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From an English perspective the Irish struggle for independence was seen as ‘disloyalty’ and was believed to have been stirred up by Germany. The Times leader of Wednesday 26 April described the ‘insane rising’ as ‘evidently the result of a carefully arranged plot, concocted between the Irish traitors and their German confederates.’ This view brought an impassioned response from Mary’s neighbour, Edith Somerville who, in the first and last letter she wrote to the Times, pleaded for clemency. It was English negligence, she believed, that had allowed the rise of Sinn Fein. She had heard of ‘more than one state-supported school’ in remote parts of Munster in which ‘the greatness and generosity of Germany’, and ‘the reptile villainy of England’, were given as themes for essays by the students. As a result of this, she says, boys of nine or ten, ‘quick as ever to learn the romance of revolt’, grow into ‘senseless, reckless, slaughtering idealists’ dedicated to the ‘mad dream of Ireland a Nation.’

How could he have done this? I have been told that José was snubbed by neighbours and did not fit well into the West Cork environment. Others claim that Mary had told neighbours that John and José did not want to be called on, and that as a result José was distressed, feeling she was being ostracised. There were other squabbles between José and Mary about the family silver, in the course of which Mary alleged that José was using silver that actually belonged to Kit.

There were plenty of other reasons. Ireland had emerged from the first world war straight into a war of its own against England. The Indian summer of the Ascendancy which Mary had enjoyed up to 1914 was over. The Sinn Feiners, having won the post-war election, were not prepared to wait any longer for England to grant them independence, or to accept the kind of Home Rule envisaged by Lloyd George’s government. The British retaliated by sending that huge army of ‘auxilliaries’, the Black and Tans, to reinforce the police. Atrocity bred atrocity. Cork suffered particularly. Country house and castle owners, even those who were neutral or sympathetic to Irish independence, were caught between the opposing sides.

Many of the great Anglo Irish houses and castles in County Cork were burned down at this time. Many Anglo Irish families left, but many also stayed. Castle Freke was not burned down. John need not have gone.

In Ireland, the violence continued. In June 1921 Doty Bandon, Mary’s cousin by marriage, and her seventy year old husband were roused from sleep and ordered outside Castle Bernard. The raiders set fire to the castle and took away Lord Bandon. The local military garrison and fire engine arrived too late to put out the flames. The soldiers then rounded up a large number of men from the streets of Bandon and brought them to move out as much of the furniture and valuables as they could onto the lawn. A photograph of the time shows the lawn looking like a furniture shop and the castle ablaze behind.

Mary was in London at the time and ‘battled round to the Ladies Bandon to pick up some news’. Louie Bernard told her that the Sinn Fein broke open a box at Castle Bernard with the Bandons’ coronation robes and coronet in it, and ‘one strutted about the house with the coronet! They were very rude and rough and wouldn’t let Doty dress and kept saying dreadful things.’

Lord Bandon was held hostage while the Sinn Fein leaders discussed peace terms with the British authorities in Dublin. On July 11, a truce was called and he was brought back the next day to Castle Bernard. He found the sight of his ruined house unbearable and went on to Cork and thence to London.

Arthur Sandford’s country house overlooking Cork was another casualty, this time of the Civil War which followed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In 1922 it was occupied by de Valera’s forces who planted a bomb by the front door when they retreated. A herdsman detonated the bomb before the Free State army arrived. The house was later rebuilt with only one storey in front. It is now a golf club and marks of shrapnell are still to be seen on the pillars of its elegant porch.

Mary’s wanderlust had been shared by her first husband Algy; they wandered the world while they were together; and it may have been the wanderer in him which decided him to go on that last reckless journey to die in a hotel in Malvern, rather than spend his last days in his tent on the lawn at Castle Freke.

Followers of the psychologist Gustav Jung might say that John’s life explored the unacknowledged shadow of his mother. Submerged beneath her pious exterior there was what she saw as her Gypsy side, that part of her that longed to be out in the open rather than in church on balmy summer days. The physical beauty and wildness of Kenya were intoxicating to many. There was a side of Mary that aspired to be wild and abandoned, as were the members of Kenya’s ‘Happy Valley Set’.

With the collapse of feudalism and the growing independence of Ireland from what was seen as British Imperialism, the likes of John had been born into a generation for whom there was no obvious role any more. Mary failed to understand this, thinking that after the war things would go back to normal.

Arthur did, perhaps, understand. The way for John could have been to emulate Arthur and learn some useful way to serve the society into which he had been born in such a privileged position. John, the first man in Ireland to fly, who had fought for Britain in the war and in 1914 had represented England, as an aeronaut, in the Schneider Trophy Race, had verve and charisma which could have been valuable in the emerging Irish Free State. But neither he, nor perhaps Ireland, could make that necessary historical adjustment. Another way beckoned and that was to build on his mother’s hedonism, to expand on her Pagan, naturalistic, ‘Gypsy’ side, to tread the path of excess and dalliance, giving this a sort of spurious poetry by occasional acts of bravery.

John seldom came back to Ireland. He will be remembered as a brave aeronaut; and as a courageous man who, for a few years during the troubles, flew from the battlements of Castle Freke the tricoloured flag of an independent Ireland.

John and Ralfe, and the loss of Castle Freke, had broken Mary’s heart. But she had at any rate one son for whom she felt her idealistic methods of upbringing had worked. This was Christopher, my father, born in 1902.

Feeling that he did not wish to return to Ireland once his brother had sold Castle Freke, my father in the thirties acquired Eye Manor, a fine Restoration house in the Welsh border country which, during his later years, he opened to the public.

