of Television Drama: Some Errors
by Jeremy Sandford
Inaccuracies to do with ‘Cathy Come Home’
Inaccuracies to do with ‘Edna, the Inebriate Woman’
Inaccuracies to do with other matters
Sooner or later, once Irene Shubik had published her book ‘Play for Today, the Evolution of Television Drama’, I had imagined she would present me with a copy. I had given her copies of various books of mine (‘Down and Out in Britain’ and the published novelisations of ‘Edna, the Inebriate Woman’ and ‘Cathy Come Home’) during the making of the BBC TV film ‘Edna, the Inebriate Woman’, of which she was the producer.
No presentation copy arrived. I am not an assiduous rereader of my own works, or of what others have penned about them, so when no book arrived I didn’t bother to go out of my way to acquire it. For many years, I never got round to reading the book.
Relatively recently I chanced upon a copy of ‘Play for Today, the Evolution of Television Drama’ and discovered what I believe can be shown to be inaccuracies. I have sent a copy of this list to Irene and will of course be most happy to retract if in any case she can show that it is me who is wrong.
Page 126: ‘On its (i.e. ‘Cathy Come Home’s) second showing, most of the background comments giving statistics were in fact omitted because of doubts about accuracy.’
This is untrue. I wrote to Irene asking where she got the information from, saying that I’d like to track the rumour back to its source, and contact those who started it. After sending a number of letters, I received a reply saying that Irene had copied the information from a ‘quality daily’ whose name she had now forgotten. A simple phone call or visit down the passage to Tony Garnett’s office would have demonstrated to Irene that it was false.
The statement also questions the integrity of the BBC TV establishment of the time. They, from the first, stood by the accuracy of ‘Cathy Come Home’. To have connived in alterations to the programme between first and second transmissions would have amounted to dirty tricks.
Worse than either of these, it appears to be an attempt to undermine the basic thesis of the play by claiming that the research on which it was based is inaccurate.
There was not at this time in existence the legislation which now protects an author’s moral rights in a work, but there was the written agreement between the Writers Guild, of which I am and was a member, and the BBC, which specifically forbade any tampering with the original, such as Irene describes, on the part of the BBC, without consultation with the author. Had such tampering taken place, I would have resisted it, and my position would have been backed, I am sure, by the Writers Guild. There was absolutely no need to tamper because the accuracy of the work had so clearly been established at the first transmission.
‘On its second showing, two million council members and officials were asked to watch ‘Cathy Come Home’ and see how many mistakes they could find in it.’ Irene is quoting from a popular newspaper report that the Local Government Information Office had asked council members and workers (not officials) to watch the play and report back on ‘blunders, omissions and inaccuracies’, which it would then use in a ‘protest to the BBC’. A spokesman for that organisation tells me it is not something they would do, though it could perhaps have appeared as a request in one of their briefing sheets, which town halls are encouraged to put on their notice boards, though he did not recall this. Their small organisation would be incapable, he tells me, then or now, of dealing with two million replies. Various newspapers reported, a day or so later, that it did not prove possible to spot any ‘blunders, omissions or inaccuracies’. The proposed protest was never made to the BBC. The BBC had already made an announcement in which it stood by the accuracy of the play. Irene’s use of this information out of context does give an erroneous impression.
On page 132 Irene 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.’
My own view of this is that it is classist, snobbish, prejudiced, and 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’ might be seen as a prejudiced or even racist comment.
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.
On pages 128/9, Irene writes: ‘By the time we finished working on it,’ said Sandford, (the ‘we’ being himself and Ted Kotcheff who had consulted closely with him on it).’ Wrong. I did not work with Ted Kotcheff on the storyline of ‘Cathy’, or any of the various drafts of ‘Cathy’, although I did occasionally discuss it in general terms with him. Ted’s view was that my storyline, in the form that finally became the film, was too expensive to make. In terms of television up to that point, this was probably true. The story of the writing of ‘Cathy’ is told in detail in Alan Rosenthal’s ‘The New Documentary in Action’ (University of California Press, 1971).
On page 130; ‘Between the beginning and end product [of the script of ‘Edna’], lay a very tortuous path indeed.’ This may be an accurate description of Irene’s feelings, as my script went through its various drafts. (She was the producer of ‘Edna’). It is wrong to suggest that it seemed tortuous to the author, or later author in consultation with the director, Ted Kotcheff, as we worked on it. For me it was a fairly routine experience since by then I’d had some six or seven plays commissioned and written and performed, and written any number of books, newspaper series, and radio programmes, and my method of working is often, though not always, to write at some length to start with and whittle things down. I like to go through lots of drafts. I was also writing ‘Edna’ as a novel simultaneously and some fairly undigested wadges probably got into drafts of the script sometimes.
