The Pirates are an aspiring pop band of kids who believe they could get their big break if they win this talent contest, and the producer (Roger Daltrey) who has organised the event is very encouraging, though rather strict when it comes to the staging, leaving the boys under no illusions that they must be serious about their ambitions. The lead guitarist is Paul (Spencer Chandler), and he has supplied all the instruments, but the way things are going it is their roadie Michael (Ricky Simmonds) who is proving more popular with the other members, and he can sing and play as well. However, Paul has a dark secret: he is affording the equipment because he is helping his Uncle Stewart (George Sweeney) with his illegal videotaping operation, a lucrative endeavour of real life piracy...
The Children's Film Foundation was winding down by the time Pop Pirates was made, and their eventual passing into movie history was becoming more and more plain as it was little more than a retread of former glories, taking the all-too-well-worn premise of kids foiling criminals and applying the trappings of 1984 to it - not the George Orwell novel, but the year. That meant the central band played a form of light reggae pop, much as chart toppers Musical Youth had employed which had given rise to the possibility that kids could make successful records that were not novelties (although that was debatable), and gladdened the hearts of children across the country who harboured a desire to make it as pop stars, just like their idols (who granted were not likely to be Musical Youth, but Adam Ant or Culture Club, the latter getting a namecheck here).
Uncle Stewart, that ruddy dastard, has a videotaping set up in his barge on a nearby river, and Paul assists, indeed the story was more interested in putting a spanner in the works of his operation than it was in The Pirates winning that contest, as if it was a foregone conclusion and therefore would not have been worth spending too much time with. Big-haired Simmonds was soon to be best known among Britain's schoolchildren for appearing in the BBC kids' soap opera Grange Hill, which lent this a sliver of glamour by association that Roger Daltrey likely did not enjoy with the youth of the mid-eighties, especially when this showed up on Children's BBC, broadcast at the height of Simmonds' television fame. The other band members had no such professional luck, and you did wonder what brought former movie star Jon Finch to show up in a two-line cameo as a coastguard: doing a favour or all he was able to get back then?
As for that plot, in a curiously mundane manner Michael was kidnapped by Uncle Stewart when he discovers the criminal activity on the barge, imprisoned in a cargo hold with his pet dog Seamus, which proved to be a mistake when he used both the dog and his Walkman to relay an SOS to his pals. Yes, a Walkman, there were strained attempts at bringing the CFF up to date, and the fact this revolved less around the talent contest and more around illegal tapes was indicative of what they believed would appeal to the target audience, though in keeping with the title it wasn't copes of Cannibal Holocaust or The Evil Dead that were duplicated, it was promos of the bands of the day - the sort of thing that could safely be recorded off the telly, you would have thought, putting into question precisely how much profit could be made by the black market. There was even a variation on falling in the water for the end, in that it was a deliberate dive to escape by Paul rather than someone pushing him in. What they should have done was ditch the crime angle and played up the pop angle, but the foundation was evidently too stuck in its ways to change so significantly. Music by Allan Love and Gary Shail.
[The BFI have released the Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box, which includes the following films:
Also included are a special feature length documentary The Children's Film Foundation Story, an interview with Veteran CFF writer John Tully, a booklet, and three shorts from the 1950s, all with heroic hounds.]