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"Bad Boys", in which Timewatch (BBC2) traced some of the young offenders featured in a 1973 Man Alive documentary, took full advantage of television's power to create temporal reunions, to arrange for the child that was father to the man to meet again across an edit. The effect, as always with such documentaries (Michael Apted's Seven Up and its successors being the most notable examples), was captiva- ting: a rare opportunity to see the past face-to-face with its unknowable future.

Not so unknowable in these cases, perhaps, as the prospects of the six boys were not glowing at the time the first film was made. These weren't just failures of the education system, they were failures of the only available remedy, having mostly been passed on from the militaristic approved schools that couldn't handle them. In Peper Harow they found a Tory backbencher's nightmare: a regime of casual ease, in which the most fearsome ordeal was the hourly commu- nity meeting held every day. Even more heretically, it was an institution dedicated to helping its inmates, rather than simply hurting them back.

Timewatch's enterprise was rehabilitative, too - to redeem the idea of such interventions, at a time when the Home Secretary has committed himself so firmly to the idea of vindictive justice. Against this, they could provide no solid statistical evidence (the initial six were chosen at random, and were hardly a scientific sample), only a powerfully moving, anecdotal account of rescued lives. Twenty-three years ago Philip from Manchester was a plump child, so unruly and disruptive that even the Peper Harow staff despaired when they read his case-notes. Looking at such long-haired children, it was easy to be blithe about the challenge they represented to the social workers involved, but Philip's disruption included such unnerving deeds as burying razor blades in the washroom soap. That wince-inducing thought was still fading from your mind when Philip appeared as he is today, a little bashful, like all these men, to recall his delinquency and pain. He is now a community nurse, a gentle man with a family. Watching his children play in his company, you marked up the tally of children saved more than 20 years ago, imagined the pedigree of damage that had been averted.

Others had also turned themselves from problems into solutions. Sid, in 1973 a sharp-faced, illiterate thief, is now Assistant Director of Thornby Hall, an institution run on similar lines to Peper Harow. Tony, a curly-haired, sullen teenager, runs a centre for abused children. Martin, an alcoholic from the age of 12, haltingly recalled the revelation of a world which wasn't actively hostile: "It was the first time I'd ever been able to express love for anybody, the first time I'd let anyone express love for me." From someone schooled in the fluent exposures of therapy, this would be unremarkable; from a naturally diffident welder, struggling even now with the confession, it was intensely moving.

The successes weren't universal. Steve, a difficult, violent boy who had discovered a taste for Greek literature at Peper Harow, had a spell in prison after he left. Now he is unemployed and, unskilled, unlikely to find work; but he is happy with his family. Timewatch failed to trace only one of the original six, although they discovered that he had been released from prison in 1991, suggesting that he had failed to escape from his emotional incarceration. Of the six, only two had reoffended after leaving Peper Harow, against a figure of three in four with more conventional treatments.

The Money Programme (BBC2) considered the sort of crime for which "short sharp shocks" are rarely recommended by Conservative Home Secretaries: large-scale financial fraud. This account of the collapse of Castor Holdings, a property company run by Wolfgang Stolzenberg, showed the astonishing flexibility of company law, and reminded you that, when large profits are at stake, the gullible will always be with us. Why is it, when businessmen talk of "unbelievable performance", that investors never remember the literal meaning of that gee-whiz intensifier?

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