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Director Ken tells of his fears and hopes for the future

Ken Loach in Conversation, Coventry Cathedral, July 28 only.

By Barbara Goulden

At the age of 85, film director Ken Loach still believes there can be no peace without greater justice in our fractured world, and that the BBC is still the voice of the British Establishment...despite that brief period in the 1960s when it screened his award-winning play about homelessness, Cathy Come Home.

Nuneaton-born Ken, the director of Kes, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, My Name is Joe, Sorry We Missed You, I Daniel Blake....believes that now, 55 years after "Cathy", more homelessness is inevitable when the Government lifts its ban on evictions for those who can't afford rent or mortgage payments.

He was being interviewed by journalist Adrian Goldberg in front of a live audience, the first in a line of "Made in the Midlands" celebrities to return to their roots as part of Coventry's City of Culture year. The interviews will become a series of podcasts.

Sitting amid the stained glass splendour of Coventry Cathedral, he said he wasn't a religious man. But he added, he firmly believed the new cathedral, linked to its ancient counterpart next door, was one of the most significant places in the region.

Indeed that night of the Blitz, November 1940, as a four-year-old hiding in the next door neighbour's Anderson shelter - his pockets no doubt bulging with wartime shrapnel - he still remembers hearing the grown-ups say: "They've destroyed the cathedral".

In front of the socially-distanced audience he recalled his education at King Edward Vl Grammar School in Nuneaton - only 60 boys out of the thousands in the town were chosen to attend. Later came a third-class degree from Oxford, and then his first job as a backstage helper at Coventry's new Belgrade Theatre.

His father - who'd been denied the chance to take up a scholarship place because his family couldn't afford the cost of the uniform - was sceptical of his son's theatrical aspirations.

"You'll never have two pennies to rub together," he told the young Ken, not long before he joined the BBC to direct the groundbreaking Wednesday Plays.

"Dad later told me Cathy Come Home was 'not too bad'," he said. The film is credited with leading to the creation of the charity Shelter, but according to Ken the Shelter movement was already starting to take shape; he and the film's writer Jeremy Sandford merely consulted its founding members.

As a film-maker, first with the BBC and later with Channel 4, he recalled how impossible it was to show striking miners, dockers and car workers in documentaries.

"All viewers saw was picket-line violence," he said, "never how some policemen used to drive past picket lines taunting the strikers by waving £5 notes in the air."

His best memories of Warwickshire? Cycling from Nuneaton to Stratford to watch the greats like Sir Lawrence Olivier in plays like The Tempest.

Shakespeare was a Warwickshire lad and learning his words, even when you didn't always understand them at the time, was a rare gift, he said.

But his pressing concern now is the hollowing-out of our towns and cities, especially places like Nuneaton where, years ago, he tried to save the art-deco Ritz cinema.

He said he hoped some City of Culture money could filter down to his home town: With the increasing number of food banks, Ken feels communities have to act together to improve their lot - we can no longer afford to keep bobbing along like a cork on the tide of market forces.

Ken comes home with a message that stil resonates with me more than 50 years on, writes ASHLEY HAYWARD

I vividly remember watching Cathy Come Home as a young teenager in 1966 and it had a profound effect on how I saw the world. It was this play that made me realise that people living in poverty are not poor from choice and often face severe hardship through no fault of their own.

It was a real pleasure to listen its Director talk about his life and work with such clarity and passion whilst remaining loyal to his roots and displaying remarkable humility

So much of what he said resonated with me. Like Ken I passed the 11 plus and was fortunate enough to go to a selective school. My primary school was on a Black Country council estate with about 100 pupils per year group. Less than 10 went to grammar or technical schools whilst the remainder were packed off to the local secondary modern and were seen as mere fodder for local factories and foundries.

I left school the same year as ‘Kes’ was released and can probably recall more detail than any other film I have seen since. It was such an accurate reflection of schools of those times.

I recognised all the characters especially Brian Glover’s bullying PE teacher!

I’ve enjoyed so much more of Ken Loach’s work since then. They say you should never meet

your heroes but I’m glad I made this an exception.

Other lectures planned for the series include Coventry-born thriller writer Lee Child and Longford-based film maker Debbie Isitt who is due to appear in the Assembly Festival Garden on August 27.


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