The film was directed by Stephen Frears and stars Ian McKellen as Walter, a man with a learning disability. The story focuses on what happens when his father dies and his mother, feeling unable to support him on her own, agrees for him to be moved into an institution.
The Evening Standard reported at the time:
Channel 4 is taking the extraordinary step of launching itself with one of the most shocking films about mental illness ever shown on British TV. Walter, which occupies the key slot in next Tuesday's opening night schedule, features scenes of homosexual molestation in a mental hospital, patients covered in excrement, and a suicide in a barber's shop.
McKellen later won The Royal Television Society Performer of the Year for his performance in the film.
A sequel, entitled Walter and June and set some 19 years later, was aired in May 1983: the two films are sometimes packaged together under the title "Loving Walter". Walter and June was adapted from David Cook's novel Winter Doves.
McKellen reprised the role in BBC Radio 4's Saturday Play "Walter Now", broadcast on 12 January 2009, in which his character is revisited 26 years later as an old man, when the institution in which he used to live is closed and he is moved into a smaller, group home. Among the issues explored are the subjects of reproductive rights for people who have learning disabilities, and the right to self-determination in areas such as choosing one's own home and housemates.