‘Cathy Come Home’, one of the most fmous and influential TV programmes ever, was a fraud. It contained inaccuracies and had to be drastically - and clandestinely - ‘cleaned up’ before re-transmission. What’s more, the public were never informed.
Such are the implications of a claim by Professor John Corner, Head of Media Studies at the University of Manchester, in his recent book ‘The Art of Record’.
I decided to investigate.
The professor did, in fact, give a source for his statement. The reader is referred to a little known publication called ‘Play for Today; the Evolution of Television Drama’.
The study in question is by a Canadian, Irene Shubik, and Shubik was a colleague of Tony Garnett’s at the BBC at the time that he was the producer of ‘Cathy’, one of the handful of producers of the Wednesday Play Strand of which ‘Cathy’ had formed a part.
Even if every word of it had been true, it seemed to me unlikely that Shubik would wish to betray a close colleague.
To my surprise, I found the allegation made in full of page 126; ‘On its [i.e. ‘Cathy Come Home’s] second transmission, most of the background comments giving statistics were in fact omitted because of doubts about accuracy.’
A person in Shubik’s position is unlikely to invent, especially as she would have been aware that the allegation would undoubtedly be harmful to a colleague to whom the BBC would expect her to be loyal. Had changes indeed been made to the film, and the old material then reinserted? And if so, why?
Tracking down Irene Shubik did not prove difficult, even though she no longer works for the BBC. I asked her what was her evidence for saying that the background comments giving statistics were omitted from the second showing of ‘Cathy’. Shubik’s response was unexpected. ‘I copied it out of a quality daily whose name I have now forgotten.’
Was this her only source? Yes. Could she check up on which newspaper it was? No, because all her documents concerning that period had either been given to the BFI or destroyed. When pressed, she expressed annoyance and indicated that she wished to bring my enquiry to an end.
I was surprised by Shubik’s response. Surely it was naive to copy out a newspaper story containing such important (and libellous) information, without making further checks, or at the least keeping a record of it. It would have been easy for Shubik to go down the passage to ask Tony Garnett whether the story was true or not. She had not.
Such naiveté might be understandable in the author of, say, a sixth form thesis. Shubik is not a sixth form student. Shubik is a university graduate, with a London degree in English Literature.
Leafing through ‘Play for Today, the Evolution of Television Drama’, I discovered that she also worked for some time herself as what she describes as a ‘professional historical researcher’. She must therefore be familiar with the academic conventions. Yet she appears to have ‘lost’ the source of an allegation that, she must have known, would be deeply wounding to her colleagues.
Whether the original article in the ‘quality daily’ exists or not, how is it possible that Shubik did not check its accuracy by telephoning Tony Garnett?
The answer to this question may possibly lie in Shubik’s ambivalent feelings about Garnett, whose position at the BBC she envied, resented and coveted.
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