Pat (Mandy Harper) needs a hutch for her pet rabbit, and her friends are building one for her, but when Kim (Frazer Hines) tries to remove the overhanging ends with her father's saw, he ends up bending its teeth. Mortified, the four of them try to plan their next move: the best thing to do is to buy a new saw and hope he never notices the difference, but the trouble there is that thet don't have any spare money. Then a brainwave strikes them: how about they find jobs to drum up the cash? What could possibly go wrong?
Those pigeons in flight at the beginning of the movie could only mean one thing, and that's Children's Film Foundation time, of which The Salvage Gang was a early example. In the days before children's television came along and spoiled the party to provide a reason for Britain's kids to stay in and watch their entertainment, the C.F.F. was master of all it surveyed on Saturday mornings, offering up a selection of adventures in your local fleapit detailing the scrapes and japes that your average Brit child could get into, or rather the foundation's quaint version of that, for a good few decades.
Quite often these adventures would see the young characters foiling criminals and generally doing their civic duty, all on a level of something you might read in The Beano or The Dandy, two comics which dictated the tastes of generations. In the case of The Salvage Gang, there was no evildoing whatsoever, with the plot preferring to find other means to offer its thrills and spills. The four of them are dogged with bad luck and their own poor judgement as they embark on get rich quick schemes, well, maybe not rich - when they receive a whole pound their delighted reaction is likely to prompt unintended laughter these days - but enough to get that saw.
First up is a try at painting a barge while the bargee catches forty winks below deck, but they put varnish paint on it which makes it so slippy he ends up in the drink, as often happened to hapless adults in these films. So no profit there. Next up they opt for a dog washing, but the sole taker for their tin bath on a patch of wasteground enterprise is Pat's own dog Sally - no profit there, either. Then their most ambitious endeavour yet: collecting scrap metal to sell to their local dealer, though they reckoned without their flyers offering easy pickings for the actual scrap collector, leaving them with a bed to sell. This is where things get complicated, as this is actually the bed of Freddie (Christopher Warbey), one of the gang who's moving house.
From then on this should really be a comedy, and there are deliberate gags littered throughout, but the impression is that we must be on the edge of our seats wondering whether Freddie will get his bed back, even if more charming than actively exciting and suspenseful. You did get a good look at various London locations of the day, offering historical interest, and it was pleasing that the sole black gang member, Ali (Ali Allen), was important but just another kid and not some overbearing statement on integration. As for the rest of the cast, Hines went on to TV immortality the following decade as Highlander Jamie on Doctor Who, and Harper, here as Amanda Coxell, made a success of herself as a costume designer once the acting work dried up, but the most recognisable face here was Wilfrid Brambell, soon to be famed on classic sitcom Steptoe and Son, not to mention Paul's grandad in A Hard Day's Night: here he played a tramp opportunistically taking a kip on the bed. Unavoidably a minor work, but sometimes these efforts have more resonance than originally intended. Music by Jack Beaver.
[This has been released as part of the London Tales DVD, a three films on one disc bargain of C.F.F. works from the B.F.I.]