Cathy's Not Come Home
(Working Title Only)
Some Notes for a New Screenplay
The original Cathy Come Home was transmitted in October 1966 and, together with the second transmission three months later, attracted over 24 million viewers.
A further 10 million have watched two further transmissions of 'Cathy', of which the most recent was more than ten years ago.
It's been called 'the most successful television screenplay of all time' and probably was, both in terms of the number of viewers, awards received, newspaper coverage, and the actual social changes which it inspired.
At that time, teamed with Ken Loach's superb direction, and backed by a supportive BBC, I felt I had achieved success in everything I'd planned for the film, whether in terms of aesthetic excellence or for its effect on the society I was living in.
That was twenty four years ago and, with the twenty fifth anniversary now less than a year away, that confidence has to be qualified.
As a landmark in televisual story telling, Cathy's reputation stands as high as ever. And many of the important changes in the treatment of homeless adults and children which 'Cathy' provoked are still with us now.
But, in the widest context, when we actually count up the number of homeless people today and the number of homes available, it is a different story.
The research for my recent documentary programme 'Cathy Where Are You Now?' revealed a shocking situation. The programme, transmitted in the Panorama slot as part of the Byline series in July 1990 and attracting 7« million viewers, told how;
In the year or so after 'Cathy' there were more than 200,000 council homes started.
The number now is less than a tenth of that figure.
At the time of 'Cathy' 1,500 officially homeless families seemed a shocking figure.
Last year 150,000 households were officially accepted as homeless. Almost incredibly, that is a hundredfold increase.
I have had to accept the bitter truth that I actually did not achieve what I set out to do, which was to ensure that the right to a decent home for everyone would be a must on any party's political agenda.
Now, as the 25th anniversary approaches, it's time for another 'Cathy'.
Another story based on actual cases, powerful as the original, but of course different, which will put the flesh and humanity to one of those thousands of tragic predicaments which lie behind the impersonal statistics.
Style of the Film
We may use many of the techniques originally pioneered in 'Cathy', such as the use of statistics and disembodied voices on the soundtrack, and a current affairs type filmic technique (i.e. when the cameraman is running to get his shot). They haven't really been used as much as one might have expected since then. Or we might need to forge a new filmic style.
As in the original 'Cathy', we will be filming almost entirely in real locations, and many real people will appear alongside our actors.
I would like to consider the possibility of captions flashing real statistics on the screen.
As in the original film, our new mother may occasionally take up the story herself, in wildtrack.
Just as in the original Cathy, what is shown on the screen will largely be new territory, showing aspects of homelessness not previously seen on our television screens.
Notes for the Story Line
Odessy of a Young Woman of the 90s
Like the original 'Cathy', this will be another powerful drama documentary entirely based on things which have actually occurred within the last year or so.
It is the odessy of a contemporary young woman as she struggles to find a decent home for herself, and child or children, amidst a world of diminishing provision of housing and escalating homelessness.
And, like 'Cathy', this is the story of a woman trying to keep her children with her against enormous odds.
The split up of our new Cathy from her children may well occur early on in the film and what keeps our viewers on the side of their seats will be the poignant agony of wondering whether they will get back together.
To a large degree because of the original 'Cathy', the idea that a family may be broken up with institutionalised violence is something that every parent now knows. These adults and these children, and our audience, are aware of what may lie ahead.
As in the original 'Cathy', our young mother will find herself on a journey which embraces the various types of home, and of homelessness, currently available to a typical family who are not well off, and not that good at coping.
Our new 'Cathy' comes from the modern equivalent of the background of the original 'Cathy'. But, partly because like all of us she's lived through a decade of feminism, she shows more initiative in solving her own problems. And a stable family structure whether for themselves or the older generation can no longer be assumed for these youngsters of the nineties.
This is a story of the criminalisation of poverty. The story of how a person drops a few rungs down the social ladder.
This is the sort of life that results from planning regulations that have gone berserk.
A number of other things have changed. Now a third of all households containing children are one parent households, and a far higher proportion among homeless households. It's alright in many sections of society to change husbands or boyfriends. And there is feminism. A wimp is not the only thing a woman is allowed to be. And this one, much more than the original Cathy, is a fighter.
The New Homeless Context
The homeless scene has changed since the original 'Cathy'. There are now many more homeless (one million households officially registered as homeless over the last decade). The provision of homes has dropped dramatically.
Homeless people are treated in different ways, being placed in two star hotels and caravans rather than workhouses.
Most important, all the alternatives which 'Cathy' tried in vain before the final disaster are now far more accesible and, where 'Cathy' failed, thousands now succeed in living in tents, boats, squats, converted vehicles, the street, caravans, a huge sub class who do not, often, even appear in the official statistics.
Very much present in my thinking at the moment is the awareness that we would now have enough homes and to spare (some two million more) if building had continued at the rate achieved in the years immediately after 'Cathy'.
And that, even now, there are more empty homes than homeless families. Out of a total housing stock of twenty three million, three quarters of a million are empty and there are a further half million second homes.
There will most probably be no direct reference back to the original story, either in terms of characters or locations, though I would not wish to rule this out entirely at this point.
In the original Cathy Come Home we saw how Cathy fairly consistently was able to solve her own housing problem, and then was thwarted by forces outside her power.
What would have happened if, just once, she had been able to defy these forces, insisting on a human right to defend the shelter she'd found for herself and her family?
If just once she had been able to defend her hard won foothold in, for example, the slum house, the squat, or in the caravan or even the tent?
There were examples even then of people doing this. For example the march of the homeless husbands onto the homeless hostel at Abridge in Essex, claiming and winning the right to sleep with their wives and thus effecting their own personal perestroika.
Now such personal perestroika is becoming more common. In an over centralised and over regulated state, people are increasingly fighting and winning battles for their own individual freedom and rights. (And losing many too. Long term, the prospect of individual liberty looks far less hopeful.)
Our times are actually seeing a perestroika in housing, however vehemently officialdom may deny this, with increasing numbers of people finding their own solutions.
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