Christopher had founded the Boars Head Press and became owner and director of the Golden Cockerel Press, which he ran for many years. ‘We meditate upon the form that the book should be made to assume. During the months, and sometimes years, of our labour ... we have always the image we conceived for it before our eyes,’ he wrote of his publishing.

The Cockerel books were sumptuous; printed on vellum or hand-made paper; often bound in pigskin or Morocco, illustrated by carefully chosen artists, printed in beautiful and esoteric typefaces. Even in the thirties books from the Cockerel Press sold for up to one hundred guineas each; although my father also turned out small and exquisite books for as little as two shillings and six pence.

It was in a cottage in the grounds of Eye Manor that Mary Carbery spent the last decade of her life. During the second world war and in the austere period that followed it, the lawns were not mown, but shaggy as far as the ancient ha-ha, as part of the ‘war effort’ and my father’s horses grazed them because every bit of turf must ‘do its bit’. Along once decorative borders a gardener was now planting potatoes, ‘digging for victory’. Nonetheless, the clean lines of the William and Mary mansion, the weeping ash, the gnarled and lichen festooned trees in the orchards which we shook down in autumn to be sent to the cider factory at Bulmers, the unexpected horse drawn caravan, constituted an environment in which Grandmother was contented.

Troops were billeted in the village and got up to unclear activities in our stable yard, in a series of blue corrugated iron sheds which they themselves had constructed. They were under the command of my father who, having shown his ability in running the local Home Guard, had now been given real soldiers to work with and graduated to the rank of Captain in the Intelligence Service with his own khaki uniform and staff car. What he and the soldiers were up to was subject to speculation in the village.

In fact, night after night, they were building, in nooks and corners of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire, small but ferocious underground amunition stores, complete with stacks of wine bottles filled with petrol and with rags stuck into their necks. You lit the rags till they smouldered, waited until you thought the bottle with the petrol in it was about to explode, and then lobbed it at the enemy. A dangerous weapon to both friend and foe.

As well as soldiers and stables, the yard also contained an ‘engine room’ where chugged a large petrol driven dark green six foot long generator. Its cooling system sent a trickle of warm water out into the yard and this, as a boy, I converted into lakes and waterways suitable for my toy boats.

In a virginia creeper covered cottage which overlooked the soldiers’ galvanised tin camp, the engine room and the stables, lived Grandmother and her ‘companion’ Sophie. Both wore whalebone stays which creaked when they moved and both were deaf and unaware of anything other than silence. Of an afternoon my grandmother would sit in her wheelchair under a yew tree, with Sophie on a hardbacked wooden chair beside though slightly behind her. They held shouted conversations, punctuated by long gaps, pointing large black bakerlite ear trumpets at each other to pick up each other’s remarks.

Mary and Sophie regularly attended services in the church that lay across the lawn and Grandmother, herself an organist, told me more than once that at her funeral she wanted nothing to do with the soft tones of dulcet or dulciana or lieb gedacht. ‘Pull out the trumpet stop,’ she cried, ‘and let the organ peal in triumph for the arrival of one more soul into the realms of light!’

My father cajoled and sometimes commanded us children to visit her for half an hour a day. He went more often, and often read to her from ‘Pilgrims Progress’. As I played with my boats on my miniature lakes by the engine room, or hung around the soldiers seeking information about their various vehicles, I became accustomed to hearing my father shouting Bunyan’s story at Grandmother from the upstairs window in the cottage, so that the tale of Doubting Castle and the Slough of Despond vied with the tinny Forces Programme jerking along on a battery radio in the army area.

One afternoon, unaccustomed words came booming down from the little upstairs window across the yard. My boats paused in mid lake and one or two of the soldiers also stopped their mechanical tinkering to listen.

‘I had to strip and kneel on an arm chair and touch the floor,’ my father roared at Grandmother.

‘Excuse me, Christopher, what was that?’

‘I had to strip and kneel on an arm chair and touch the floor ... And then I had 12 with the riding whip,’ my father continued. ‘JC had given me the choice of a beating or losing my pony, so obviously I chose the beating.’

‘How old would the girl be now?’ I heard my grandmother demand.

‘Well,’ shouted my father, ‘I would say, sixteen. A sixteen year old girl horse-whipped by her own father. Oh dear.’

‘Yes, oh dear.’

‘She goes on to say,’ shouted my father, ‘that she’s left home now after going to the police. She left because she was unhappy, because the atmosphere was so immoral.’

‘Shut the window, Christopher!’

It had occured to Grandmother that this should not be a public conversation.

My father appeared at the window and, looking nervously across the yard, shut it as I and the soldiers became once again busy.

‘Daddy, what were you reading Grandmother this afternoon?’ I asked my father as I later jogged along on my pony beside his large horse.

‘Pilgrims Progress. Why do you ask?’

‘I know you usually read Grandmother Pilgrims Progress, but today it wasn’t. What does ‘immoral’ mean?’

‘Oh, immoral. That means evil, not good.’

‘Like what?’

‘It means getting drunk, a too great interest in female parts, people who choose their wives from the chorus line in musicals, fornication with women you are not married to. That sort of thing.’

‘Who was the letter from? And who was it about?’

My father reined back his horse a little, wondering how to deal with this. Then he said, ‘People living in Africa. Distant relatives.’

‘Grandmother sounded worried. Was the girl asking for help?’

‘There’s a war on. She doesn’t realise we’re not allowed to send money out there.’

‘Would you like to? Get her away from the immorality?’

‘We can’t,’ said my father in firm tones, urging his horse into a trot to indicate that the conversation was finished.

The letter, from Juanita, my cousin in Kenya, I was to learn many years later, explained that she had been ‘terribly unhappy’ living with her father, and that scenes of great decadence were being enacted amidst the spectacular scenery of the ‘Happy Valley’.

