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From The Socialist newspaper, 16 February 2006

40 years after 'Cathy Come Home':

The housing scandal

JEREMY SANDFORD'S drama, Cathy Come Home, about a young family who slide into homelessness and poverty was a defining moment in 1960s television, demonstrating how far drama could influence the political agenda.

Karl Cross, Leicester

BBC1 screened it in 1966, within the regular Wednesday Play slot, as a 'drama-documentary' concerning homelessness and its effect upon families, directed by Ken Loach. It has subsequently been released on DVD.

The success of Cathy Come Home established Loach as a politically committed filmmaker standing apart from the commercial mainstream. Only a few years after Harold Macmillan pompously declared to the British nation: "You've never had it so good", Loach chokes the government by ramming these words down its throat.

While the nation was basking in the glory of England's 1966 World Cup success, 4,000 kids were being separated from their families and bundled into care because their parents were homeless.

The play follows young lovers Cathy and Reg from the optimism of their early married days through a spiral of misfortune that follows Reg's accident at work, leading to eviction and separation.

The film culminates in what remains one of television's most memorable scenes - a hysterical Cathy has her children forcibly taken away by Social Services.

The controversy generated by Cathy Come Home led to public outrage at the state of housing in Britain. Its impact was unprecedented, eliciting widespread censure and enquiries in the Houses of Parliament.

In the same month it was broadcast, the housing charity Shelter was launched.

The programme has become a British TV classic, regularly referred to by critics and researchers as well as by programme-makers themselves. This is partly due to the quality of the script, direction and acting, but also the way the film mixed dramatic with documentary material and showed the power of television in highlighting social problems.

It just goes to show that for tens of thousands, the 1960s were a distant cry from sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.


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