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Cathy Come Home is 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.

Plot summary

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 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.

Reaction

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 yet 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.

Production

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.

Criticism and reception

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 4), as part of a series highlighting the issue of homelessness.

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