I think, in retrospect, that I showed Irene the script too early. I had felt I’d like to involve her in the creative process but I realise now that she found this difficult. I think it would be right to say she had never produced or been part of a drama of this complexity, and the type of play to which she was most accustomed was the studio drama.
Although surprising in a producer of her experience, it seems to me that Irene failed to understand the typical process of director and writer working closely together, which Ted and I had already become accustomed to in ‘Dreaming Bandsmen’, my stage play he directed. Irene had a hazy idea of the ongoing process at my and Ted’s script conferences. She did offer to be present, but because we were accustomed to working together, Ted and I declined this.
Irene mentions that the script contained a ‘disembodied voice which quoted statistics’, which she says she ‘decided to drop completely’. I think this is confusing, in that this device was modelled on the disembodied voices so successfully used in ‘Cathy’. At the original meeting with Irene and Nick Thompson in April 1970, the meeting that led to her commissioning ‘Edna’ and its two companion films, they were seen as very much a follow on to ‘Cathy’, using many of the same techniques and hoping, at any rate so far as I was concerned, for a similar degree of public involvement. It is surprising that Irene did not recognise, in the ‘disembodied voice’ mentioned here, the technique already pioneered so successfully in ‘Cathy’ and which, I like to think, made a strong contribution to its ‘atmosphere’ and ‘accuracy’. In retrospect I think it is probably a pity we dropped the ‘disembodied voices’.
Irene does not mention my proposal to have statistics flashed up on the screen, as in ‘Cathy’, thus contextualising the particular story of Edna, and showing how it represented a trend in our society. These also got dropped and in retrospect I think it a pity. I have been told of stage performances of ‘Edna’ in which they were used effectively.
Irene also claims she ‘dropped’ sequences in which Edna ‘turned to the audience and commented herself on her plight’. This is wrong because Edna does talk to herself and the audience in the film and it is surprising that Irene did not notice this. Also, it would not have been possible for a producer to ‘drop’ any part of the script without consultation with author and director, and without my permission. As Irene herself explains in her book, ‘in accordance with the Writers Guild regulations, no-one is allowed to rewrite without first asking the author to do so’.
Page 131: ‘By the time we started filming we had still reached no agreement [on the script].’ This is a surprising thing for Irene, in her role as producer, to say since the script was ready in good time for the first day of shooting. It was that script which, with some very minor changes, was printed when the play was published by Marion Boyars. (BBC Project No 02140/3484, of which I have a copy). It is quite hard to understand how Irene, in her role as producer, was not aware of this.
This script was typed out in the BBC TV format in the first week in October. If Irene was not in agreement with it, it is difficult to see why she authorised it to be typed out at this point, when there were still four weeks to go before the beginning of shooting. As producer, it was Irene’s job to see that an agreed script was ready in enough time, and be aware of what was going on around her.
‘The form of the play was, in fact, largely hewn out in the cutting room.’ Peter Coulson did an excellent job on editing, but the form of the play had been carefully worked out in the shooting script (02140/3484), from which in turn the book of the screenplay was printed. (For more details of this, see Ted Kotcheff’s ‘Introduction’). To substantiate her claim, Irene would have to show that there are striking differences between shooting script and film, and this is not so. In the world of feature films there is of course nothing unusual about rewrites continuing throughout shooting as decided between director and writer, or even requested by producer. I have been involved in productions in which this was what happened. It was not so in this case. There was not at that time in existence the legislation which now protects an author’s moral rights in a work. But there was the written and very specific agreement between the Writers Guild, of which I am and was a member, and the BBC, which specifically forbade unilateral tampering with the original, such as Irene says took place, by the BBC, without consultation with the author. Had such tampering taken place I would have at the least resisted it, and my position would have been backed, I am sure, by the Writers Guild. Due to the existence of this agreement, there was absolutely no way that the events as described by Irene could have happened.
The claim that the various changes described on page 131, paragraph 2 were ‘hectic’ is wrong in that, though these were certainly going on and being discussed by Ted and myself in the course of refining the script, it is wrong to suggest they were unusual or hectic. It was a typical way for a writer and director to work together. As anyone present at Ted and my pleasant and harmonious script conferences (such as his wife Sylvia) would, I am sure, witness, there was nothing abnormal or chaotic about it.
