This week marks the 40th anniversary of the TV documentary ‘Silent Minority’ – a rightly polemic documentary film that showed the harrowing and heartbreaking plight of many thousands of people then living in large-scale institutional care in Britain.
The film showed scenes from two understaffed residential hospitals for the ‘mentally handicapped’ in southern England, and also showed how inhuman such large-scale institutionalized care could be – despite the best efforts of many of the over-stretched staff.
Not well-received by a number of government ministers, it was however claimed that Silent Minority ‘probably did more to create a popular demand for community care than a decade of official policy statements’ – indeed later that year a government ‘Care in the Community’ green paper recommended the closure of such long-stay hospitals (an idea that had been first officially proposed in the 1960s).
Having personally worked as a ‘nursing assistant’ in a large-scale ‘Hospital for the Mentally Handicapped’1 in the 1980s, I can personally recall having, through necessity due to the physical, environmental and staffing conditions prevailing, to enact some of those degrading and dehumanizing elements of care (but not to the shocking degree shown in this film). But things were changing, and by the mid-1980s (concurrent with the development of Intensive Interaction at Harperbury Hospital School) more personalised community care was starting to become a reality for many of the people then housed there – a process of which I am proud to have been a very small ‘hands on’ part.
I still think that ‘Silent Minority’ is an important historically educative film to see; no matter how difficult a watch it can be. You can see it on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Qb424HvKSQ
Note 1: There is a recently published book about the history of the residential hospital I worked at: ‘Meanwood Park Hospital: A Home for the ‘Misunderstood’’ by Ross Farrally, and it is available via: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Meanwood-Park-Hospital-Home-Misunderstood-ebook/dp/B08MZ6C1M5
p.s. I was interviewed ‘under conditions of anonymity’ for this book, and for my chapter I am called George Walker!