Social Policy, the Media, and Misrepresentation

By Bob Franklin | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

Home truths

Media representations of homelessness

Steve Platt

On the evening of 16 November 1966, an emotional, black-and-white television drama captivated viewing audiences across Britain and shattered the postwar complacency which held that problems of bad housing and homelessness, if not already things of the past, soon would be. The Wednesday Play. that evening, on prime time BBC1, was Cathy Come Home. Directed by Ken Loach and produced by Tony Garnett, who had made their names collaborating on a previous social-realist dramatic success, Up the Junction, the play had an impact that would be unimaginable in later, more media-saturated years. At the time, with television still a novelty and just three terrestrial channels (one of them the fledgling BBC2, then barely two years old) to choose from, it seemed as if virtually the whole nation had turned on to watch Carol White's heart-rending performance as Cathy: and that virtually everyone in the country was talking about the issues raised by the drama the next day.

Cathy Come Home told the story of an ordinary young couple, whose love for each other became strained and finally stretched to breaking point by their inability to find a decent home in which to live and bring up their children. Having been reduced to homelessness, the couple were forced to turn to the state for assistance, whereupon they found themselves compulsorily separated by the rules of the social services hostel in which Cathy and her children were accommodated. Homeless families' accommodation at the time often made no provision for husbands and fathers, who were expected to make their own arrangements elsewhere. Indeed, the 'no husbands' rule was so strictly enforced that, on two occasions in 1965, Kent County Council actually had men jailed for breaking court injunctions prohibiting them from staying with their families at one of its hostels.

Ultimately, as the play's depressing downward spiral developed, Cathy's children were forcibly separated from her and taken into care. The traumatic railway-station scene involving a hysterical Cathy, her screaming children and stony-faced social services personnel as they prised her young baby from her arms, capped a televisual tour de force that laid bare the inadequacies of the British welfare state just a few months after Harold Wilson's Labour Party had been returned to power with a massively increased majority and commensurately

-104-

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Social Policy, the Media, and Misrepresentation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures and Tables vii
  • Introduction 1
  • References 13
  • Part 1 - Producing Social Policy News 15
  • Chapter 1 - Soft-Soaping the Public? 17
  • References 36
  • Chapter 2 - Media Coverage of Social Policy 39
  • Chapter 3 - Charitable Images 51
  • Chapter 4 - Dying of Ignorance? 69
  • References 84
  • Part 2 - The Media Reporting of Social Policy 87
  • Chapter 5 - Poor Relations 89
  • Notes 102
  • Chapter 6 - Home Truths 104
  • Chapter 7 - The Picture of Health? 118
  • References 133
  • Chapter 8 - Media and Mental Health 135
  • Note 144
  • Chapter 9 - Thinking the Unthinkable 146
  • Note 156
  • Chapter 10 - Are You Paying Attention? 157
  • References 172
  • Chapter 11 - Exorcising Demons 174
  • Part 3 - The Media Reporting of Social Policy 191
  • Chapter 12 - Bulger, 'Back to Basics' and the Rediscovery of Community 193
  • References 205
  • Chapter 13 - The Ultimate Neighbour from Hell? 207
  • Notes 220
  • Chapter 14 - Out of the Closet 222
  • Chapter 15 - Social Threat or Social Problem? 238
  • Note 251
  • Chapter 16 - They Make Us Out to Be Monsters 253
  • Index 269
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