Cathy Come Home was possibly the most important contribution made by the BBC’s The Wednesday Play.
It told of Cathy (Carol White), a young Northern lass who made her way to the bright lights of London, met and married local van driver Reg Ward (Ray Brooks) and found herself the mother of three young children – Sean, Stephen and Marlene.
It revealed how the family was torn apart by the fact that they soon had no permanent roof over their heads, following Reg’s accident at work and his subsequent struggle for employment.
It showed how they lurched steadily downmarket, from a comfortable maisonette to Reg’s mum’s overcrowded, squalid tenement, to run-down lodgings, to a pokey caravan on an unhealthy site, to a derelict house, and finally to a hostel for the homeless, where the father was separated from his wife and children.
Physically torn apart, Cathy and Reg grew increasingly distant emotionally until he stopped paying for the family’s keep and they were thrown onto the streets.
The despair and helplessness experienced by Cathy as her kids were taken into care at Liverpool Street station touched the hearts of viewers and led to angry calls for action to prevent such tragic circumstances.
Shelter (the homeless charity) was able to capitalise on the furore and become an important voice in housing matters.
The play was directed by Ken Loach, who used documentary, news-style camera angles and hand-held cameras in the search for realism, often shooting from the backs of cars in the East End with some of the conversations unscripted. The soundtrack was punctuated with urban noise and scenes were kept short and snappy to avoid over-dramatisation.
Housing facts and figures were quoted throughout, adding political commentary to the events in view.
The play was repeated after eight weeks and both screenings reached audiences of 12 million.