Cathy Come Home -Still relevant over 55 years later

Cathy Come Home was a hard-hitting, documentary style play from writer Jeremy Sandford and director Ken Loach, that tackled the theme of homelessness in the mid 60’s.

It was first aired on 16 November 1966 and caused a national outcry not only about the issue of homelessness, but around the subject of support or lack thereof for families caught in the poverty traps of the day.

Linda Dyson, writing for the Birmingham Daily Post, reflects on 19 November 1966 how:

“Strangely, it is when television is being most socially conscious, that it arouses the bitterest criticisms, as with Jeremy Sandford’s documentary play Cathy Come Home (BBC1, Wednesday). People object to reality…They say they watch a play to be entertained, not shocked, or made to feel uncomfortable, or selfish”

This was a play that was stark, grey (literally and emotionally) which caught viewers off-guard. Showing how good people can be caught up in bad situations through no fault of their own. BUT this play went further and clearly showed how the lack of the proper support truly compounds and impacted the situations. Especially when authorities were actually offering little or none of the “support” that was supposed to be there..

This was something that hadn’t been seen previously – this docu-drama 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 was watched by 12 million people – a quarter of the British population at the time – on its first broadcast.

One commentator called it “an ice-pick in the brain of all who saw it”. The play produced a storm of phone calls to the BBC, and discussion in Parliament. 

So – why are we letting you know this play is on the BBC again almost 55 years after it was first aired…

A few reasons –

  • In the light of public reaction to the film and following a publicity campaign led by William Shearman and Iain Macleod highlighting the plight of the homeless, the charity Crisis was formed in 1967.
  • In a 2000 poll of industry professionals conducted by the British Film Institute to determine the BFI TV 100 of the 20th century, Cathy Come Home was voted the highest-placed drama.
  • In 2005 Cathy Come Home was named by Broadcast as the UK’s most influential TV programme of all time.

BUT mostly the reason we are mentioning this cinematic masterpiece is that the sense of hopelessness it conveys, along with the feeling of being pushed from pillar to post with no true direction by a rigid, impersonal system; is still as frighteningly vivid now over 55 years later as it was in 1966.

As you watch this drama unfold, you can clearly see the blame being apportioned to an individual, who has no experience in the terrible situations they are in. There is simply no acknowledgment of the wider causes of their situation.

Causes such as lack of social housing, unscrupulous private landlords, family breakdown, process driven authorities and difficult (sometimes devious) employers which are all culpable when you step back and look at Cathy’s predicament.

Yet time and again she is told to “sort herself out”, to “put the situation right” as if she is the problem, not the awful situations she is in thanks to the above reasons…

This drama is one everyone should watch – at least once in their lives – hopefully one day it will be just as a reminder of how things once were… However now it is a reminder of how things really haven’t changed very much in half a century and that’s a terrible shame.

Cathy Come Home – BBC Four Wednesday 25th May 10.00pm