Childhood is way more interesting than genealogy, parents more interesting than great great aunts. These are the things that make you who you are. Which is why Neil Morrissey: Care Home Kid (BBC2) is so much better tha...展开t WDYTYA? That and the fact that Neil Morrissey had an extraordinary childhood.
Young Neil and his favourite brother Steve were little men behaving badly, growing up in Stafford in the 1970s. Not that badly, though: they used to nick stuff from shops and money from the trousers in the changing room of the sports club. So what sort of punishment do you think they got, in those pre-asbo days? Grounded for a couple of weeks? Plus a jolly good tallking-to, and maybe a little slap with a slipper? No, they had their childhoods confiscated, for ever. Neil, who was 10 at the time, and Steve, who was a couple of years older, were taken away from the magistrates court separately to different children's homes. Neil was at Penkhull children's home in Stoke-on-Trent until he was 17.
He got lucky with his care home, says there was even some love there. But terrible things were going on in neighbouring places. Steve's was a Dickensian hell hole, though Neil doesn't know if Steve was abused – he died a while ago. It's hardly surprising Neil is bitter about it, that he has shut out a lot of that time, and that revisiting hurts. But this is not just about him; there are 90,000 kids who depend on the state for their parenting today and he wants to know if things are better for them now than they were for him and Steve.
He goes back to Penkhull, meets some of the people he was there with, gets hold of old files, one of which says his moral standards were nil and he didn't know right from wrong. And he confronts one of the social workers who was responsible for putting him and his brother into care. It turns out the decision was more about what was going on at home than about the shoplifting, but this chap still gets quite a soft ride. Did he have any idea what went on in those places he was sending children to?
It's painful of course, as you would expect of the reopening of old wounds. It's also touching and moving. You come away from it thinking – in spite of his bad behaviour, nil moral standards and inability to tell right from wrong – that Neil Morrissey has done remarkably well to turn out the way he has. But also that he is one of the lucky ones.