The Murder Detectives, a new real-life police detective show, ran on Channel 4 for three nights this week, and it gave me what I would tentatively suggest is a blazingly good idea. The point of The Murder Detectives was to pick up the baton from the other real-life police shows that have been so effective in the last twelve months like The Detectives and 24 Hours in Police Custody, and move the viewer even closer to a real investigation. It followed the case of a stabbing in Bristol, but it dispensed with the usual to-camera interviews with various detectives, and it ditched a narrator for guidance and exposition. That left you with nothing but footage of the detectives working the case, spliced with the evidence they were examining. You felt like you were on the team.
The next step – here comes my blazingly good idea – is surely Serious Crime: LIVE, 365. With police budgets under threat and television being obsessed with the workings of the police, why not just instruct all policemen to make a hard-hitting, neverending real-life cop show as they go along?
I don’t see it being that hard. The police have most of the key footage sitting on their hard drives already. If we’ve learnt one thing from the spate of factual cop shows it’s that police work without CCTV these days is like medicine without blood tests. You’ve no chance. Most places in Britain have a camera spying on them, but not all. What would really help the police was if the entire country could be wired up like the Big Brother house: install HD cameras in every blind spot and stick a GoPro on every copper’s bonce. This would also help make better police programmes. Britain as one big fixed rig – it would do wonders for the conviction rates, and wonders for the ratings. I’m sure Shami Chakrabatty would come round to it once she became terminally addicted to the next belter of a factual cop show.
The police are already pretty good at casting too – The Murder Detectives threw up a team of grizzled, dedicated, dog-tired coppers as good as anything Lynda LaPlante has ever created. Indeed, some of the lines they came out with – ‘This isn’t a pint of milk from Mr Singh’s Stores, This is a young man lying dead’ – left me wondering if they hadn’t, perhaps, been scripted.
And yet the brilliance of The Murder Detectives was that it wasn’t all about detectives. In spite of the importance of the sleuths with their CCTV, forensics and phone records, the bobbies on the beat turned out to be instrumental to the case. Once the clever dicks had identified a suspect, it still required a policeman who actually knew the community to go out there and find him.
All of which surely gives more weight to my police-force-as-TV-production powerhouse idea – let the police make one big rolling masterpiece about the police, using their unprecedented access to themselves, and then they can flog them back to Channel 4 and the BBC, and use the money to put more bobbies on the beat. Case solved.
Now that Jeremy Clarkson has left mainstream television in a cloud of acrid exhaust fumes, please can someone put Guy Martin, the TT racer and mechanic who is the world’s most reluctant, yet one of the world’s best, TV presenters, on to Top Gear?
It would be a welcome change. Martin, who cropped up again this week on a programme about the last flight of the Vulcan nuclear bomber, is basically the anti-Clarkson. An enthusiast, not a cynic, a man happier on a racing bike than couched in a Range Rover, Martin is the petrolhead’s petrolhead.
I personally couldn’t give a fig for the Vulcan bomber and its last hurrah, other than being glad that its departure draws another line under an age of mutually assured destruction that I very much hope is behind us. But I could watch Guy Martin fiddling with a hairdryer. Perhaps his most endearing quality is his barely concealed disdain for his own role as TV personality. What the programme makers wanted Martin to do was fly the Vulcan. What Martin wanted to do was take it apart and put it back together again. A couple of times I swear I saw him grimace as he spoke to camera, reading words from a script that were patently not his own.
I suspect that Martin’s elevation to TV stardom is part of a reaction against the type of smooth-talking, cross-disciplinary ‘face’ who can prattle on about any subject but whose experience is limited to being a cross-disciplinary prattler. It’s the equivalent of the career politician and we’re certainly bored of them. Guy Martin is more like the Mary Berry of motoring, someone who you sense if he wasn’t on TV talking about it, would still be doing it anyway. You just rev him up and let him go.
There may be some crossover between Guy Martin fans and 10CC fans – I don’t know, I’m just guessing. If so, they’ve all had a good week, what with Martin on Vulcan bombers followed by I’m Not in Love: the 10CC Story on BBC4. This was TV plucked from the pages of Mojo or Uncut, doused in real ale, sprinkled with misconstrued facial hair and featuring members of bands with names like The Pete Boggins Six. It also featured plenty of 10CC themselves, now looking like vacuum cleaner salesmen in chunky knits and Reactolite glasses, providing searing insights like ‘I don’t know why we wrote songs like that.’
This kind of thing has been lampooned to death by parodists far greater than I, not least in the classic spoof rockumentary This is Spinal Tap, yet for people of a certain age the BBC4 Friday Night muso documentaries, of which this was one, remain some of the best things on TV. Friday night on BBC4 is like a manshed at the bottom of the garden, a place to escape from irony, fashion or indeed anything at all that came after 1999. Instead you can just put on Dreadlock Holiday and just wallow in the utterly inconsequential minutiae of stuff like how Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders became The Mindbenders (Wayne Fontana left), safe in the knowledge that there is a small corner of the schedules that is forever yours. Until such time as they get rid of BBC4.