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  Battle of Billy's Pond, The Eco Aware
Year: 1976
Director: Harley Cokeliss
Stars: Ben Buckton, Andrew Ashby, Talfryn Thomas, Ann Beach, Keith James, Geoffrey Hinsliff, Derek Ware, Geoffrey Palmer, Andy Bradford, Miriam Margolyes, Linda Robson
Genre: AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Billy Bateson (Ben Buckton) is a young boy who likes nothing better in life than to spend time fishing at his favourite pond, an out of the way location in the countryside near his village home. That said, he is not always alone, as his best friend Gobby (Andrew Ashby) often accompanies him with the gadgets borrowed from his scientist father, such as a remote control speaker he can use to project his voice, or a periscope he can look under the water of the pond with. But today, there is a problem when they notice a dead fish floating beneath the surface; Billy retrieves it with concern, and brings it back to his home, setting off a chain of events that will ultimately expose the degree of pollution in the area...

Now, I know what you're thinking: Children's Film Foundation. A pond. This will basically be fifty-five minutes of people falling into the water, right? But hold your horses there, the pond, as it is established, is contaminated and if it kills off fish then it wouldn't be ideal liquid to topple into without the kids movie taking a wrong turn to predicting that notorious scene from Robocop with the chemical waste, so a more cynical audience might have observed the Foundation had shot themselves in the foot with this plot. On the other hand, it was created by Harley Cokeliss, who the next year would go on to direct one of the most celebrated of their productions, 1977's The Glitterball.

Therefore you would correctly anticipate this to be smarter than the average C.F.F. adventure, and with its pro-ecology message it was certainly forward thinking, though it was essentially adopting the same environmental causes as many pop culture movements of the seventies as the problem became more visible in the minds of the public. Children were particularly interested in helping their surroundings, and indeed still are, for it is they who will be adults in the world where either pollution has been allowed to get out of hand or the issue has been coped with thanks to the efforts they orchestrated (or helped to) back when they were young. Therefore Cokeliss penned a yarn that would easily earn their sympathies.

Aside from many scenes and shots redolent of a nineteen-seventies British childhood, the social consciousness aspect remained surprisingly vital so many decades in the future; couple that to a thriller narrative that was really not bad at all, assisted by non-obnoxious child performers and you had one of the stronger Foundation efforts. Naturally the two friends turned sleuths to discover what had happened to their beloved pond, tracing the pollution to the horrible big lorry that roars through the lanes, even nearly running over Billy in a scene reminiscent of Steven Spielberg's Duel, and from there to the massive corporation manufacturing the washing up powder seen in television adverts which has given the dumpers the OK to do the dumping. With excursions to a chemical plant where Miriam Margolyes can be spotted doing a tour, this was entertainment for smart kids who would be keen to recycle. Oh, and someone did fall into... something, but offscreen. Music by Harry Robertson.

[The BFI have released the Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box, which includes the following films:

Peril for the Guy
Cup Fever
Mr Horatio Knibbles
Anoop and the Elephant
The Zoo Robbery
The Battle of Billy's Pond
One Hour to Zero
4D Special Agents
Pop Pirates

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.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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