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Walter (1982)



London Evening Standard   28 October 1982:


A shocking first night on Channel 4


"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. …”


Everything about Walter, Channel 4’s opening night drama starring Ian McKellen and directed by Stephen Frears, makes me want jump up from my chair and dance my way to the ceiling.


I especially like Walter as it goes back to the birth of LINK.


I’d left my much treasured staff job at Granada TV for a year at ATV as a researcher with guarantee that at the end of the contract I could produce and direct my own documentary. I’ve written something similar before! (see ‘Hooded Men’ story).


At the end of that first year my first idea, which was nothing like as good as ‘hooded men’, was to look at the anomalies in disability pensions via three miners. When I went to Stoke Mandeville Hospital to kick-start the research a charge nurse gently, to be fair, accused me of seeking television glory by exploiting disability. 


“And for what - a single documentary put out late at night which few people would watch and less would remember?  What’s needed is a regular, weekly or monthly, series that concerns all disabled people, an early morning slot is best. This needs to be ‘their’ programme and they often can't stay up late.”


So I abandoned my documentary and came up with LINK, which took over a Sunday morning slot in February 1975 and was broadcast fortnightly for the next 20 years (see attached New Psychiatry article). 


Years later, by which time I was ATV's Head of Documentaries, David Cook did an interview for LINK about his novel Walter, which had won the Hawthornden Prize, a British literary award established in 1919 by Alice Warrender. 


Nigel Evans, a teenage friend,  a producer/director and the promoter of this short LINK item suggested I commission a script from David Cook.


The cash came out of LINK’s tiny budget, I knew that if Walter found 'just' an adult education slot I could return the money, if it didn’t I’d think of something.


Nigel raised the game by sending the script to Stephen Frears who cast Ian McKellan.  A lot more money was taken out of LINK’s tiny budget budget ...


Saving the day Jeremy Isaacs, Channel 4’s first chief, snapped up this ‘package’ for his new channel.


Here’s the full quote from:


London Evening Standard    28 October 1982:


A shocking First night on Channel 4


"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.


"Starring Ian McKellen in the title role it is well acted, superbly filmed  and extremely harrowing. It is bound to cause controversy on the channel's opening night.


"The story, adapted by David Cook from his own Hawthornden Prize-winning novel, follows what happens to Walter when first his father and then his mother die.


"Finding his mother dead in bed, and unable to comprehend what has happened, Walter moves his pigeons into her bedroom, keeping a vigil while her body becomes progressively covered in bird droppings.


"Later, on his first night in a mental hospital, he is sexually molested by a paraplegic dwarf.  Next morning he is ordered to help to clean up incontinent wardmates.  In these scenes nothing is left to the imagination”


And another comment from:


London Evening Standard    28 October 1982:


Walter Brings Protests on Channel 4


Walter, a harrowing drama in which Ian McKellen portrayed a mentally handicapped adult, provoked about 50 calls to the new station, a large number for even the most controversial programme. Channel 4 insisted that about 30 percent of these were praising the programme. The Independent Broadcasting Authority, however, also reported more than a dozen calls - all of them complaining about the Film. But Walter met almost universal praise from the critics."

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