John’s attitude to his daughter was different to the indulgent attitude of his mother to him and the ‘Happy Valley’ different too to the ‘Happy World’ of Mary’s childhood. Juanita was not allowed to receive letters without her stepmother June opening them first, nor was she allowed to write them. She was allowed a pony on which she rode round the estate but had to buy its fodder from her own meagre pocket money. She was lonely and, as she wrote in the letter my father had been reading to Grandmother, the pony ‘brought a new spark of light into my life because I had to break it in and train it.’ Three months later she received ‘a letter from a girl-friend (I promise it was a girl)’. June demanded to see it. Juanita impetuously burned the letter before June could read it. June then announced she was going to sell Juanita’s pony and give the money she got for it to the Red Cross.

When John came home and was told of this he suggested an alternative punishment. If she agreed to being beaten she could keep her pony. ‘So,’ says Juanita, ‘obviously I chose the beating’. After many beatings and much humiliation, Juanita went for asylum to the police and arranged for herself to be adopted by another family, the Andersons.

An austerity and simplicity was imposed on our lives by the war and the post war years. In Mary’s case this was increased by her own fastidiousness. There were bare boards under the high iron bed where she passed much of her time, and a very small fire burned in the narrow grate of the other upstairs room which was her living room. Eggs were in short supply but, despite this, she never ate the yolks but only the whites.

Occasionally my sisters stayed in Mary’s cottage when my parents had to be away. Once Juliet, at the age of nine, was asleep in a bed made up on the floor of Grandmother’s living room when she was awakened by the feeling that something had crawled over her. My father had left Juliet with a large torch and she lit this and went to tell Grandmother. However much she shouted, however, she couldn’t get Grandmother to wake. At length Juliet raised the torch in the air and banged it with all her might on Grandmother’s head. Grandmother woke up extremely alarmed, thinking she was the victim of some violent assault by ruffians. Juliet did her best to calm her down and at length succeeded. Mary told her she must have imagined the crawling thing and that she must go back to bed.

Juliet did so, but found it hard to sleep. When dawn arrived she saw a squashed mouse lying dead on the floor. When she went to wake Grandmother, she must have crushed it under the door.

Mary died in 1948 and her ashes were buried next to Arthur’s in the churchyard at Eye. A small plaque on the wall closest to Eye Manor bears the names of Mary, Arthur, and my Mother and Father whose ashes are also buried there.

It is visible from the Fastnet on the west almost to the Old Head on the east.

There was a time when the famous Cross of Monasterboice held the record for weight and height in Ireland but, since its erection, the Great Cross of Carbery exceeds it. Fourteen tons of white limestone rise 30 feet into the sky. There are seven panels, with sculptured designs from the Bible.

The inscription on the East face reads: ‘To the greater glory of God, and in loving memory of Algernon William George, 9th Baron Carbery, who was born 9th September 1868 and who died 12th June 1898. This Cross has been erected by Mary, his wife, 1901. The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, they are in peace.’

The East side contains a sculptured crucifixion and biblical scenes in which the women have a grace but the men, to modern eyes, can be felt to suffer from that rather wet look that can be the result of an overdose of piety. The rest of the cross is extensively decorated with traditional Irish motifs. It is impressive, even though now partly obscured by a large water storage reservoir which has been placed between it and the sea, and the whole area, on the day I visited, had a strong odour from the slurry that had been laid on the field in front of it. The woods behind have a ragged look, like somewhere where a battle has taken place.

Tradition has it that Algy was cremated and that in a casket of gold his ashes rest beneath the Cross. Tradition also says that many have dug round the cross to try to find the casket, without success.

Half a mile or so away stands Castle Freke. In 1919 it was bought by a local consortium who planned to sell it to the singer John MacCormack, but were unsuccessful. For many decades it survived almost intact, let to a Catholic religious organisation. It was occupied by the Irish army during World War II. In the 1950s, the house was gutted. Staircase, panelling, electric light fittings, balustrades, everything that could be removed was sold in an auction. Castle Freke once again became a ruin.

Close to the cross stand the ruins of the family seat of worship, Rathbarry Church. In 1896 Mary and Algy had placed ‘a fine stained glass window’ in the chancel, and encaustic tiling with big art nouveau lettering saying ‘Till He Comes’. There was a Holy Table of carved oak, also chancel rails, a lectern and font, a mural monument to John, the Sixth Baron, and a new organ dedicated to Algy’s father. Most of these have gone, but the graves for servants and the vast family mausoleum remain.

Soon after that we were driving to Hazely Court, a Georgian building which was lying derelict. Tall grass swished beneath us as we drove down the drive. We had brought with us cherries, prawns and cheese. ‘Strange wallpaper flaps as we walk through the long rooms,’ I wrote. ‘The lead has been taken from the roof so that through gaps in the ceiling you can see the sky. There is a sinister lake under the trees. A crumbling water tank filled with snails.’

Through a high window we looked out onto a topiary of box chessmen kept by a scythe-bearing gardener, who we hoped would not notice us. At the top of many stairs we found a high window through which ivy entangles itself. ‘A pink room,’ I noted, ‘the centre of which is the window three times as long.’

‘We are accepted in these parts. People don’t actually notice that we may be wealthier than them. Their view may be that anyone who could afford not to would not have come to live here in the first place. Down here, as in a stagnant pool, in the depths, I begin to see things differently. I come to see it whole, the success game going on above, handing down its hopes of glossy prizes, the speed-up treadmill, the brutalities of class-made law, lawyer-made law, judge-made law, the hypocrisies of religion. Here in the depths it is still possible to ignore the STOP! GO! SPEED UP! RELAX! exhortations of the more central parts of the city.

