The Wednesday Play: Cathy Come Home (1966)

The best British drama ever

Well, we’ve done a little dance around the decades to take in all manner of different genres for The Wednesday Play, but today it’s time to go hard-core for a play that’s been voted the best British drama ever: The Wednesday Play‘s Cathy Come Home, starring Ray Brooks and Carol White.

Written by Jeremy Sanford, produced by legendary producer Tony Garnett and directed by one of Britain’s finest, most important film directors, Ken Loach, Cathy Come Home is also possibly the most influential British TV play ever made, highlighting on TV for the first time the problems of the homeless in the Britain of 1966: the play was watched by 12.5m viewers, a quarter of the British population at the time, and eventually led to the formation of the charity Crisis as well as changes in the law to allow homeless fathers to stay with their wives and children in hostels.

As well as revolutionising attitudes to homelessness, the play also revolutionised British TV direction. At the time, most TV plays and dramas were shot in studios on video, with a somewhat theatrical direction. Loach instead used a documentary style, shooting everything on location on 16mm film, often with handheld cameras – although union regulations of the time forced Loach and cinematographer Tony Imi to shoot about 10 minutes of the play on video, which they telerecorded and spliced into the film as required.

So, yes, it’s important.

But without further ado, here’s the play, which you can watch in one of three ways: DVD, by giving Ken Loach films some money with the first YouTube clip after the jump, or by watching the regular YouTube version that follows it. Obviously, if you choose option three and like the play, go for options one or two afterwards to ensure that nice Mr Loach and the BBC get some money for their hard work.

 

  • Julia Williams

    Weirdly, aged about 8 I did a project at school about TV & I had a fabulously informative book to work from, which had an article about Cathy Come Home. Without really understanding anything about it, it fired my imagination, and I wrote my first (very) derivative story as a result, I've still only ever seen bits of it. So thanks for this, Rob! (I may even find the time to watch it now…)

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