Cathy Come Home to Mr Bates: TV dramas have shone light on scandal and social injustice for decades

There is a long tradition of TV drama that mobilises change, with one of the most famous being Cathy Come Home - but the producer who helped bring Mr Bates and the Post Office to the screen says such series are now increasingly risky, as Arts Editor Nina Nannar reports.

Words by Hannah Ward-Glenton, ITV News Producer

Some victims of the Post Office scandal, which saw the unlawful convictions of hundreds of sub-postmasters due to a faulty IT system, have waited decades for justice.

But just 10 days after the release of an ITV drama, Mr Bates vs the Post Office, the government has opted to exonerate all sub-postmasters who were wrongly convicted.

And it isn't the first time that a televised drama has swayed public opinion and government priorities.

Here, ITV News take a look at some of the famous examples to come before ITV's latest drama.

Cathy Come Home

Cathy Come Home was rated the "best single television drama" in a Radio Times poll in 1998, after it drew attention to a number of topics considered taboo when it first aired in the UK in 1966.

The drama told the story of a young couple who, due to unemployment, strict renting rules, and mothers' rights rules, end up homeless and eventually their children are taken away by social services.

The homelessness charity Crisis was formed the year after the play's release, and Francesca Albanese, its current executive director of policy and social change, said the play provided "a new perspective" on homelessness by showing "the true realities that people can face."

"The collective response from the public is what drove the formation of Crisis by an inspiring group of campaigners and politicians as an organisation focused on ending homelessness for good," she said.

Director Ken Loach told the BBC in 2011 that while there had been increased awareness of certain issues thanks to Cathy Come Home, there was not a significant change in the number of homeless people after the play was broadcast.

"The impact in changes was minimal... And of course the long-term impact has been pretty much zero because homelessness is much worse," Mr Loach told the BBC in 2017.

Rules were altered so that fathers could stay with their wives and children in refuge hostels, however, which Mr Loach described as "a good thing".

Mr Bates vs the Post Office

Lee Castleton, from Bridlington, East Yorkshire, said he was very "grateful" to the ITV drama for shining a light on the Post Office scandal.

Mr Castleton had lived with the scandal for 20 years. He had tried to tell the Post Office he had noticed a glitch in the computer software, but he says they didn't seem to care. 

He represented himself in the High Court and was then made bankrupt and has yet to receive any compensation, he told ITV News.

"It was the systematic crushing of families. From 23 March, 2004, my family suffered inexplicably," he said.

"The Post Office knew what was going to happen to those who went against the Horizon system and that it would cause so much duress and problems, but there was nothing you could do about it."

If you, or someone you know, has been affected by the Post Office IT Scandal - you can get in touch with your story. Email our specialist team - .

Actor Will Mellor, who plays one of the wronged sub-postmasters in the ITV drama Lee Castleton, has made an impassioned plea for those caught up in the Post Office scandal 'to get the compensation and justice they deserve'

More than 700 sub-postmasters were falsely accused of crimes including theft, false accounting and fraud, between 1999 and 2015. In 2019, after the hard work of a group of sub-postmasters seeking justice, a judge ruled that Horizon contained bugs, errors and defects.

Fast forward to December 19, 2023, and £138 million had been paid out to more than 2,700 claimants across the three Post Office compensation schemes, but hundreds of people had yet to come forward.

Many served prison time, carried out community service or bankrupted themselves to cover the funds that mysteriously disappeared. A lot of falsely prosecuted sub-postmasters were shunned by their communities, and some even died by suicide.

The government insisted it was working hard to remedy the situation before it was drawn to public attention by the drama.

It also announced a new, upfront payment of £75,000 for the vital GLO (group litigation order) group of postmasters.

It's A Sin

In 2021, Channel 4 aired It's A Sin, a drama which relived the impacts of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. It followed the story of a group of friends, some of whom contract HIV, and documented the stigma and discrimination against those living with the virus.

The show aired during National HIV Testing Week and on the first day of the campaign a record 8,207 tests were ordered - almost four times the previous record, the Terrence Higgins Trust said.

There was also a spike in HIV-related Google searches, and a 30% increase in calls to sexual health advice line THT direct.

"It's safe to say that none of us at Terrence Higgins Trust could have predicted the immeasurable impact of the show," Chief Executive Ian Green said, one year after the show was first televised.

"Before it aired a lot of us were concerned that it would set us back in terms of public perceptions of HIV and fuel attitudes towards the virus that are rooted in the 1980s - how wrong we were."

Multi-BAFTA award-winning writer Russell T Davies had not been expecting the overwhelming reaction to his new drama It's A Sin


Hillsborough, from writer Jimmy McGovern, is credited with helping families of the 97 football fans killed during Liverpool's 1989 FA Cup semi-final at the Sheffield Wednesday stadium win more support for their campaign for justice.

Inquests into the deaths at the match, played between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989, concluded in 2016. They found the victims were unlawfully killed and errors by the police and ambulance service caused or contributed to their deaths.

The match commander on the day, David Duckenfield, was charged with gross negligence manslaughter in 2017, but he was cleared in 2019 at a retrial after the jury in his first trial was unable to reach a verdict.

In 2021, retired officers Donald Denton and Alan Foster, and former force solicitor Peter Metcalf, who were accused of amending statements to minimise the blame on South Yorkshire Police, were acquitted of perverting the course of justice after a judge ruled there was no case to answer.

Stephen Lawrence

Dramas about the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence, including The Murder of Stephen Lawrence, highlighted the agony of a family fighting for the truth.

Mr Lawrence was murdered by a gang of racists in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993, as he ran to catch a bus with his friend Duwayne Brooks.

Only two of his killers - Gary Dobson and David Norris - have ever been brought to justice.

The original investigation into his death was hampered by institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police, and claims that corrupt officers had sought to protect Norris, whose father Clifford Norris was a notorious drug dealer.

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