Irene alleges a striking difference in length between the shooting script and the ‘as broadcast’ transcript. The final draft of ‘Edna’ was delivered on 2 October 1970. That was typed up at the BBC into a ‘Film Script’, also referred to as a ‘Rehearsal Script’, No 12140/3484. That occupied 94 pages in the version by my typist and 130 as laid out by the BBC. The ‘as broadcast’ transcript, done after the film was made, has the same number of sequences (123) and roughly the same number of pages (129). The stage directions and dialogue are almost entirely the same. I am not at all clear why Irene says what she does.
The film was shot in and around London between 2 November and 4 December 1970. Meanwhile the novelisation had already, in Autumn 1970, been delivered to Pan Books, containing the same material in the same approximate order, although of course at greater length, to be in good time for printing in order to coincide with the BBC’s proposed transmission in the Spring of 1971.
‘Voluminous notes (printed in the appendix) had passed between [Kotcheff] and me and Sandford.’ These notes actually only passed one way; from Irene to us. At our script conferences Ted and I ignored these ‘voluminous notes’. A comparison of the two sets of her notes which Irene prints at the end of her book with the script and with the finished film reveals that, with one possible exception, none of them were incorporated.
Page 136: ‘Our dosshouse was, in fact, made up by the designer.’ The dosshouse in Blackfriars Road was already an actual dosshouse, located by me. There was no need for a designer to embellish this location since it was already quite arresting.
Page 137: ‘Only after the corpses of numerous characters lay on the cutting room floor did [Kotcheff] agree that they could have been cut from the script before we started shooting.’ It would be interesting to know which characters Irene thinks these are. However, knowing that Irene was looking for scenes to cut out, and wanting to ensure that the scenes subjected to this purge would not be important ones, Ted and I, as part of the script writing process, put in some scenes which were superfluous and which could then be cut out to effect her ‘economies’. This, however, took place before the script was typed out, a month before shooting.
Page 99: ‘Parker’s entire meticulous approach and reasoned attitude was totally unlike Sandford’s impressionism.’ While I appreciate that this is a personal view of Irene’s, I would suggest it is wrong. ‘Cathy Come Home’, for example, has never been faulted for its extensive factual content. I think it could be claimed that ‘Cathy’ was the most annotated or contextualised of any drama ever produced - the opposite of impressionistic. Kotcheff uses the word meticulous in writing of my work. The style of ‘Edna’ is intended to be impressionistic since I aimed to represent the world as seen through Edna’s disorientated perceptions, but I am happy to provide factual precedents for everything shown in ‘Edna’, and this was made clear in the novelisation of ‘Edna’.
Page 106: ‘Sandford ... weak on structure.’ While I appreciate that this is a personal view, I feel that Irene failed to understand the dynamics of the play she had commissioned. Ted Kotcheff has paid compliment to my sense of structure in this play, and many other directors and critics also have done so, in various of my plays. For example, ‘Don’t Let Them Kill Me on Wednesday’ has a very tight structure. A fairly amorphous structure was intended for ‘Edna’. In other plays I have aimed for a tight structure.
Page 125: ‘[In] a script by Jeremy Sandford ... the details, on inspection, are blurs and blobs.’ In ‘Cathy Come Home’, there were actual factual statistics on the screen and soundtrack to back up what was being shown. These details in that drama, it seems to me, could hardly have been less like blurs and blobs. The details in ‘Cathy’ were backed by the BBC and never shown to be false. Meticulous attention to detail is something I pride myself on. I would hardly have survived as newspaper journalist, the author of scores of articles and series, in radio and television documentary, or in the world of factual books, if I didn’t. Unlike most writers of fiction, I do work in the more meticulous disciplines of journalism as well.
At the time of ‘Edna’ I was working as a regular researcher and interviewer for the ITV ‘Last Programmes’, doing about twenty programmes a year. Irene may remember that, reviewing ‘Edna’ for the Church Times, Colin Hodgetts said, ‘Some people have suggested that the play was exaggerated. Those who work in the field know that it is depressingly accurate.’ Bearing in mind the consistent level of inaccuracy in Irene’s own work, it could be questioned whether she is in fact qualified to judge what is accurate and what is not, and whether it is perhaps her ‘details’ which, ‘on inspection, are blurs and blobs.’
