Bethnal Green is changing – the terrace houses are being knocked down to make way for high-rise flats – and things are changing for Ricky Flint (Mike Sarne) and his family too: his sister Betty (Barbara Ferris) and her husband Jim (David Andrews) are about to have their first baby, and his father, Matt (Bernard Lee) has lost his job as a dockworker and taken to the streets as a Houdini-style escapologist to earn money to put food on the table – quite often embarrassing himself and his family in the process.
Ricky hooks up with the fiercely independent Cat Donovan (Rita Tushingham as a most unconvincing cockney) but there’s no money for anything. So he turns to local gangster Jack Ellerman (John Slater) to help him rob the Coolstream cigarette factory where he works.
Ellerman convinces Ricky’s brother-in-law Jim – a lorry driver hoping to buy an expensive transport licence – to join in as their getaway driver.
When Matt finds Jack and his gang at the Flints’ house meeting with Ricky and Jim, his anger causes him to suffer a fatal stroke.
Jim decides at the last minute that he can’t go through with the robbery so Ricky takes Jim’s lorry without his knowledge and fills in for Jim, as well as disabling the factory alarm. During the course of the robbery, Ricky finds himself unable to hit a police officer who approaches, leaving it to another member of Jack’s gang, Charlie Batey (William Marlowe) to knock out the copper.
Charlie later takes revenge on Ricky by setting fire to Jim’s lorry and Ricky is badly burned attempting to put out the fire and hospitalised.
Meanwhile, slum clearance forces Ricky’s mother Lil (Doris Hare) to reluctantly move out of her home of 30 years into a new flat in another area. Jim and Betsy use the insurance money from the burned lorry to move into a house of their own, and Jim gives up his dream of being a transport driver for a steady job in a local factory.
When Ricky is released from the hospital he finds Cat with Charlie Batey at the local pub and attacks Charlie. The police arrive and arrest both men.
In court, Ricky claims that he and Cat are engaged and he was angry because she was seeing Charlie while he was in the hospital. When Cat corroborates Ricky’s testimony, the judge is lenient and lets Ricky off with a fine. Ricky and Cat then decide to make their engagement a reality.
Catherine “Cat” Donovan