Any list of classic British films from the late 1950s into the late 1960s would, for my two bobs worth, include the following ‘Room at The Top’ (59) ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ (60) ‘A Taste of Honey’ (61) ‘Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner’ (62) ‘The Small World of Sammy Lee’ (63) ‘This Sporting Life’ (63) ‘Billy Liar’ (63) ‘Alfie’ (66) ‘Poor Cow’ (67) ‘Up the Junction’ (68) and from 1969 ‘Kes’ and ‘Bronco Bullfrog.’
All of those films made an impression on me in one way or the other, without me necessarily knowing they would come under the genre ‘Kitchen Sink Dramas.’
For me, they just showed a slice of life I was familiar with. Here was a realism on show of hard drinking men, brassy women, working class regional accents, living for the most part, a dull mundane working life only broken up by visits to the pub or football. The films often depicted a frustration of someone trying to get on, trying to better themself, but being held back, either by your class or education.
I couldn’t help but identify with a lot of the themes in the films above. The men taking up crime as a way of making life changing money, escaping a world of ‘making do’ shown in the likes of ‘Poor Cow’ and ‘Up The Junction.’
A search for something, a take you away from a schooling that you didn’t connect with just like Billy Caspar In ‘Kes.’ Being on nodding terms with mates of my dad who could have easily been cast in films like ‘Alfie’ and ‘The Small World of Sammy Lee.’
Chancers, con men, rascals to a man.
Those films I’ve mentioned and many others were the UK’s answer to the ‘New Wave’ of European cinema hitting our shores, especially from French and Italian filmmakers like Godard, Truffaut, Fellini and Rossellini. I was often to be found in Art House cinemas, checking out this work, curious for more than I was getting say from Hollywood blockbusters.
In those films, I mentioned at the top, often everything was laid bare, for all to see. Ok, in some cases, even in this genre, there was the occasional romanticised celluloid compromise. A big start name given a part which they didn’t suit to bring extra money ensuring the films got made, but in the most part, they featured actors, directors and playwrights all on the way up, making a name for themselves,
Names like John Osborne, Albert Finney, Shelagh Delaney, Tony Richardson, Tom Courtenay, Bryan Forbes, Joan Littlewood, Carol White, Lindsay Anderson, Alan Sillitoe, Michael Caine, Rachel Roberts and Rita Tussingham all came to the fore during this period.
Story lines highlighted loveless marriages, affairs, pre-martial sex, boring jobs, poor wages, the race problem, and just plain anger at the circumstances many found themselves in.
Much of the work was adapted from books or from cutting edge theatre, itself laying a radical path for others to follow in later years.
If I were to select one name for me, who stands out most of all, for his work behind the camera it would be director Ken Loach. His docu-drama technique on the TV adaption of ‘Up The Junction’ ‘Poor Cow’ and ‘Kes’ is simply mesmerising. Very quickly you are immersed in the story and forget these are actors speaking lines. This feels like real life, a life you know and have some experience of.
Actually, thinking about it as I write this, the natural progression of many of the themes explored in the ‘Kitchen Sink’ would go on to inspire shows like “Eastenders’ and ‘Coronation Street.’ Especially in their early formative years.Now there’s a thought…
If you don’t know some of the titles of the films I have mentioned above, I urge you to seek them out. Please be assured you can purchasethem with confidence.
There is some very fine work on display among them.
The Mumper of SE5