‘We cut accounts of life stories of all the other inmates of the hostel. These we had to cut.’ Untrue. I did want to tell the story of one or two of the other inmates besides Edna, and this happens in the script and in the film, as intended.
It is true that two characters appearing before Edna in one of the Lawcourt scenes were omitted. These were cut for reasons of space, not quality. Irene fails to point out that a similar device still remains in the film in the common lodging house doctor scene, in which there are two ‘superfluous’ characters before Edna comes in.
Appendix: ‘Notes on Edna’. These notes are printed as sent to Ted and me by Irene. However, Irene has made a nonsense of them by printing them in the reverse order; as the dates printed with them show. Few, indeed probably none, of these suggestions were acted on by Ted and me, in the creation of the script from which the film was made.
Page 127: ‘6 January 1957 ... the time of Sandford’s engagement to heiress Nell Dunn’. Nell and I had in fact got married in February 1956, the previous year; we therefore could not have got engaged in 1957, more than eleven months later.
‘... heiress Nell Dunn’
‘Sandford’s debut on radio ... a contribution to the Third Programme ... in 1956.’ By this date in 1956 I had had two radio plays performed (‘Dreaming Bandsmen’ and ‘It Is For Ever’), and written and presented a number of other radio programmes. In no sense was it a debut as I had been working for radio for some years.
‘[Sandford did a] radio piece about a machine that wrote love letters’. Not true. I had scripted, recorded and presented for the Third Programme a couple of 25 minute programmes about music boxes and other mechanically generated music. Neither programme was about the ‘machine that wrote love letters’, though a computer that could be programmed to do so made a brief appearance in one of the two programmes.
The computer, whose name Irene gives as ‘MUK’, should in fact be ‘MUC’, the Manchester University Computer.
Irene quotes, from a Daily Mirror article dated 19 December 1956, an entirely untrue statement. The simplest check (such as, for example, ringing me) would have demonstrated to her that it was false.
‘[Involvement in the lives of the underprivileged] didn’t spring, on Sandford’s part, from any desire to plumb the social depths so to speak. [The motive] which led [him] to do something so uncharacteristic was just curiosity.’ This is part of a sentence from an article, of which I have a copy, from Woman’s Own. The same sentence goes on to quote me as saying that once curiosity had led me there, I experienced deep concern. Irene has cut out the second half of this sentence and, by taking it out of context, has reversed its meaning.
‘From this [marriage to Nell Dunn] ... Sandford was led, obviously by curiosity, to ... join the RAF band in Germany.’ This is untrue. I had joined the RAF band seven years before my marriage to Nell and left it five years before my marriage.
‘Obviously by curiosity’. National conscription, not curiosity, was my reason for joining the Air Force. I was at that date a pacifist and musicians were (and, I believe, are) non combatant. In those days of compulsory National Service, I felt that music was one of the productive, as opposed to death dealing, roles available in the forces.
‘[Entering the German band was] getting his first entrée into the life of the working classes.’ Incorrect, even if placed at its correct date. In those days of conscription the German band was in fact mostly ‘professional class’ in its make-up. Music is not one of the ‘working class’ jobs but one of the professions. A number of my fellow bandsmen went on to join well established orchestras, including the Covent Garden Opera, the Concertgebouw, and the LSO.
Page 128: ‘Sandford’s first play ‘The Dreaming Bandsman’. Untrue on two counts. The title I gave my play was ‘Dreaming Bandsmen’, and it was not my ‘first play’, but my second play to be produced, the first being ‘It Is For Ever’.
‘The City of Coventry Police Band march[ed] up and down the stage for much of the first act.’ They in fact marched for little more than a couple of minutes. Irene is here speaking of the stage version at the Belgrade Coventry, not the earlier radio version.
‘[Sandford moved to a] fashionable flat in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.’ It was a house.
‘Sandford ... surrealist writer.’ I’ve never been a surrealist writer, but believe I was so described in a tabloid newspaper.
‘Robert Muller, the Daily Mail, ... was the only one to recognise in [the stage version of Dreaming Bandsmen] the vitality ...’ Besides the Daily Mail, the Times, News Chronicle, Observer, and Daily Telegraph gave good reviews and talked of its vitality or used phrases like ‘compelling force’. There is also, I feel, an error of omission here in that Irene quotes the reviews of the stage play ‘Dreaming Bandsmen’ but fails to quote the rave reviews later achieved by the films ‘Cathy’, or even her own production of ‘Edna’, or reviews of any other of those programmes or books written by me, which received extensive reviews. ‘Dreaming Bandsmen’ was a stage play; a number of the others were television dramas or their derivatives, the book’s alleged subject.
