Loach is Britain's most renowned and most controversial director
of socially conscious television drama. He is also an internationally
acclaimed maker of feature films whose radical political messages
consistently provoke strong responses in audiences and politicians
alike. In 1965 he received the British Television Guild's "TV Director
of the Year" Award, while the 1990s have brought prizes and nominations
at the Cannes Film Festival. His considerable body of work, documenting
British society since the 1960s, is an acknowledged source of inspiration
to his contemporaries.
worked for a brief spell as a repertory actor before joining the
BBC in 1963 as a trainee television director. Significantly this
was during the progressive Director-Generalship of Sir Hugh Greene
and coincided with Sydney Newman's influential appointment as Head
of BBC Drama. Loach's earliest directorial contribution was on episodes
of the ground-breaking police series Z-Cars, but he first
attracted serious attention with Up the Junction, a starkly
realistic portrayal of working-class life in South London, which
went out in 1965 as one of the earliest productions in the BBC's
innovative Wednesday Playslot. This success marked the beginning
of a long and fertile creative collaboration with story-editor and
producer, Tony Garnett, which led to the recognition of their particular
mode of documentary drama as the "Loach-Garnett" style. It also
positioned Loach as the exponent of a televisual equivalent of the
"social realist" British New Wave, so popular at the time in the
cinema, theatre and novel.
collaborated with Garnett on a number of other celebrated Wednesday
Play productions, including, David Mercer's famous play about
schizophrenia In Two Minds (1967), which he later made into
a feature film, Family Life (1971), and two significant industrial
drama-documentaries written by ex-coalminer, Jim Allen, The Big
Flame (1969) and The Rank and File (1971). These demonstrated
Loach's passionate concern to ignore theatrically derived artificiality
in favour of authentic dramas on topical, important issues--dramas
which give a voice to politically marginalised sections of society.
By far the most powerful work from this period of Loach's career,
however, is Cathy Come Home (1966), a powerful study of the
effects of homelessness and bureaucracy on family life. This remains
one of the most seminal programme events in the history of British
Come Home, written by former journalist, Jeremy Sandford, exploded
with tremendous force upon the complacent, affluent, post-Beatles
culture of the "Swinging Sixties." Drawing attention, as it did,
to disturbing levels of social deprivation far in excess of those
claimed by government, the play led to a public outcry, questions
in Parliament, the establishment of the housing charity "Shelter,"
and a relaxation of policy on the dissolution of homeless families.
Reflecting years afterwards on this succés de scandale, Loach
explained that, though he may have believed at the time in the potential
of television drama for effecting social change, he had subsequently
come to realise it could do nothing more than provide a social critique,
promoting awareness of problems capable of resolution only through
It is not only the subject matter of Cathy, and of Loach's
television work generally, that struck contemporary audiences and
critics as innovative; his chosen form and style were distinctive
and provocative too. Above all, he was concerned to capture a sense
of the real, extending a range of practised cinema-vérité techniques
to produce a sense of immediacy and plausibility that would in turn
produce recognition in the spectator and inspire collective action.
Lightweight, hand-held camera; grainy 16mm film stock; a black and
white aesthetic; location shooting; natural lighting; direct, asynchronous
sound; blending of experienced and non-professional performers;
authentic regional accents and dialects; overlapping dialogue; improvised
acting; expressive editing; incorporation of statistical information:
all these strategies combined in varying degrees to create a compelling
and original documentary effect markedly at odds with the look of
traditional "acted" television drama.
In 1975, the distinctive "Loach-Garnett" style was employed in a
notable exploration, nearly four hundred minutes in length, of British
labour history, which functioned as a poignant commentary on the
parlous state of contemporary industrial relations. This was the
four-part BBC serial Days of Hope, scripted by Jim Allen,
which follows a northern British working-class family through the
turbulent years of struggle from the end of World War I to the General
Strike of 1926. Loach, already subject to criticism for preferring
the docudrama form (deemed reprehensible in some quarters for its
potential confusion of fact and fiction), now found himself embroiled
in an academic debate about the extent to which radical television
drama, using the conventions of bourgeois realism, could be truly
"progressive." Loach, of course, insisted that his priority was
a populist, political discourse rather than a rarefied, aesthetic
debate of interest only to a critical elite. In other words, Days
of Hope and the other strike dramas that preceded it were intended
to open the eyes of ordinary people to the emancipatory potential
of free collective bargaining within any capitalist culture.
who had made his first feature film, Poor Cow, at the height
of his television fame in 1967. He became a major founding partner,
with Tony Garnett, in the independent production company, Kestrel
Films, for which he made half a dozen low budget films between 1969
and 1986. His first project at Kestrel Films was Kes, a moving
story of a young boy and his pet kestrel set against a bleak Northern
industrial landscape. Some of the Kestrel projects were intended
for television screening as well as limited theatrical release.
