Aftermath of Cathy (4)
There was also a movement, within the BBC itself, to destabilise and discredit ‘Cathy Come Home’.
‘On its second transmission, most of the background comments giving statistics were in fact omitted because of doubts about accuracy,’ wrote Irene Shubik, the BBC producer, in her book ‘Play for Today: the Evolution of Television Drama’.
The allegation was false. Shubik did not give a source for her claim, later explaining that she had copied it from a newspaper whose name she had forgotten. The statement was false but it did gain currency, being repeated in book after book about ‘Cathy’, including one by John Corner, Professor of Communications at the University of Liverpool, ‘The Art of Record’.
The myth was recently finally laid to rest by Derek Paget in the New Theatre Quarterly in February 1999;
‘I can find no evidence that the BBC ... altered Cathy Come Home between its first and second transmissions, as suggested by Irene Shubik.’
The attempt to discredit ‘Cathy’ continued. In what must be one of the least pleasant byways of modern criticism, Irene Shubik (who was to be the producer of my other well-known television drama, ‘Edna, the Inebriate Woman’) quoted with approval, ‘if Cathy had been more realistically portrayed as a foul mouthed working class scrubber and her pretty appealing children had been replaced by appropriately snotty nosed delinquents then the sympathies of the good, honest, hardworking and decent British people would have remained dormant.’
This passage returns to the unpleasant Victorian concept of the deserving and the undeserving poor. ‘Foul mouthed scrubber’ is not the language used by sociologists or those with respect for their fellow humans. The remarks fly in the face of research into homeless people, and in the face of one of the major theses of the play; which was that the tragedy of homelessness and losing your children as a result was not just something affecting the outcasts of society but was happening to ordinary typical people. Shubik’s view was that of much of the BBC establishment of the time, which had little respect for the lives or personal dignity of manual class or unemployed people and, rather than treating them with respect, preferred to stereotype them as layabouts and foul mouthed scrubbers.
This attitude may explain why my second well-known documentary drama ‘Edna, the Inebriate Woman’, although very successful, did not have the impact that ‘Cathy’ did. Irene, a different sort of producer to Tony Garnett, and possibly under orders from her superiors, saw to it that many of the most hard-hitting elements in ‘Cathy’ were omitted in the production of ‘Edna’.
I’ll be writing of this in more detail in the second volume of my memoires.
Why is ‘Cathy Come Home’ never one of Ken Loach’s own favourites, arguably the best loved and most popular and successful of all the films that he has directed?
I think that one reason may be that my script draws from much the same assumptions about society as those held by the majority of people in Britain today.
In most of Ken’s other films he worked on scripts by writers whose political views were the same as his own.
It may be that despite their many excellences, the underlying Marxist assumptions of those films make them that much harder for non-Marxist audiences to assimilate.
It is possible that Irene Shubik based her allegations on a Times review of the second transmission of the play (Jan 12 1966) in which Robert Wright Cooper noted, ‘It seemed even more convincing and disturbing, I found, than it did last November; the line between play and documentary was now more closely defined by the deletion of most of the spoken background comments.’
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