‘[Sandford] at that time stored hard boiled eggs in a chandelier.’ The curious reader might be interested in being told how this, I would imagine difficult, feat could be carried out; or what possible relevance it could have to the evolution of television drama.
‘[Nell Dunn] took a job wrapping chocolates in a factory.’ This is all Irene says about Nell Dunn and it is thus, I feel, an error of omission since Nell Dunn had already devoted much of her adult life to writing, with such extremely successful works as ‘Up the Junction’, ‘Poor Cow’, ‘Talking to Women’, etc., some of which have been adapted for television or films, and had already been transmitted by this date. Ken Loach’s television version of ‘Up the Junction’ was a landmark in the evolution of television drama. It is extraordinary that Irene leaves these fine works out and writes only of the sweet factory, especially since this is a book about television drama, not sweet factories.
Jeremy Sandford: Screenplays, Radio Plays, Films, Stage
It is For Ever (1956), BBC, with Alan Wheatley.
Dreaming Bandsmen (1956), BBC, with Kenneth Haigue, Alan Bates; music by the author, conducted by Charles Mackeras.
The Quinquaphone (1957), BBC.
Not Wishing to Return (1958, remade in 1968), BBC, with Patricia Gallimore.
Whelks and Chromium (1959), BBC, with Harry Fowler.
Oluwale (1973), Radio Brighton and BBC, with Paul Schofield.
The Motor Heist (1975), Radio Brighton, Imperial Tobacco Award Nomination.
Virgin of the Clearways (1982), BBC.
Verdict Suicide (1985), BBC.
Hotel de Luxe (1962), ACTT award.
Cathy Come Home (1966), BBC, with Carol White; Italia Prize, ACTT, Writers Guild awards.
Edna, the Inebriate Woman (1971), BBC, with Patricia Hayes; ACTT Writers Guild awards.
Don’t Let Them Kill Me on Wednesday (1980), Granada, with Rita Tushingham.
Dreaming Bandsmen (1960), Belgrade Coventry, with Colin Blakeley.
The Fatted Calf (1980), ICA London, with Crystal Theatre of the Saint.
Dream Topping (1979-1981), Kings Head Theatre Club, Young Vic, and other venues; with Philippa Finnis.
Raggle Taggle (1993), Cheltenham Festival and Gloucester. Beaufort School Community Play.
Songs from the Roadside (1994 - ongoing), Folly Lane Theatre, Hereford, and other locations, with Ted Atkinson and Mark O’Gallaidh.
Provenance of Edna
(The dates are those on the scripts and letters)
An early version of the script. 09.12.69
Contract for ‘The Lodging House’ (working title of ‘Edna’) signed,
to be delivered by 31.03.70. 28.01.70
Letter from me to Irene apologising for straying over deadline. 01.04.70
Letter from Shubik: ‘the script on woman vagrants has not been written
at all’ (presumably crossed mine in post). This letter also states her
doubt about Kotcheff as director. 02.04.70
Fairly complete version of novel. 08.04.70
Letter from me to Irene: ‘Edna’ is at the typist right now. 14.04.70
Complete (?) version of novel. 30.04.70
Letter from me to Irene says; ‘Edna you already have’. 11.05.70
Letter from Irene asking me to work with Ted on reducing cost of
‘Edna’: she is to be away for six weeks. 20.07.70
Letter to Anne Kersch saying I’ve cut ‘Edna’ down re cost. 29.07.70
Letter from Irene: ‘I have finally managed to persuade Gerald Savory
to let us do ‘Edna’ ... 02.08.70
Letter from me to Gerald Savory says that Pan are ‘already setting up
Letter from Irene, plus notes, which she says she’s discussed with Ted
(most of these notes were ignored by Ted and me). 23.09.70
BBC copy of my script. 02.10.70
Letter from Clarence Paget at Pan enclosing page proofs of the novel
of ‘Edna’. 05.10.70
BBC typed script gives shooting times as beginning: 02.11.70
and finishing: 04.12.70
The book published. Spring 71
The film originally to be transmitted: Spring 71
The film actually transmitted: 21.09.71
The book ‘Down and Out in Britain’ (hard cover) published. 21.09.71
‘Down and Out in Britain’ (soft cover) published. 1972
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