“Now I was pregnant again, some would say it was wrong to have another kiddy when you’re overcrowded as it is.  But I don’t think so, I think kiddies are God’s gift, you don’t do right to deprive anyone of the chance of life, love’s what’s important in a child’s life, love is more important to a child than nice surroundings, I know, because I lived in what they call a respectable home, and I didn’t have it”.

The film opens with Cathy (Carol White) standing by the roadside hitching a lift at the exit from a roundabout.  She is picked up by a young man called Reg (Ray Brooks) driving a furniture van.  She is leaving home, the young girl from a small town stretching her wings and heading for the smoke.  She finds a room and a job in the new town and forms a relationship with the lad who picked her up in his lorry.

In the course of their burgeoning relationship he takes her up a rickety fire escape to show her a view of his neighbourhood and here we get the first reference to housing issues when he says “this whole place is going to come down soon” making a direct reference to the redevelopment plans of the 1960s that replaced so many neighbourhoods with flats, but without responsibility for rehousing the private tenants thus leading to a homelessness problem.

“The area that we lived in, in Holloway, was actually declared a redevelopment area in 1968 shortly after we moved there and so we were actually caught up in the process ourselves and of the 1000 families in the area, 500 were made ineligible for rehousing, almost all of them were black, and the landlords were actually advised by the council to evict them, and I was very very shocked by that.”

“Local authorities saw it as their job to house the traditional British working class and they didn’t see it as their job to house newcomers, they didn’t think they had the resources to do it, and they weren’t asked to do it, nobody insisted that they should.”

Anne Power – The New Jerusalem

He proposes to her on top of the fire escape.

We see the wedding and then the film cuts unexpectedly to a discussion about taking Grandad into care (whose Grandad?) it would appear to have been Reg’s Grandad judging by a conversation that takes place in the emergency housing office near the end of the film.

The couple are next shown larking about in a spacious modern flat, clearly their first home together, discussing furniture, and whether they can afford the rented flat.  The film cuts to an antenatal class with Cathy’s narration in the background. She is next shown talking to somebody about purchasing a house but quickly realises that ownership is going to be beyond them both financially.

Her new husband has an accident for which the employer refuses to compensate him.  Now both unemployed and with Cathy pregnant they start looking for somewhere cheaper to live.

A male voice over tells how there is a shortage of family housing in London and will continue to be so at the present rate of building (1967), [so nothing’s changed in over 40 years then – Ed.].

The nature of the flat to which they have been forced to move, with their newly arrived baby, is clearly shown.  It is in an older building, with closer neighbours and more crowded, apparently the type of housing which is due to be replaced in due course, though not slums. They have moved into a small flat with his Mother. (A tenement block in Islington it would appear from the narration, is the location).

Cathy rows with her Mother in law, this leads to them leaving and they are next shown in yet poorer quality accommodation.

Cathy – “We moved right away from the parts we’d been living in, and Reg found quite a good job too, we soon fitted in, then Stevie came along and we got quite settled.”

They are clearly sharing, and Cathy gets pregnant again, the third.  This is the point in the film at which I lost patience with Cathy and her problems.  She had a choice, it was the 1960s, there was the pill, however during the years depicted (early 1960s) abortion was still illegal, she admits they were overcrowded but wants to go on having children.

As an aside, here’s a comment (2/9/11) from the Guardian about Marie Stopes and contraception in the 60s.

She certainly held awful views, but she revolutionised life for women in the UK.

The only way I was able to get contraceptive advice as recently as 1966 was to go to the Marie Stopes Clinic in London – the government-run Family Planning Clinics would only acccept married women at the time.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2011/sep/02/marie-stopes-right-birth-control

[The title quote appears at this point where Cathy defends having children regardless of circumstance. Near the end of the film the year 1962 is mentioned as having been the time they left Islington – Ed.]

