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The Warp

Press Comment on ‘Cathy’ (2)

The Birmingham Post, 29 November 1966

Dozens of Birmingham’s homeless families heckled city councillors at a meeting last night urging them to end ‘inhuman conditions’ in the city’s hostels.

They were part of a 200-strong audience who went to hear a discussion on the problems brought out by the BBC play ‘Cathy Come Home’ shown last week.

The meeting, at the Midland Institute, twice nearly broke up because of noisy interruptions from angry hostel-dwellers.

As time ran out for hostel families who had to be back by the 10 p.m. curfew, urgent telephone calls to hostel wardens were made in an effort to extend their evening out.

This failed. But offers came from the meeting to ferry families home in time.

Councillor Wallace Lawler (Lib) said that Birmingham ought to accept the admonition from the play.

He added, ‘If our housing problem had not been removed from party politics 20 years ago, we wouldn’t be here discussing this evening.

‘It is ten years since we were first told by the Press of this problem of homelessness and what have we done in those years? ... The city has quite a lot to account for.’

The play was long overdue. It should have been shown week by week over the past ten years, he said. There was no excuse for parting a father from his family when there was a need for his presence in a hostel, Councillor Lawler added.

The problem of homelessness, he thought, not only concerned newly-arrived immigrants in the city. Families who had lived in the city for a number of years were living in hostels.

The opening speaker, Ald Dr Louis Glass, Conservative Housing Management Committee chairman, attacked Mr Jeremy Sandford, the play’s author, and Mr Kenneth Loach the director, both later speakers, for ‘sneaking into a Birmingham hostel to get information for their play’.

He said, ‘Two men disguised themselves as insurance agents to get inside the hostel. But they aroused the suspicion of the warden.’

Later in the meeting, Mr Sandford denied that he was in Birmingham on the date of the incident Ald Glass mentioned.

Ald Glass said the play had smacked in the face every agency dealing with the homeless. In Birmingham, he added, four hostels with dormitories had been closed. ‘We will try and stop this separation of fathers and mothers in the remainder, within two years,’ he added.

Nobody on the Birmingham City Council condoned the separation of fathers and mothers. Efforts were being made to improve the situation.

One in 14 in Birmingham were immigrants, he said. In the next five years Birmingham was going to spend £32m on housing.

‘If these two men had worked on a building site to produce some practical help in the city they would have been of some use,’ he added.

Councillor Mrs Doris Fisher, former chairman of the Housing Management Committee, said she considered Duddeston Ward merited some public attention for its slum problems. Ladywood was getting too much limelight.

She said that one out of every eight people who went through hostels were doing so because they had been evicted from their homes through rent arrears.

One out of every five were in hostels because they had been evicted by their own relatives. It was a sad picture, she added.

Mr Jeremy Sandford thought it said a lot for Birmingham’s sense of responsibility for the city to have identified itself so strongly with the play.

‘We shot about seven minutes of the 75-minute play in Birmingham, several other areas around the country were also recorded. I don’t think Birmingham was recognisable in any of the film.’

The play’s director, Mr Loach, said, ‘There have been people here so anxious to clear themselves and their own names that any sensible discussion is impossible.’

Later, during the noisy questioning, Ald Glass said, ‘We were very glad that the play did happen. It brought forward this problem. What I want people to understand is that three years ago the council said hostels would be closed as we know them today. Our aim is to provide temporary accommodation for the husband, wife and children.’


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