In London's East End, teenage Del (Del Walker) and his friends find themselves living a life of boredom that this morning they decide to alleviate by turning to crime, as they break into a cafe and help themselves to the paltry amount of cash there, along with a box of cakes. Pretty pathetic stuff, but these boys don't know any better, and as far as criminal activity goes they are not in the same league as Bronco Bullfrog (Sam Shepherd), who they hear has recently escaped from borstal. Will Del be able to resist doing anything illegal under Bronco's influence?
There's no getting away from it, the first film that springs to mind when watching this is Quadrophenia, a film that was made ten years after and follows a similar plot, and even a few of its details. It's hard to believe the creators of that film never saw Bronco Bullfrog, but while the work based around the music of The Who is probably a better film overall, its predecessor contained plenty to interest the social historians and casual film buffs alike. Writer and director Barney Platts-Mills took as his cast a selection of non-professionals, which certainly showed in their performances but also lent it the air of authenticity.
Platts-Mills' style was evocative of Ken Loach, another director whose drive for social realism informed his work, and if this was not quite up to his standard, they were drawing from the same well. Actually the central character is not the title one, but Del, who has left school early to work as a welder, something that may make him a small amount of money but does not satisfy him in any way. Satisfaction initially derives from petty crime and simply hanging around with his mates - they have their own clubhouse where they gather to chat and ogle porn magazines, but soon romance is on the horizon.
She arrives in the shape of fifteen-year-old Irene (Anne Gooding), who Del takes a shine to, although neither her mother nor Del's father approve. In fact, they're pretty harsh with regard to their offspring, as if they don't trust them as far as they could throw them, so it's little wonder the kids end up wishing to rebel. It doesn't all go one way: Del's father buys him a motorbike with the prize money he wins in a newspaper competition, so he's not all bad, it's just that the moment Del starts seeing Irene he needles his son about breaking it off with her as if she were the bad influence. You can sort of see Irene's mother's point, but the older generation are not giving the younger one a chance.
As for Bronco, he lures Del into stealing a load of white goods from an unattended railway carriage, something they don't appear to have any hope of getting rid of. But even Bronco isn't that bad a lad, as he's affable enough, it's just that with his criminal past he has no hope of much of a future. Not that the film is hugely political, it's more that it told it like it was for the people it was depicting, who in many cases were living the lives their characters were. Eventually Del and Irene run away, but there's not much in the way of pursuit as although the parents are concerned and the police get involved mainly because of Del's recent lawbreaking, there is no urgency to the story or the way it turns out. Often this can come across as very austere, even bleak, but it does lighten up a degree by the end, suggesting a cautious optimism about the fate of the characters. Putting sugar on Sugar Puffs is a bit much, mind you. Music by The Audience (the original one).