‘I see it all now, see it at last. This is the true heart of England, not behind the faceless facades of Whitehall, nor the prickly Gothick windows of parliament, nor behind the studded doors of palaces, but here, where one of the great labour forces of the world fight for their survival to the blare of the establishment on the radio. No wonder they play truant to Radio Luxemburg. No wonder sometimes on bank holidays they go out to the sea standing in trains ten deep in the corridors, or in cars that fume and dribble and queue six hours on the bypasses to get back again. But there at the sea they are still awaited, the same tunes, the same shoddy food, the same funny hats, the same radio programmes.

However, unlike the urban location of what happened to Cathy, my upbringing had been entirely rural.

Later, I went on to become a student at Eton College and an undergraduate at Oxford University.

Many people have asked me how it was that such a person would later have become involved in protest marches or the erection of dustbin barricades. How had the transition come about – a callow youth from a minor gentry home. How could I have been marching in a protest, putting up dustbin barricades?

That will be one theme of this book, the first volume of my memoires; of how a callow youth from a minor gentry mansion in Herefordshire became involved in what was to be one of the most hard-hitting and socially aware programmes ever transmitted in the new television medium, how ‘Cathy Come Home’ touched the conscience of a nation, and the extreme steps the BBC took to see that such a thing would never happen again.

A story told of him is that he went once to the director of the Slade, said ‘I’m at an Art School I don’t like, can I come to yours?’ Sir William Coldstream accepted him. He then went to the director of the Royal College, said ‘I’m at an Art School I don’t like, can I come to yours?’ The director of the Royal College also accepted him. He looked around, decided he liked this one better, went back to Coldstream and said ‘I’ve decided to go to the place down the road.’

The book, under the title “Breakdown”, was published a few months later. Since then Bratby has written other books – “Breakfast and Elevenses” came out in November 1961, “Break Pedal Down” in November 1962. Readers, bewildered by the mammoth size and almost medieval monotony of these books – or dazzled by the exuberance of the language, either seem to love them or hate them. I asked Bratby what was the importance to him of his writing, compared to his painting.

If I painted pictures equally well or equally badly of some other subjects, some subject that a painter is supposed to paint, the criticism would have been completely different.’

‘Do you find that the critics in fact influence the way that your pictures sell?’

‘Oh yes. It’s the same with a play. The critics are very important there or with a book – the critics have enormous power.’

‘How much do you stand to make out of a successful exhibition?’

‘Well, the most successful exhibition I’ve had was the one in February 1961 which grossed £4,100 and something.’

‘Looking back over your ten years now, isn’t it, as a painter, can you remark any particular trends or changes in your development?’

‘Well, a very definite one was when I decided quite consciously, you know, to paint on a smaller scale, because I was getting rather fed up with the fact that my big pictures were not finding any place in society after the mural exhibition, because they were not being purchased.’

‘Because they were too big for people to hang in their rooms?’

‘Only because they were too big. I do very seriously regret now that I haven’t had any mural commissions because I do feel that I’ve got an ability on a large scale which is unfortunately not being explored to the full at the moment, though I’ve recently written to Sir Kenneth Clarke and Sir John Rothenstein telling them that if they can find me a mural to paint I’ll do it for nothing.’

‘You’ve come a long way since the time when your wife used to scrounge for vegetables in the gutters of North End Road market. What’s been the effect of material success on you?’

‘Well, I didn’t know – a girl whose grandfather left twenty-seven million pounds – she said one day, she said, ‘John,’ she said, ‘the money I’ve got means freedom to me.’

Looking round the pub I was reminded of a grotesque picture by Rowlandson or Bosch. Were these the kids who had not been bright enough or rich enough to get to college, and had thus found no outlet for the wildness in them? And so they’d come into the black cities from their privet-hedged suburbia, looking for what? For a rave? They despised outsiders, conventional people, people who worked for their living. They pretended complete rootlessness. But I got the feeling that most of them had homes to go back to, where they needn’t starve, except spiritually.

The BBC establishment today would certainly be less courageous about putting on a powerful crusading film like ‘Cathy’.

When I first realised that despite all the hullabaloo surrounding altogether four television transmissions of ‘Cathy’, there were nonetheless many more homeless families than when I wrote it, I lost some of my faith in the power of the media to change anything. There is one thing that can be said, though. ‘Cathy’ alerted social workers and the public to a grave injustice in this country, one of which most of them had so far, largely, been ignorant. Perhaps without ‘Cathy’, the situation might even be worse than it is. This at any rate is what people in the caring professions tell me.

Now let me tell you the story of a young mother I recently met in a Midland hostel.

She was young, attractive. At the age of 19 she fell in love with Bill, the ‘boy next door’.

They got married.

First they lived with in-laws. Then they got a caravan. At this time Bill got a £13-a-week job in a local foundry.

They found a two-up, two-down cottage (£2 a week). They were happy. Bill got a new job, now at £18. Then came disaster.

In my story Reg was a delivery driver and he had a crash in his lorry.

In real life it was also a crash that spelled disaster – a disaster more poignant even than the one in the story of Cathy.

Last March Bill’s mother was killed in a busy street in Chesterfield by a lorry that swerved out of control and mounted the pavement. At this sudden tragedy to his 38-year-old wife, Bill’s father cracked up. Bill, as the eldest child, took control. He helped his father pull round, and also made arrangements for the other children to be looked after. He took time off work to do this – and was sacked.

This was the blot in the ointment, the unforeseen disaster. Carol tried to manage on Bill’s unemployment pay while he looked for another job. But he was still cut up about his mother. The arrears of rent mounted.

Like Cathy and Reg, they had H.P. debts.

