TV Shows We Used To Watch – BBC British TV 1966 – Cathy Come Home
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Cathy Come Home was a BBC television drama by Jeremy Sandford, produced by Tony Garnett and directed by Ken Loach.
Filmed in a gritty, realistic drama documentary style, it was first broadcast on 16 November 1966 on BBC1.
The play was shown in the BBC’s The Wednesday Play anthology strand, which was well known for tackling social issues.
The play tells the story of a young couple, Cathy (played by Carol White) and Reg (Ray Brooks). Initially their relationship flourishes and they have a child and move into a modern home.
When Reg is injured and loses his well-paid job, they are evicted by bailiffs, and they face a life of poverty and unemployment, illegally squatting in empty houses and staying in shelters. Finally, Cathy has her children taken away by social services.
The play was watched by 12 million people — a quarter of the British population at the time — on its first broadcast. It broached issues that were not then widely discussed in the popular media, such as homelessness, unemployment, and the rights of mothers to keep their own children. It may have helped to influence changes in British law and in public opinion about these social issues.
It also helped raise the profile of the issue of homelessness. The film is often wrongly seen as influencing the founding of the charity for the homeless Shelter shortly after first broadcast but in actuality this was a coincidence.
However, the large audience for this programme and the influence it had on the British population led to great support for Shelter moving from being a small organisation to one with a national reach.
As Shelter states: "Watched by 12 million people on its first broadcast, the film alerted the public, the media, and the government to the scale of the housing crisis, and Shelter gained many new supporters."
The play was written by Jeremy Sandford, produced by Tony Garnett and directed by Ken Loach, who went on to become a major figure in British film. Loach employed a realistic documentary style, using predominantly 16mm film on location, which contrasted with the vast amount of BBC drama of the time which was commonly made in the electronic television studio.
Union regulations of the time though forced about ten minutes of Cathy Come Home to be shot in this way; film crews were smaller. The material shot on electronic cameras was telerecorded and spliced into the film as required.
Loach’s realistic style helped to heighten the play’s impact, particularly the scene in which Cathy and Reg are forcibly evicted with their children by bailiffs from the home in which they have been unable to keep up rent payments.
This powerful sequence, largely improvised, is often repeated in the UK in documentaries both about UK television history and the changing awareness of social issues in the 1960s.
In 1999, four years before the writer’s death, Cathy Come Home topped a British Film Institute poll as the most important single play ever made for television. Sandford might have reflected that many battles had been fought to bring it to the screen, but many more were needed just to begin tackling the issue that had become his own cause célèbre.
In a 2000 poll of industry professionals conducted by the British Film Institute to determine the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century, Cathy Come Home was voted second, the highest-placed drama on the list, behind the comedy Fawlty Towers. In 2003, it was released on VHS and DVD by the BFI as part of their Archive Television range but is now out of print.
In 2006 the film was re-shown for the first time in many years (on BBC Four), as part of a series highlighting the issue of homelessness. It, along with other Loach films, is currently available to watch on Loach’s YouTube channel.
Written by Jeremy Sandford
Directed by Ken Loach
Starring Carol White & Ray Brooks
Carol White (1 April 1943 – 16 September 1991) was a British actress. Born in Hammersmith, London, the daughter of a scrap merchant’s daughter, White attended the Corona Stage Academy.
She achieved notability for her performances in the television play Cathy Come Home (1966) and the films Poor Cow (1967) and I’ll Never Forget What’s'isname (1967), but alcoholism and drug abuse damaged her career, and from the early 1970s she worked infrequently.
Ray Brooks (born 20 April 1939 in Brighton, East Sussex) is an English actor possibly best known for his narration work for children’s TV show Mr Benn.
Ray Brooks began as a television actor. He appeared in the long-running soap Coronation Street and played Terry Mills in the series Taxi with Sid James (1963). He then rose to prominence in the UK after starring alongside Michael Crawford and Rita Tushingham in The Knack …and How to Get It.
The film, directed by Richard Lester won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1965. Brooks followed up this success starring in the groundbreaking television drama Cathy Come Home.
Through the 1960s Brooks also had small roles in a number of cult television series including The Avengers, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Danger Man, Doomwatch. He played the major role of David Campbell in the Doctor Who film Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD.
Major film roles in the 1970s were less numerous; among his roles was a supporting part in comedy Carry On Abroad (1972). In this decade he built a career doing voiceovers for television advertisements. He also released an album of his own songs.
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