Thatcher years found Loach increasingly in conflict with those who
took exception to the left-wing thrust of his work and wanted to
censor it or lessen its impact. Finding it difficult to ensure transmission
of the kind of television drama he considered important, he turned
for a while almost exclusively to straight documentary, convinced
that the non-fiction form could more speedily and directly address
the key social and political questions of the day. If anything,
however, this route led Loach into even greater problems with censorship,
culminating in the controversial withdrawals of the four-part series
Questions of Leadership (1983) and Which Side Are You
On? (1984), a polemical documentary about the socially disruptive
Miners' Strike. It was probably this unsavoury experience, and the
greater freedom afforded by cinema, that drove Loach away from television
at the end of the 1980s.
1990s have brought Ken Loach renewed success and established him
as one of Britain's foremost film directors, albeit not of mainstream,
commercial films. Beginning with his political thriller about a
military cover-up in Ulster, Hidden Agenda, which was reviled
and praised in roughly equal measure on its first screening at Cannes,
Loach has gone on to make roughly one feature film each year, usually
with an early television showing in mind. These are, without exception,
films of integrity which continue their director's lifelong principle
of bringing issues of oppression, inhumanity and hypocrisy to the
public's attention. The political content is, if anything, more
foregrounded than in the earlier television work; the uncompromising
focus on the disadvantaged or voiceless sections of society remains
Photo courtesy of Ken loach
LOACH. Born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, 17 June 1937.
Attended King Edward School, Nuneaton; St Peter's College, Oxford.
Married: Lesley Ashton in 1962; two sons and two daughters. Began
career as actor with repertory company in Birmingham; joined BBC
drama department as trainee, 1961; director with producer Tony Garnett,
beginning with Up the Junction, 1965; founder, with Garnett, of
Kestrel Films production company, 1969; has worked on a freelance
basis, chiefly for Central Television, since the 1970s. Fellow,
St Peter's College, Oxford, 1993. Recipient: British Television
Guild Television Director of the Year Award, 1965; British Academy
of Film and Television Arts Award, 1967; Cannes Festival Special
Jury Prize, 1990. Address: Parallax Pictures, 7 Denmark Street,
London WC2H 8LS, England.
1962 Z Cars
1976 Days of Hope
1983 Questions of Leadership (not transmitted)
1964 Profit By Their Example
1964 The Whole Truth
1964 The Diary of a Young Man
1965 Tap on the Shoulder
1965 Wear a Very Big Hat
Three Clear Sundays
1965 Up the Junction
1965 The End of Arthur's Marriage
1965 The Coming Out Party
1966 Cathy Come Home
1967 In Two Minds
1968 The Golden Vision
1969 The Big Flame
1969 In Black and White (not transmitted)
1970 After a Lifetime
1971 The Rank and File
1973 A Misfortune
1976 The Price of Coal
1979 The Gamekeeper (also co-writer)
1981 A Question of Leadership
1983 The Red and the Blue
1984 Which Side Are You On?
1985 Diverse Reports: We Should Have Won (editor) 1988 The
View from the Woodpile
1989 Split Screen: Peace in Northern Ireland
Poor Cow, 1967; Kes, 1969; The Save the Children Fund
Film, 1971; Family Life, 1971; Black Jack,
1979; Looks and Smiles, 1981; Fatherland, 1986; Hidden
Agenda, 1990; Singing the Blues in Red, 1990; Riff
Raff, 1991; Raining Stones, 1993; Ladybird, Ladybird,
1994; Land and Freedom, 1995.
Poor Cow, 1967; Kes, 1969; Black Jack, 1979.
Bennett, Tony, Susan Boyd-Bowman, Colin Mercer, and Janet Woollacott.
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George, editor. British Television Drama. Cambridge, Cambridge
University Press, 1981.
Jonathan, and David Price. Take 10: Contemporary British Film
Directors. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Peter, and Carol Walker. "Working in Television: Five Interviews."
In, Hood, Stuart, editor. Behind the Screens: The Structure of
British Television in the Nineties. London: Lawrence & Wishart,
Paul. "The Complete Ken Loach." Stills (London), May/June
G Roy. Documentary Explorations: Fifteen Interviews with Filmmakers.
New York, 1971
George, editor. Agent of Challenge and Defiance: The Films of
Ken Loach. London: Flicks Books, 1995.
Bill. "Agenda Bender." Listener (London), 3 January 1991.
Julian. "Ken Loach--Politics, Protest and the Past." Monthly
Film Bulletin (London), March 1987.
"Questions of Censorship." Stills (London), November, 1984
Irene. Play for Today: The Evolution of Television Drama.
London: Davis-Poynter, 1975
John. "The Kes Dossier." Sight and Sound (London), Summer,
John. Television Drama: Agency, Audience and Myth. London,
Come Home; Docudrama;