Cathy Come Home
It was 1966 and I was a carefree teenager with a boyfriend, a job in an art gallery, long hair and short skirts. I’d taken a good few steps into the world of politics and culture, all of them fun and enjoyable (the swinging ‘sixties made sure of that) and art and pleasure and the overturning of society seemed to be a unity then – because we – youth – were changing the world just by being. (Actually we were changing the world just by being serious economic contributors towards it… but I don’t think we thought of ourselves as useful tools of capitalism with our open purses then). And of course, along with my crowd of friends, I knew everything.
But then came those BBC wonderful, shocking Wednesday plays (1964-1970) which showed the darker, less pretty side of our Brave New World of Youth. And out of those plays, along came the trio of Jeremy Sandford, Ken Loach and Tony Garnett who took them to a new level – backed by the independent and brave BBC. Cathy Come Home changed my world forever. It frightened me, it shocked me, it made me realise how close I had become in my own life to being a child in care. No wonder my mother worked her socks off in a filing systems factory to keep paying the rent, no wonder she put up with her demanding mother moving in with her so that her daughters had childcare, and no wonder she was unhappy and died poor and far too young – the chill of the social meant she was on a treadmill and could never get off. I remember very clearly how stunned my boyfriend (who would one day be my husband) and I were at the end of the Sandford/Loach/Garnett play. He said it made him see our vulnerability in the world – especially mine – I just saw what I had always taken as the ultimate goal – marriage and babies – as being something other than glistering gold. Things could go wrong – circumstances could topple your world – Cathy’s story might be fiction but it happened to people every day.