Cathy asks to owe the rent because they are short of money, Mrs Alley explains that she relies on the rent because she doesn’t qualify for a pension, but shortly after this she dies and is shown leaving the house in a coffin. Cathy and Reg are evicted for not paying the rent by the nephew of Mrs Alley who inherits the house.

The narrator lists the numbers on the waiting lists for various towns around England.

“In Birmingham 39,000 families on the waiting list, Leeds 13,500, Liverpool 19,000 – Manchester nearly 15,000”.

“In Liverpool one household in 9 is on the waiting list, in Manchester it’s one in 14.  In Birmingham there are 4000 overcrowded houses, 12 people to a house.”

Cathy – “We had a little girl next, we called her Mylene, it was Reg’s choice not mine” [That’s the fourth – Ed.]

It’s not entirely clear where Cathy and Reg are living next, although they are forcibly evicted from there too, with four children, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Squatting perhaps? A crowd gathers, it’s not a pleasant scene.

They end up in a caravan on a grim site, with abandoned old cars.  It’s a traveller site.  A meeting is shown, dismayed locals complaining about the presence of the caravan site and a lone voice speaks out asking where young families without housing are supposed to go.  Another asks what the response would be if violence occurs to which the speaker appears to lend his support.  Not long after this while Cathy and Reg are at the pub their caravan is set on fire and some of their children are lost.

There is a very honest scene at the waterside which pertains to today (2010) where the boatyard owner is shown explaining why he no longer allows people to live on boats, “because they deteriorate” (the people not the boats).They are shown squatting in an abandoned house, and later in a makeshift tent. In desperation they go to a local housing office for emergency accommodation.  Unbelievably at this point they are shown with yet another infant, a situation that beggars belief.

Cathy ends up in emergency (mothers and children only) accommodation for three months maximum, (Cumbermere Lodge in the film) with Reg allowed only to visit before 8pm.  He climbs in, breaking the rules and visits Cathy one night.  Cathy persuades Reg’s Mother  to take Shaun because she is concerned about how their situation is affecting him. Reg visits and explains to Cathy how he has tried to find them council accommodation but not being a resident of the borough it doesn’t work.

Cathy is told her time in the emergency accommodation has expired.  She is offered a last chance in a different lodging, (Holm Lea) a dormitory.  Reg visits and they discuss his unemployment and him finding them accommodation.  Cathy fights with one of the attendants and gets thrown out.  Reg hasn’t paid the fees for a while and she is evicted.  They go to a railway station and in a scene of great distress her remaining children are taken from her.

The film ends with a series of statements in titles on the screen.

“All the events in this film took place in Britain within the last eighteen months. 4000 children are separated from their parents and taken into care each year because their parents are homeless. West Germany has built twice as many houses as Britain since the war”.

Written by Jeremy Sandford and directed by Ken Loach


Author’s reaction to the film

It is not possible as a sentient human being to watch this film and be unmoved by it, even 43 years on.  Some of the issues addressed by the film have changed, some haven’t.  The number of people on council housing waiting lists has increased since the film, not decreased, owing to right to buy and the subsequent loss of council homes with nothing like sufficient replacements built in their stead.

On a brighter note the worst of the housing shown in the film has long gone as part of comprehensive redevelopment schemes, to be replaced by housing that has itself been criticised in some quarters on occasion (see the housing documentaries reviewed elsewhere) but by and large people are better housed now than they were in the 1960s, even if in flats and not houses.

There is little doubt in my mind that this film generated considerable debate and soul searching at the time of its first broadcast, and indeed it is said to have led to the creation of the housing charity Shelter which still exists today; the need has not gone away.

I personally struggle, as indicated above, with the age old question of having children one can’t afford and this film while certainly generating sympathy for the plight of Cathy, Reg and their children does cause one to stop and question whether they had some God given right to go on having children in the face of poverty and their inability to house, clothe and feed them.  I do not seek to apportion blame.  In an ideal world Reg would have got a good job, had a successful career and recovered the situation which would not then have deteriorated, but peoples’ lives are not always under their direct control, misfortune sometimes takes a hand.

