The legacy of the documentary movement of the 1930s and 1940s endured in the post-war era, as did the concern with social realism in art. Humphrey Jennings was cited as a significant influence by the group of directors associated with the Free Cinema movement, who aimed to represent ‘the whole of Britain’ by bringing regional and working-class lives to the screen.
In painting, the lines were re-drawn between two opposing concepts of realism, Modernist realism and Kitchen Sink realism, and their respective advocates, the critics David Sylvester and John Berger. Modernist realism did not involve a single identifiable style but was characterised by a concern with the human condition and the nature of existence, while Kitchen Sink realism concentrated on unheroic depictions of the everyday in still life, landscape and industrial scenes.
The influence of Spender and Trevelyan’s Mass-Observation photography is clearly discernible in Nigel Henderson’s photographs of the East End, which, like the work of friend and fellow photographer Roger Mayne, focus on the extraordinary in the everyday. Meanwhile, Nick Hedges’ photographs for the housing charity Shelter embody an impassioned sense of social purpose and sit firmly within the tradition of realist documentary.
In the 1960s, the advent of television docudramas, documentaries and regional soap operas effected a dissemination of documentary realism through popular culture. Hybridisation in film and television, involving factual treatment of fictional, realist stories, increasingly became a way to address key social issues. Ken Loach’s television drama Cathy Come Home 1966 mixed fiction with documentary research and stylistic devices (such as action-led camera) to address homelessness; it contributed decisively to the debate about the power of television in raising public awareness and the ambiguities surrounding such hybrid forms.