A court appearance led to an order that they quit their house last December, with £50 arrears of rent. Ironically, Bill found just the kind of job he had been looking for a fortnight before they had to leave, a position with the Gas Board where he could earn £22 a week by working five 12-hour days.

But it was too late. On the appointed day, they left the home they had built together, and Carol and the kids went into a Home for the Homeless.

Bill squeezed in at his father’s home.

They should have budgeted for disaster. Of course they should. So should we all. But how many of us do?

Working a 12-hour day, Bill finds it difficult to fit in with the visiting times for husbands at the hostel. Sometimes he goes for days without seeing his family.

Carol says; ‘Flats are out of the question – they won’t take children. The only things going seem to be caravans at £4 a week and some of them don’t even have electricity. We’ve lived in a caravan before but I shouldn’t like to think of taking a small child there, and in the winter, and coping with a new baby in those circumstances as well.’

There is a further blot on Carol’s horizon. Mothers and children are only allowed to stay in this hostel for three months.

At the end of that time, the children are often taken away and put in a children’s home; taken away from their mother, the claim being that they’re in need of ‘care and protection’.

Not one of the three mothers is there for debt, for criminal acts. Their plight could be anyone’s plight. But, as one of them says; ‘As far as we’re concerned, society doesn’t want to know.’

The matron sings the praises of her staff. She says they are ‘magnificent’.

The mothers, however, take a different view.

One says; ‘The moment a woman sets foot in this place you are treated little better than a prostitute. It takes them all their time to be civil.’

In the communal room where these pathetic Cathys live there is no lino, just a plain roughish wooden floor, with bits of carpet. The bare brick walls are painted green. There are no curtains at the windows.

So shocked was one mother here by this that, although she loves children dearly, she made arrangements to have her next baby adopted, rather than let it grow up here.

Perhaps the most unpleasant statement in the whole book comes on page 132 where she quotes with approval from an unidentified reviewer whose name she has also, doubtless, now forgotten: ‘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, hard-working and decent British people would have remained dormant.’

This is classist, snobbish, prejudiced, and above all quite untrue. Since she hails from Canada, Irene’s branding of a typical homeless mother as a ‘foul mouthed working class scrubber’ and her children as ‘snotty nosed delinquents’ is a deeply prejudiced comment from someone who has not really understood our culture. It is remarkable that Irene did not mention these feelings at her original meeting with my agent Nick Thompson and myself in April 1970. At that time, possibly because she was eager that I should sign an agreement to sell three screenplays to her, she went out of her way to express admiration for ‘Cathy’, its accuracy, characterisation, and the various techniques employed in it.

It seems hardly necessary to add that my portrait of Cathy, a typical homeless mother, had been carefully researched, and in the eight years between ‘Cathy’ and Irene’s book, had been many times endorsed. Some of the research I was drawing on can, for example, be found in the BBC radio programme ‘Homeless Families’ in the BBC Sound Library and devised, recorded and introduced by Heather Sutton and myself; in my ‘Down and Out in Britain’ (Sphere), which is quoted from elsewhere by Irene, and in the essay attached to the novelisation of ‘Cathy Come Home’ (Pan), and also in a series of reports by myself in ‘The Observer’, ‘The New Statesman’ and ‘The People’ newspapers.

A serious historian would surely not claim our homeless mothers are typically ‘foul mouthed scrubbers’ without mentioning the research on which she is drawing. Yet Irene does not quote a single piece of research to support her claim.

Cathy Come Home’ had achieved immense success but that success had been achieved despite, rather than because of, the BBC hierarchy.

- articulating the views of what was in fact the silent majority - for which she would in due course first be granted hero status, and later rewarded.

‘You know, we can’t make any more [‘Cathy Come Home’s]’, Huw Weldon explained a year or so later. The reason he gave me was that the public had not been clear enough about whether what was being shown was real or not.

The campaigning social message of ‘Cathy’ was deeply disturbing to many of those in authority. There were many who believed, like Huw Weldon, that it should not be allowed to happen again.

The People is not a newspaper that one should work for - or cross - without some deliberation. At that time I had a contract with them for three series.

And so, from the start there were those who did not wish ‘Cathy’ well. Those whose world view was threatened by it. There is a most revealing sentence in Shubik’s book, where on page 132 she quotes with approval from an unidentified reviewer: ‘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, hard-working and decent British people would have remained dormant.’

This is classist, snobbish, prejudiced, and above all quite untrue. Since she hails from Canada, Irene’s branding of a typical homeless mother as a ‘foul mouthed working class scrubber’ and her children as ‘snotty nosed delinquents’ is a deeply prejudiced comment from someone who has not really understood our culture. It is remarkable that Irene did not mention these feelings at her original meeting with my agent Nick Thompson and myself in April 1970. At that time, possibly because she was eager that I should sign an agreement to sell some screenplays to her, she went out of her way to express admiration for ‘Cathy’, its accuracy, characterisation, and the various techniques employed in it.

It seems hardly necessary to add that my portrait of Cathy, a typical homeless mother, had been carefully researched, and in the eight years between ‘Cathy’ and Irene’s book, had been many times endorsed. Some of the research I was drawing on can, for example, be found in the BBC radio programme ‘Homeless Families’ in the BBC Sound Library and devised, recorded and introduced by Heather Sutton and myself; in my ‘Down and Out in Britain’ (Sphere), which is quoted from elsewhere by Irene, and in the essay attached to the novelisation of ‘Cathy Come Home’ (Pan), and also in a series of reports by myself in ‘The Observer’, ‘The New Statesman’ and ‘The People’ newspapers.

A serious historian would surely not claim our homeless mothers are typically ‘foul mouthed scrubbers’ without mentioning the research on which she is drawing. Yet Irene does not quote a single piece of research to support her claim.

