Daily Mail - Daily Mail Weekend Magazine


The veteran broadcaste­r on why television has a duty to shock viewers sometimes


Having grown up on a small island in the Caribbean, part of what drew me to television – and news and current affairs in particular – was that it’s a medium that shows the world in all its glory and all its horror. And my new series Women Behind Bars – like my last prison documentar­y Inside Death Row – very much falls into the latter category.

I visit two US prisons to meet women who have committed the most appalling crimes: one killed her own child, another shot someone in the face and blinded them, while a third killed six people in an arson attack. The programme is uncomforta­ble viewing at times – and for that I make no apology. It was also uncomforta­ble to make, because nothing can fully prepare you for going through those gates, experienci­ng the sights, sounds and smells of prison, and meeting some of these women in person, who have by their own admission done the most terrible things. To be frank, I found it hard to get their stories out of my hair at the end of the day.

The television documentar­y at its best can often be shocking. Who can forget the 1995 film The Dying Rooms, which looked at the plight of abandoned children in China’s state-run orphanages? Or 1983’s Simon’s War, about Welshman Simon Weston’s struggle to overcome the horrific burns he suffered in the Falklands conflict? Even David Attenborou­gh’s wildlife documentar­ies have the power to shock and unsettle when they show a predator killing another of God’s creatures.

In a way, the documentar­y is the most honest form of television because you take a camera somewhere, point it at whoever you’re interviewi­ng and let them tell their own story in their own words, without being judgmental. I try to show what life is really like for these women who are serving anything from ten to 20 years behind bars – because frankly, I’m the sort of person who gets claustroph­obic just being in a lift.

Given the choice between watching my new series or a sitcom on another channel, some might go for the easier option. That’s understand­able. If Only Fools And Horses was on the other side, I might be tempted to switch over myself!

But if you’re interested in going on a once-ina-lifetime journey inside a couple of the world’s highest-security women’s prisons, tune in. What you see and hear might unsettle and even shock you. But it will also give you – as it has given me – a greater understand­ing of a subject we know little about. And that, in my view, is the mark of a good documentar­y.

Women Behind Bars, Thursday, 9pm, ITV.

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