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Cathy Come Home (1966), a play which sensitised Britons to the issue of homelessness

The Wednesday Play was a series of British television plays which ran on BBC1 from 1964 to 1970. Every week this drama anthology series presented a different play, usually written for television, although adaptations from other sources also featured. The series gained a reputation for presenting contemporary social dramas, and for bringing issues to the attention of a mass audience that would not otherwise have been discussed on screen.

The series was initiated by the BBC's Head of Drama Sydney Newman, who had previously enjoyed great success with the similar programme Armchair Theatre, which he had produced while Head of Drama at ABC Television from 1958 to 1962. Armchair Theatre had tackled many difficult and socially relevant subjects in the then-popular 'kitchen sink' style, and still managed to gain a mass audience on the ITV network, and Newman wanted a programme that would be able to tackle similar issues with a broad appeal. He also wanted to get away from the BBC's reputation of producing safe and unchallenging drama programmes, to produce something with more bite and vigour.

The Wednesday Play certainly succeeded in the latter task, with one of its productions, 1965's The War Game, being banned from broadcast by a nervous BBC under pressure from the government. Written and directed by Peter Watkins, The War Game was a drama-documentary showing the effects of a nuclear attack on the UK in graphic detail. The production was given a cinematic release, and won the 1966 Academy Award for Documentary Feature. It was eventually screened by the BBC in 1985.

Other high profile Wednesday Plays which did make it to the screen included Dennis Potter's two Nigel Barton plays in 1965, which first brought him to widespread public attention. Potter also contributed several other scripts to the series, including Alice (1965), about Lewis Carroll's relationship with Alice Liddell, and Son of Man (1969), a modern interpretation of the story of Jesus.

Director Ken Loach made two highly regarded plays for the series: an adaptation of Nell Dunn's Up the Junction (1965), and the saga of a homeless young couple and their battle to keep their children, Cathy Come Home (1966). The success of Up the Junction led to a 1968 cinematic version, setting a trend for film versions of successful or controversial BBC television plays that would continue for some years.

The Wednesday Play came to an end in 1970 when the day of transmission changed, and the series morphed into the equally well-remembered Play for Today. It is regarded as one of the most influential and successful programmes to be produced in Britain during the 1960s, and is still frequently referenced and discussed to this day. In a 2000 poll of industry professionals conducted by the British Film Institute to find the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century, two Wednesday Plays made the list: The War Game was placed twenty-seventh, and Cathy Come Home was voted the second greatest British television programme of the century.

Some examples of The Wednesday Play, such as The War Game, Cathy Come Home and some of the Potter plays, surfaced on VHS and DVD. However, as with much British television of the 1960s, not all of the series survives in the archives, many episodes having been wiped.

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