However, Shubik’s view of ‘Cathy’ was nonetheless the established view of many BBC folk at the time. It was threatening to Shubik’s - and their - world view.

There was another reason why ‘Cathy’ was viewed with great suspicion by many in the television hierarchy. It happened despite, rather than because of, those who were in theory in charge of making good programmes for television.

‘There is one condition,’ Tony Garnett had said as we sat in Bertorelli’s restaurant in the romantic environment of Shepherds Bush Green, ‘attached to our making this film.’

‘And what is that?’ I asked. It was my first television play to be taken seriously by anyone in the media. I’d have agreed to anything.

‘That you do not speak a word about the content of this film, not a word, until the morning after its transmission. On that condition,’ said Tony, ‘I’ll be happy to send you a contract. How soon do you think you could complete a first draft screenplay?’

‘Not long,’ said I. Much of the necessary work had actually been done, because after many attempts to sell the storyline as a television or even radio programme, I had decided to cut my losses and write it instead as a novel.

I was remarkably innocent of the way things work in television however. Why Garnett’s proviso? Tony, who was beginning to know his way around, understood that there was no way this screenplay would ever be made, let alone transmitted, if the powers that be got to hear of its content. Or, as Tony explained, ‘the BBC establishment would instantly block it if they ever got to hear what it is really about.’

‘But it’s about something that’s happening in Britain today, something that is shocking and is immensely important,’ I said. ‘It’s also powerful and dramatic.’

‘It’s because it’s all those things that the establishment would try to block it,’ said Tony. ‘It’s too strong for them. It’s not the sort of thing they want to see on television.’

In the course of the next few weeks I met Ken Loach for script conference and general discussion. Soon the screenplay was ready. We casted and made the film and the BBC establishment were deceived, through all those months between conception and transmission, about its true contents. To cover our tracks we described it as a knockabout family comedy, which was roughly true, except for the comedy bit.

The secrecy continued in the run up period to transmission. It was the custom for superiors in the hierarchy (which at that time included Sydney Newman as Head of Plays) to vet programmes a few weeks before they went out. Tony and Ken arranged that the film was always away being processed or worked on or having its titles or sound track added, so that nobody above Tony in the hierarchy got to see it before it was actually transmitted.

The film caused a sensation. From that moment it was established as the most famous and far reaching television drama of all time. Sydney Newman was furious, had Tony on the carpet and accused him of ‘patronising the proles’. Later that day, when the BBC top brass decided to stand by the programme, he had second thoughts and decided that he too would support it.

The BBC gave ‘Cathy’ a second transmission three months later and the combined audience for both showings was twenty two million - more than half the adult population.

The phenomenal success of Cathy had entirely been achieved despite, rather than because of, the BBC hierarchy.

It must have caused a degree of soul searching for a number of people in executive positions. ‘Cathy’, the most successful and influential television one shot drama of all time had come into existence despite, rather than because of, them.

This called into question whether they were doing their well-paid jobs adequately. Were they a creative part of the process? Or merely obstructive?

The truth is, they were the latter. There has always been one weak link in the chain of authority that brings television scripts to the screen. That weak link is not among the writers, actors, directors, camera and other technicians. The weak link is to be found among many of those ostensibly in control - among the middle men and executives.

Despite the sexy ballyhoo that always hung around her, it was noticed she was the only one of the cast who never took off all her clothes. Those who took an interest in such matters learned that Carol had always worried about her breasts.

She once told me this and I said, ‘But Carol, they’re excellent breasts as far as I am equipped to judge them.’

Carol’s view was that they were less good than the rest of her and she was aware of the paradox that she was doing so many sexy parts, with afterhour nude romps with her co-stars thrown in, and she was so pretty that she could really get any man she wanted into bed with her, but the question that later was to bug her was, could she ever keep them?

That was her dilemma and she told me once that she thought it was perhaps that her naked body did not fulfil its initial promise. At any rate, that may be why she wouldn’t take off her clothes in ‘Steaming’.

Going to pick up the Italia Prize. And the television executives, the top brass, had been there for days, wining and dining, and we arrived on the last day and were given our prizes, but by the time we arrived the special books that had been printed for the occasion, that everyone else had, had all got used up and so we had the left-overs from some other prize that had been crudely altered in biro, and it is this feeling, like the First World War. Where is the General? Where the Field Marshall? They’re in a bunker drinking whisky with their friends. And where’s the regiment? Hanging on the bleeding wire.

[reminiscences of radio]

And so you get people who are ostensibly running a great organisation and they’ve never met anyone who’s ever been in front of a camera.

And if anyone does do anything that’s valuable, that uses the telly or radio as a spokespiece for all of us, that speaks up with something that’s vastly popular and relevant but also sends the fear of God, you can’t hear yourself for the stampede across those hideous brittle white plastic cups to get to the rest room and lie down for a good long while.

Sometimes, as they hacked away with pickaxes, spades or drills at the brown bricks and mortar, the demolition men came upon trees, islanded in the midst of all this mortar. They erected barricades around these trees to protect them from their own bulldozers and lorries.

Even so, most trees in the end got damaged. Lorries accidentally brushed into them, children climbed on them, their bark was peeled off. They died.

In our garden we planted sunflowers and, reared on the old river silt, these grew to great height. Their faces were as big as dinner plates, they rioted through our garden. Day after day, we heard a couple of old age pensioners cackling like a pair of hens in the single room they inhabited at the end of this garden, or I heard sometimes over the wall the voice of the ‘abandoned woman’ who lived next door.

‘Abandoned woman?’ That’s a phrase that, long since, has lost its meaning.

