How wily old Sarge proved the case for more police on the street
NICHoLAS Robinson was 19 years old, a trainee bricklayer, engaged to a girl he’d met on the bus. Her name was Shannon, and nick was talking to her on the phone last year when he answered the door and was stabbed by a hooded man.
the teenager tried to run, but collapsed. As he lay dying, he called 999. The Murder Detectives (C4) replayed that last recording — his blurted swearwords, more in surprise than anger, and a gasp: ‘I’ve been stabbed really bad.’
tV documentary crews have become a common feature in the legal system, following drug busts and beat bobbies, legal aid solicitors and traffic wardens. But this is the first time cameras have had full access to a murder investigation, and the results were fascinating.
Scheduled in three episodes on successive nights, the first part revealed how similar a real police case is to tV detective dramas, but also how much more important the lower ranks are in reality.
the most crucial breakthroughs were made by the family liaison team, which uncovered a possible motive for the murder, and by a veteran sergeant, who had been patrolling the streets for so long that he had known all the local bad lads since they were in baby buggies.
More importantly, he heard all the gossip. His name was Ivor, but everyone just called him Sarge.
When the hunt for nicholas’s killer began, Sarge’s response was to stand on his patch and look around. He wanted to know who was staring at him, who was avoiding his gaze, which small-time gangsters were conspicuous by their absence.
the CID squad arrested the wrong suspect, misled by DnA evidence that had apparently been planted at the scene. But Sarge simply kept his ears open, until an anonymous informant breathed a name.
this was not a political documentary. It had no agenda. the coppers were not pleading for more funding or less paperwork.
But there could be no stronger way to make the case for more uniformed officers on the streets. Men like Sarge are beyond price. In the light of this show, Chancellor George osborne’s unexpected decision to protect police budgets looks more than ever like the only sane choice.
the one irritation in the Murder Detectives is its tendency to slip moody landscape shots into the edit. nicholas died in Stokes Croft, Bristol’s roughest inner city area.
But images of the Second Severn Crossing, 15 miles away, kept popping up — atmospheric, and completely irrelevant. If you wanted atmosphere, London
Spy (BBC2) served up paranoia and gloomy shadows at a top secret conflab in a disused warehouse filled with industrial heating pipes. this was supposed to be the one place in London where our hero, former male prostitute Danny (Ben Whishaw), felt safe — why it suddenly became his official headquarters, open to all, was not explained.
London Spy is the most thoroughly distasteful BBC drama since the Fall. As Danny investigates his boyfriend Alex’s murder, there are spies, drug dealers and gigolos queuing up to tell him that Alex had a murky sexual past.
Danny doesn’t want to believe it, but he has to imagine it in graphic detail, just to be sure. this programme is nothing more than a succession of seedy fantasies strung together with a frayed thread of espionage.
But when Danny uncovered a motive for his lover’s killing, that thread snapped. We are supposed to believe that super-genius Alex had devised a computer algorithm that could pinpoint dishonest language — a mathematical lie detector.
that’s a sci-fi device so dreadful that even Doctor Who would reject it. And it confirms that London Spy was made just because many of the protagonists are gay. What other reason could there be? Certainly not the quality of the plot.
Former BBC controller of drama Ben Stephenson used to moan there weren’t enough homosexual characters on tV and pledged to commission the first good ‘gay script’ to land on his desk.
Funnily enough, London Spy is written by Stephenson’s partner, tom Rob Smith. now there’s a coincidence.