This small gang of kids calls themselves the 4D Special Agents, after one of them, Jane Bowman (Lisa East), was told about a child safety campaign of that name by her policeman father (Mark Jones). The four Ds are "Don'ts" - don't take sweets from strangers, don't get into strangers' cars, don’t play out after dark and don't loiter on the way home from school, and the gang are keen to stick with them. They have an old boat to use as a hideout by the canal in a disused area of London, where one of their number, Olly (Philip Cook), has his radio set that he listens in on police broadcasts with, and they would all dearly like to be involved with an adventure, but as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for...
This was one of the later Children's Film Foundation efforts, and the title was not something conjured up by writer and co-director Harold Orton, an old hand at this sort of material by this time. It was a genuine promotion by certain police regions that the C.F.F. were evidently invited to make into a story to ensure the children watching would remember the rules, though as it was it lasted about as long in the public memory as the road safety promotion SPLINK, i.e. not very. Still, it was worth a try, and we did get this little item out of it, as while the Foundation was about to suffer a pretty rough eighties when interest in their projects dwindled dramatically, this near-to-last hurrah was not bad at all.
It wasn't the fear of being abducted that powered the plotline, though that did occur by and by, it was the warning to allow the police to do their jobs, and if you saw anything suspicious then you should contact them rather than being a have a go hero or taking the law into your own hands, as the kids inevitably do. This was a C.F.F. film, they had to have them do something adventurous or there would be no story, and no public service remit to tell the target audience how to stay out of peril, or what to do if they found themselves in it either. So our ersatz Famous Five (they even had a cute dog, called Scruff rather than Timmy) graduate from investigating top class radio equipment on a nearby boat to trying to foil jewel thieves.
The thieves were led by Bryan Marshall, the craggy-faced actor who would soon move to Australia and show up in BMX Bandits, but there was trouble within the gang of kids too. Dexter Fletcher, probably the most recognisable actor here (unless you were an eighties EastEnders fan and realised, hey, that's Paul J. Medford there as well), was playing a bit of a wrong 'un who once they have liberated the jewels from their hiding place, nicks a gold and emerald brooch from them for his own profit. When the bad guys steal the stash back, he still has the brooch, which takes us to the increase of danger as they want it back and are willing to kidnap Jane to get it. At first glance, this was typical of these productions, but it actually turned out to be tense and enjoyable, professionally assembled, brightly acted by the children (and the dog) and an all round jolly good show, proof that the Foundation should have lasted to this day if the climate had been more generous towards it. Music by Harry Robertson (with a bit of his Play Safe public information film theme snuck in there).
[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.]