked in television on documentaries like Omnibus (BBC, 1967- ) before approaching the Foundation, hearing they were willing to take a chance on new directors. The budget on this, his first feature, was £45,000, broadly in line with a one-hour filmed TV episode of the time.

There's a particularly strong supporting cast of familiar British TV faces and good performances by the young leads: Ben Buckton was a music school student, while Andrew Ashby was found at the Italia Conti Stage School. Buckton would reappear in Cokliss's next CFF film, The Glitterball (1977).

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Threatening tanker (3:22)
2. Dumping waste (4:19)
3. Catching the dumpers (2:54)
CFF: An Introduction