The time was to come that I‘d find the buildings that surrounded us menacing, terrifying, dreadful. I would come to feel that the idealism I felt at that time was also without meaning.

At that time I wrote;

‘An ordinary house in a street like any other; behind frayed curtains the faces of neighbours, half hidden, peering. A train hoots as it slides by along a viaduct, and I feel a sensation of peacefulness. It will never stop here.

‘An ordinary house in a street like any other; and here can we bury ourselves, here can we leave behind us the ‘gracious’ and the ‘amenable’, the ‘beauteous’ and the ‘desirable’? Can we leave all these and drown ourselves in the blood of the town, in this its reservoir of strength and power, in these the desperate streets, scheduled for demolition? These streets which gape with derelict sites, where the cries of babies come from paper-stuffed broken windows and the only sound is of children playing across the cobbles and of the breakup men in their shoddy yards, breaking up their endless succession of little old Austins and Morrises?

‘I sit before our hearth and feel as if I’ve entered a pool, a submerged world, a world from which there is still little escape except through crime or death; but also, often, little desire for escape. An old voice floats down to me from a first floor window, “So there’s no dinner today, that’s all, no dinner, none.”

‘Beside our back door I find old saucers fixed to wires, filled with soggy bread and watery milk, at which mangy cats forage. Following this up with my eyes, I see a window containing the heads of two aged persons who grin at me with toothless smiles.

‘“Would you be the new neighbours?” they ask.

‘“That’s right.”

‘“Only, we don’t normally live here. This is my daughter’s place really, only she had to go away to the hospital, she did, got sommat wrong with her gall bladder. Been in for three month now, so I just come to look after her children and the cats while she’s away.”

‘I make a reply but then fall silent as I realise that conversation with these two old persons will not be possible since they are both very deaf.

‘“Yes, the poor kids,” the woman continues, “Lost their father some time ago they did, a council board fell on him, rushed him to the hospital they did, but it was too late, he couldn’t speak, he couldn’t any more keep his balance. He died later and the council offered his wife three quid compensation.”’

‘Like the dewy vine when first it puts forth grape


Like the Arabian musk with which the fire burns

incense pale

Like the meadow land when it drinks the gentle rains

of spring

Like hair drenched in costly ointment and wreathed

with heady perfume

So cruel Diadumene are your kisses fragrant.

Come now, serve up a stronger wine!

I wish to wreathe those tresses of yours,

Those temples already drenched in Syrian


Occasionally I disclosed my sources and this one, a prose poem was declared to be inspired by Martial,

‘Then from the vines they pluck the thick damp grapes and roll up great stones to crush them with and beakers for their distillation, and the storm of rejoicing is echoed to the further hills, and hasty feet trample the pulpy vats. Here come the lascivious band of satyrs! One holds a big golden beaker, another a crooked horn, and another drinks from hollowed hands or lies by the water and gulps with smacking lips. Another, purple wine spilled over his naked shoulders and running down over his chest, sings to the crash of rose-ringed cymbals, and Silenus himself in failing age gulps at a bowl of rose wine. ‘Surge Age, Age Pater,’ cry the satyrs, and fix on Silenus’ wreath which has fallen to the ground. ‘Euhoe! Rejoice Now!’

‘Here dashes by a boy on horseback, one hand on the golden studded reins and the other holds the half naked girl that lies across his saddle. Silenus beckons in anger, he wanted her for himself but he can say no word and is helped into his chariot by laughing revellers.

‘Beneath a lilac tree on the neighbouring slope, Pan, exhausted after hunting, reclines to rest his wearied limbs, hanging up his pipes from a well-leaved olive bough.

‘Three of the satyrs (Nuctilus, Micon and pretty Amyntas), who have been escaping the heat of the sun beside a spring, creep up and secretly steal the pipes, even though they know well that they are not allowed to touch what has belonged to a God. In the stillness of the afternoon the stolen pipe will not play as it should. Beneath their fingers it squeaks and sounds dischordant.

‘Pan, awakening and bounding through the undergrowth, surprises them at their game; ‘Boys, oh boys, you have been drinking,’ says he. They reply, ‘Oh play us a tune, Father Pan, on the well-waxed pipes, and sing a lascivious melody as you only can. Yes, sing us a song.’

Sometimes I attempted an exotic type of fiction, although I don’t think I ever got very far with it;

‘The face lost so many years before still remained, especially in dreams, as almost again visible, nearly present, like a dreaming impression, a group of colours in essence, that in the concentration of the senses would result in the whole. Yet this very concentration banished at once irrevocably the components and only the return of semi-consciousness could build them up again.

‘I cannot forget her,’ said the boy. ‘I have one memory, a picture guessingly made myself in charcoal. That is the only memory I have and I do so desire, even in dreaming, to see her face but once again. I never said goodbye to her. There was never any ending, and that distresses me. There she lies, out there waiting with the darkening evening, only a short way underground. I know appallingly well that one night I shall pull her out, to satisfy my desire to see her just once again. I know that if I were once to yield I should taint my imagination for life, yet I also know, I know that I am not strong enough to resist.’

‘Yet had she lived, she would soon have disgusted you.’

‘That is as certain as anything. To die was the only way that she could safeguard that I’d loved her for ever. Perhaps she knew that and in that knowledge killed herself.’

The incredible arrogance of that final remark! The simple act of waking up and putting on my clothes in the morning became most remarkable when seen from this sort of perspective. Local farmers bringing in their cows for milking turned into shepherd boys from Arcadia, and here is how I described going down for our evening meal;

‘Those candles were already alight whose fiery final extinction would be the last thing seen by my eyes before I slept. The walls of my room were blue, with the cobalt of night-time, and upon this blue flew cherubs of gold, and all was lit, like a tree of life, by a golden-tressed candelabra. Here there was no mirror. Only by pulling aside the blue texture of the curtains was I able to see myself for an instant, darkly against the moonlit garden. Then, throwing over my shoulders a rich robe, I ran down the broad-stepped staircase, tossing behind me my hair and watching my feet as they passed beneath me.

