Guest blogger SusieSue is inconvenienced, but a tv classic helps her remember how fortunate she really is…
May I digress slightly… my office is my kitchen. My kitchen is under my bathroom. My bathroom is being re-fitted. My office TV is below said bathroom. Consequently, the signal to said office TV has been at best, disrupted. Although I have been oop north for the most part of last week (I want to live in York now, btw) to escape the fact my house looks like a small branch of Wickes.
So I’ve turned to BBC iPlayer. The renowned and iconic Cathy Come Home re-aired on BBC4 on Sunday 31st July. It was first shown mere weeks before my birth, in late 1966. I have heard of it, but never seen it until now.
Directed by Ken Loach, this is the story of a young couple, full of love and hope and enjoying everything we take for granted now in family life, in their modern home with their children. Cathy (Carol White) and Reg (Ray Brooks) are amazing in this. But then Reg is injured at work. He loses his job. The bailiffs come and they trail from place to place until the family is torn apart.
There’s no happy ending here. It’s become a part of social history; proof that television and the arts really do matter.
My parents were married in 1964 and didn’t own their own house until 1971. To this day it has no hot tap in the kitchen and no central heating. That’s how I grew up. In the 20th century. Washing my hair in the kitchen sink and boiling a kettle to do the dishes.
But Cathy Come Home… heartbreaking doesn’t cover it.
‘The Wednesday Play’ – later ‘Play For Today’ I think – should be revived.
This is raw, difficult watching.
“I reckon it’s just us … just us”. Yes. It’s scary.
The joyous wedding juxtaposed against Granddad being farmed off “We can’t keep him – the incontinence is pretty bad” … but at least there is ‘plenty to do’ for him at the council care home.
And now Cathy’s pregnant. “I was sick all the time and I never realised… ”
Then she tries to get a mortgage. £5K deposit was out of the question back then. I don’t think the place my parents bought even cost that much.
“What is needed is a Government that treats (the housing problem) as a crisis – and treats it as such.”
Heavily pregnant Cathy goes from door to door and finds nothing. “200,000 more families in the London area than places to put them.”
This is 1966. Just over 20 years from the end of WWII. Kids were still playing on bombed out housing sites and finding shrapnel. My Mum grew up on Carpenters Road London E15 – nodding distance from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. They had been bombed out twice, and eventually Grandma was re-housed in one of the Points (Lund as it happens) one of the three high-rise flats right next to Stratford station, still standing, empty now, not slum-like but puts me in mind of the favelas in Rio, which they never show on the telly. I guess she was lucky. Aunty Vi was practically evicted from there but is happy elsewhere now – she had her moment of fame on BBC London News protesting about her move.
Aside: We lost Nan in 1978 – my diary entry of that day: ‘Grandma died. Had sausages for dinner.’ Kids, eh?
Some of the scenes include ‘unknowing’ members of the public. Ladies turning the young girl away. Heartbreaking doesn’t cover it.
Cathy is a good girl. She cares. She knows that love for your children, for your neighbours, for your husband, is important. She helps. She does her best. This is a loving family.
Then the Men From The Council come. Take away the dead neighbour, walking under the wet clothing hanging on the lines across the street. She was their land lady. Gone. Agreement – gone.
“You haven’t got enough points to qualify.”They are evicted. They have little children. They are decent people.Her hubby is suddenly injured and can’t work. Who is there to support them ? No-one it seems.
Seriously, my heart is breaking.And I am only a half hour in. They are walking their kids around, they are homeless but they get a caravan,”The caravan was the last resort”
It’s okay she says. It has to be…until… it is burned to the ground.
And then… No men allowed. She’s on her own. This is … I have no words. No men allowed?”After three months we turn you out .. make no mistake.” Nasty, nasty stuff. Pulling little children from their homes. This is so much sadness …Her Boy needs new shoes…
Hubby :” I have failed you, Cathy.”
“But this is your last chance; you cannot be with your husband.”
“You don’t even pretend to care.”
“Pushed around like so much human litter”
I shake my head, and sob.
Billericay, Wickford, Rayleigh, Hockley, Rochford, Prittlewell, Southend. I know those stations like a nursery rhyme (this is my home ground). Never have they seemed so poignant. Tearing her children from her arms – and not a single (real life) on-looker said a word. The post script noted that West Germany (as it was then) had built enough new homes post-war. Clearly, Britain did not.
I worry for my own kids – young adults now. How will they afford a home? What we paid for our 3-bed semi in Greater London in 1997 wouldn’t buy a bed sit now.
This is not feel-good telly. But it makes you think – like all good writing and acting should.
50 years later – I don’t think this would happen. At least, I like to think it wouldn’t.
The Wednesday Play – Cathy Come Home is available on BBC iPlayer for another three weeks.
The housing and homelessness charity Shelter launched just after this aired, and carried along by public support and empathy generated by Cathy Come Home and is still here today 50 years later.