In an ideal world Cathy would have stopped having children after two, at which point it became clear that their housing situation coupled with Reg’s employment situation was in doubt.  Whether tax payers as a whole should bear the burden of housing and paying for the upbringing of children they would not themselves have chosen to bring into the world is a debate that has been going on since the birth of the Welfare State and will no doubt continue long after I’m gone.

In summary I think that initially Cathy was unlucky, and later she was feckless, getting thrown out of the last lodge for fighting with the staff was stupid in the extreme, and Reg might have made more effort to find work and bring them back together as a family.  It is a depiction of a scene with no clear cut answers but it did expose the appalling situation of lack of government concern for homelessness which was later, 10 years later, dealt with by the Labour Government by the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977

Update: I found another review of CCH online I rather like, from the blog Moon in the Gutter

Update: A pertinent post today (3/2/11) from Red Brick.

Update: 23/9/11 Thanks to a friend I have been pointed to another source of films which includes this one

This Week: Housing-Take Four Children

It’s login only I’m afraid but this is the precis.

25th June, 1970

Hundreds of thousands of people in this country live in appalling housing conditions. “This Week” looks at four children from four separate families who illustrate different sides of the problem. Wayne is seven years old and lives in a slum. His parents have tried desperately to find somewhere better to live, with no success.

Louise is nearly two, her sister Alison is four. Their mother is nine month’s pregnant, and unmarried, their father has abandoned them. They can’t live with their mother because she lives in a single room where no children are allowed.

Linda is five. Nearly all her life she has lived with her four brothers and sisters in welfare accommodation. Her parents have waited for years for a home, eventually he decided to go and squat.

Michelle is eight years old and has special needs. Her father took a job as caretaker on a council estate so that they could get a house with a garden for her to play in. When Michelle’s father changed jobs, the Greater London Council (GLC) asked him to move, offering other accommodation which he did not thinksuitable for Michelle. The GLC took out an eviction order, and This Week film crew filmed what happened.

Directed by David Hart.

Footage includes; children playing, child being washed by his Mother, a single Mother plays in a park with her two young daughters, they play together in a playground, on a see-saw and coming down a slide, on a roundabout etc. The family look into empty flats, and are seen standing outside a shop, watching the television playing inside. The Mother is seen putting the girls to bed and saying goodbye. The next child, Linda, is filmed playing with lots of children all shown fooling around. Her Father is seen greeting the children and they all walk off, with their dog as well. We see the family all walking by the flats, carrying their belongings, they are off to squat as their living conditions are so bad where they are. A groups of residents all sing ‘We Shall Not be Moved’ in the back of a removal lorry. They move into an empty house owned by the GLC which has been empty for a while. Everyone goes exploring the new house. The next little girl’s story, she is seen playing with siblings in the garden. Her brother holds onto her tightly as she balances walking along a piece of wood, then her mother comes and carries her on her shoulders. The commentary explains about the families eviction order from the GLC, we see them huddled together looking out of a window, then a crowd of locals standing in front of their front door for protection, and the police arrive.

The following footage is all the eviction scene, with residents all joining together and linking arms to block the front door, the police do the same and the residents start to shout at the police, the police push towards the front door to break it down. The family are upstairs and the mother pours water out of the window onto the police below, she later tries to climb out of the window. People are crying out to stop it and leave them be, calling the police ‘scum’ and asking if they have gone mad, but the police continue to push towards the protestors and they eventually manage to break down the front door. The mother is seen being walked towards a car with friends comforting her, they discuss who will take her children. We then see the children being put into a car, all looking upset. We can hear someone saying ‘all they want is a garden’.

It reminded me of Cathy Come Home, only this time a documentary and not a drama.  How things have changed in the years since, first for the better as more families were housed, and then for the worse as council housing stopped being built altogether and then began to be demolished, let alone sold to private buyers.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/apr/27/private-rented-accommodation-permanent-council-home

Leave a Reply