Part of the ‘Man Alive’ series on BBC iPlayer

Man alive - Gale is deadI hadn’t heard of this series before but it gives you more than one issue to ponder. There’s the subject of the particular episode and then layering on top of that is the 1960s/70s perspective of said subject.

Fundamentally, however, some things never change. People without love and purpose lose out. Some lose their lives. Gale did.

Gale Parsons’ mother gave her up when she was just six years old. What followed was a never ending state of transience and loneliness as Gale was moved from home, to mental health institution, to approved school, to borstal, to prison and to the streets.

At every single turn her desires were quashed. Which eventually quashed her desire for life. Finding heroin and barbiturates was not satisfying a desire to take drugs, it was satisfying a desire to disappear.

The desires we see glimmers of are told through Mrs David – a teacher from an early school and the only person Gale ever connected with. These desires involve working on a farm, working in a school with children and above all, being loved.

Finding heroin and barbiturates was not satisfying a desire to take drugs, it was satisfying a desire to disappear.

But you had to earn your right to ambition and happiness in the world that Gale grew up in. She told Mrs David she wanted to take part in farm work where she was living, but she hadn’t earned the right so she had to work in the kitchens. She realised as borstal and drugs launched themselves into her life that she would probably never be able to work with children, and every tiny scrap of happiness – including a few shillings’ worth of sweets, a teenage girl’s magazines and even letters – were monitored, controlled and confiscated. Mrs David was told to send soap, not sweets.

I’m lucky to have been brought up in a family home, so it’s hard to really understand the impact of growing up in Gale’s circumstances. I imagine that children receive a very different kind of support today. But one thing must surely remain a constant – the need for love, and the need for purpose. Two things discussed during a workshop I attended last year facilitated by Camerados founder, Maff Potts, that every single human being needs.

This film takes you through Gale’s short life as she desperately seeks both. Eventually, she loses all hope and rejects the love she is shown, and herself, and embarks on a path of destruction.

A truly heartbreaking story that needs to be watched.

2 thoughts on “Review: Gale is Dead

  1. In this documentary Gail talks about a friend Sandy. Does anybody know this Sandy (or her daughter Layla born on 23th of december 1973)? My mother was friends with her in the Netherlands when Layla was born.


  2. I first saw Gale is dead in the mid 70’s when I was at school in London. I suppose it was used as a warning against drug use but I found the way institutions deal with errant individuals more interesting . I find with this kind of documentary, there are always going to be too many unknowns in the biography. The interview with the mother might have revealed more to the story. It was also not easy to get answers from Gale herself. She was understandably defensive. The responsibility of the father in all this should have been examined. I am relieved that some people who went through the care system seemed to have come out the other side, going by comments, but the idea that Gale, herself, would be in her early 70’s if she had got through this makes it very sad. As for the making of the documentary, I did like the letter reading and the choice of shots in one of the gardens of one of the many institutions she went through.


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