A tale of teen angst and disaffection in London’s East End at the tail end of the 1960s, Barney Platts-Mills’ debut feature Bronco Bullfrog (1969) is beautifully photographed snapshot of its era.

The mostly improvised drama follows Del (Del Walker) and his mates as he gets into trouble around his native Stratford. He mills about, breaks into places and flirts awkwardly with girls, in particular Irene (Anne Gooding) whom he falls in love with. In the same week, troublemaker Jo Saville (Sam Shepherd), alias Bronco Bullfrog, has just got out of borstal and has a job lined up to steal goods from a freight train wagon. He recruits Del, but soon the pair end in bother and the law is fast on their tails.

Platts-Mills’ film is a wonderful social document, somewhat similar in subject to Joan Littlewood’s Sparrows Can’t Sing (1963). It captures a Stratford that few will recognise today, since the area saw huge redevelopment for the 2012 London Olympics, being transformed into a landscape closer to something out of a J.G. Ballard novel. Yet, in spite of the developments, some of the locations of this early Mod classic still survive. Here’s how they look today.

The shop

The opening shot of Bronco Bullfrog is almost a mission statement. Platts-Mills shows a vast panorama of industrial Stratford, before zoning in on a café that the group will break into in order to steal money. They only end up with a few pennies and a bit of cake. Although the whole area has largely seen its original buildings demolished, the café still stands on Stratford High Street. Indeed, it still looks like a greasy spoon, but within is an award-winning Thai restaurant.

Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
Pie Crust Thai restaurant on 273 High Street

Even though the lads rob the café, throughout the rest of the drama it also appears to be their main hangout. We see its interior a number of times, and particularly the view out of its window onto the high street. Today, most of the original housing blocks have been demolished and replaced with hotels.

Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
Modern High Street

The house

Del still lives with his father (Dick Philpott) in their brick terrace house. In spite of the huge level of development in the area, the row of houses seen in the film still survives. The road is Windmill Street, and the house was number 17. We see it when Del is excitedly cleaning his new motorbike.

Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
Windmill Street

A better view of the house can be seen later in the film when Del meets one of his friends outside. Again, the building is surprisingly close to how it was more than 50 years ago, though the road is now jammed with cars.

Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
Houses on modern Windmill Street
Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
17 Windmill Street

The flat

Once Del has met Irene, he spends an increasing amount of time visiting her. Handily, she lives just around the corner at the Green Point block of flats on Water Lane.

Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
Green Point flats on Water Lane

Although we see the building extensively, inside and out, the most detailed sequence involves Del exiting it. Having had a run-in with Irene’s mother (Freda Shepherd), he’s worried that Irene has gone off with another lad. He wanders up and down in front for a time before sitting down on the small wall outside. Though the space is now an area for bins, and the nearby tree has disappeared, the wall Del sits on partly survives.

Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
Modern Water Lane
Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
Green Point flats on Water Lane

The tunnel 

On the run from the law, Del visits one of the more unusual features of south-east London: the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. This provides the film with its most visually striking sequence. We see the 120-year-old feature first by its stairway when Del walks through.

Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Unfortunately for Del, he meets some more bovver boys and gets a kicking. It’s difficult to say precisely whereabouts in the tunnel this is, as the original light fittings – a good measure of distance – have been replaced. However, with a similar fire box on the wall today, the likeness for the shot is simple to recreate. 

Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The docks

In the film’s final sequence, all three main characters are on the run, quite literally. The trio flee to the docks. We first see them running through Crowley Wharf before stopping on Lovell’s Wharf on the Thames Path. Though some of the industrial buildings in the background, as well as the Cutty Sark pub, still survive, the whole of the industrial part of the path has since been demolished.

Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
Modern Lovell’s Wharf Footpath

Looking in the other direction, there are no surviving landmarks of Lovell’s Wharf and, sadly, the evocative brick wall that Bronco is seen running by before the film’s conclusion has, like so much of old industrial London, disappeared. It’s been replaced with luxury flats, and it’s doubtful whether Del and his mates could afford to live in the London of today.

Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
Modern flats seen from Lovell’s Wharf Footpath

References


Bronco Bullfrog is currently on release in the US, opening in Los Angeles on 29 April. It’s also available on BFI Blu-ray and to stream on BFI Player.