‘I arrived just as they were to go to the banquet, and found that I was in time to take into the meal my cousin whom I had loved so much. Yet now no longer did my eyes always stray to that pretty face and look into those eyes of the profoundest blue. My cousin noticed this change at once and wondered at it, and was greatly unhappy. Yet when we were seated I still said no word, but only looked upon the reflection of my face in the grain of the table and in the reflecting pools of light in soup and wine.

‘And my cousin, who had really loved me and whom only shyness had held back, was greatly unhappy and talked gently to me and smiled much and looked yearningly upon me. But I continued to gaze at the reflection of myself in the grain of the table and answered not a word. I smiled to myself so that my cousin was filled all the more with yearning and scarcely could eat for looking upon me.

‘I had a dream; that I was upon a raft and all about me waved and curled long tentacles of sea trees, spongy and soft, unlike the trees of the earth, and growing almost as one watched and swaying slightly with the swell of the sea. Gaseous bubbles burst silent all about and a purple-foamed wave drove the raft nearer in. And now, unspeakably horrible, quadrupeds, sextipeds and quinquepeds and centipeds and millipeds, that had drifted to this soggy place and lived in damp perpetual, creatures that had become bloated and fat, were swimming alongside the craft, bringing terror to me.’

Ken has described how the now famous final scene was shot.

‘It was all done very quickly, obviously with a hidden camera. The key thing was to find a camera position that would give us good coverage of what was happening and wouldn’t be seen by the people passing by. We gave Carol White (who played Cathy) a position with the two kids on the station seats and then let her sit there for a bit and found a way to cue the actors playing the social workers and the police to come over and take the children. I remember we had to allow enough time to elapse after my going up and talking to her so that passers-by would just be walking past normally. It was before the days of walkie-talkies, so we had to use hand signals. We only had one shot at it really because you don’t want to put the kids through that sort of thing more than once. It was upsetting to do it, although we were running around with a camera so fast and juggling so many elements that we didn’t have time to dwell upon that while we were doing it.’

The tide was high that night. We’d had to jump a couple of feet to get to the bridge. Over this humped 60 feet of hanging iron with, underneath, the dark blue Thames waters sliding. A scarred notice at the further end; Eel Pie Island Hotel. A haggard cheery old woman took money off us. Beneath the trees was audible already the slow pumping beat of jazz.

A man books in at the reception counter in the foyer. Allotted a part of the Amethyst Suite, he follows a floorboy up in the lift. As they process along the long corridors, he is surprised to be hailed by a smiling floor-waiter dressed in tails. ‘Ah, good evening Sir Robert, how are you? And how are the roses going sir? Grown any interesting new varieties lately? Children all right, sir? What was it, Iain and Sabrina? Oh, very good, sir. Yes, I expect this will feel like old times to be back in your bed in the Amythyst Suite, sir. Any small thing I can do for you sir? Curtains darkened? Yes, done already. We know your tastes sir. Ah, here is a vase of roses, with the compliments of the management, not so good as the ones you grow back home sir, but nonetheless it comes with our sincere goodwill sir, well, yes sir.’

How did he know? Fifty thousand guests pass through this hotel each year. Does he really remember the client through all these years, and his interest in roses? The secret lies in a room filled with card indexes, manned by four staff in an unfrequented part of the Hotel. The walls are lined with Who’s Who and other reference books, and here is listed the name of everyone who’s ever stayed in the hotel. Other reference books give a guide to anyone else among the rich and famous or notorious who might be likely to.

Within moments of his arrival, the staff can be primed as to how many children a man has, when he was last here, which room he had, what his particular interests are.

I am on a tour of hotels, huge edifices through which the cooled air rushes like the sighing waves of the sea, picking up extraordinary bits of information as I go. This is for a television film I’m writing. One of them, I learn, originally was served by its own gas station, and was the first in the world to install gas lifts.

The foyer of the Hilton, catering mainly for people from North America, ‘is decorated with marble and rosewood’. A ‘grand staircase around the core’ leads to the second-floor ballroom. A feature of the staircase is ‘a tapestry 19 feet by 9 feet depicting the Spirit of Fun’.

The Ballroom, ‘designed to accommodate 3,000 banqueting guests’, uses wood panelling and ‘has rich reds and oranges in its carpeting, and a series of red and orange glass balls hang beneath the dome’.

‘The International Restaurant’ of this place serves, as its name indicates, ‘a cuisine of international scope’. It is equipped with ‘reversible panels, sliding screens and variegated lighting effects, thus permitting creation of different moods and atmospheres’. Menus are, of course, ‘attuned to these changes in décor, as are the uniforms of the waiters’.

There is a ‘realistically constructed indoor patio on the second floor’, where ‘traditional English teas are served’.

All mattresses here measure 6 feet 8 inches compared to the normal length of 6 feet 3 inches.

‘Background music’, so I am told, ‘operates in all public rooms and in passenger lifts, and is linked to guest-rooms through the radio receiver’.

The list of the rooms available in this place is impressive. There are:

63 double studio rooms

60 single studio rooms

42 double (French) bedrooms

42 double studio parlours

21 large suite living-rooms

21 small parlours

10 living-rooms

1 dining room and

1 library.

Iced water is on tap in every bathroom in the hotel. And in the basement there is located ‘The Tavern’, a modern interpretation of an Old English Tavern.

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