Television: Last Night

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There's a substantial difference between an interesting documentary and a good one, and last night's Inside Story film (BBC1), "Molls", might have been designed to illustrate it. The raw material for this titillating excursion into the lower depths was the staple of the weekend tabloid's splash - "My Life with Gangster Gary", perhaps, or "I Fell in Love With a Murderer" - and it had therefore been tested for its dependable attractions in the most demanding market of all. (It isn't just the tabloids that enjoy this stuff, either - a few of the broadsheet papers had also produced spin-off articles on the back of Ian Stuttard's film, suggesting that very few of us are so high-minded that we don't enjoy a quick gawp at the outlaw life). But if you had expected Inside Story to elevate these confessions above the merely prurient, or to produce something that was more than the sum of its parts, you would have been disappointed. The montage of overlapping remarks which began the programme proved to be perfectly emblematic of what followed - a clumsy assembly of voices which had very little to say to each other.

It couldn't really be described as dull, though. After that montage overture, the film proper began with film of "Mad" Frankie Fraser's birthday party, a high-spirited East End function at which he was accompanied by his younger girlfriend, Marilyn, and her beaming parents, Tommy and Rene. Many couples might hesitate to bless the union between their daughter and a convicted gangster, but Tommy Wisbey had been jailed for robbery (The Great Train Robbery, as it happens, though I hesitate to add to the spurious glamour that surrounds these greedy bullies), while Rene had had plenty of time to habituate herself to a life of strategic ignorance. "I felt it in me bones that summat big was going to take place," she said, recalling the weeks leading up to the robbery itself. "But I never asked too many questions." While on holiday at the seaside, a friend showed her a newspaper headline about the raid: "She said `Cor, someone's 'ad a touch!' and I 'ad a feeling in me bones that that was what Tommy 'ad done."

Rene spoke exactly like a character from a British B-movie of the Fifties, but it soon became clear that she came from an intensely conservative milieu, one untouched by the social changes of the last few decades. Her daughter, Marilyn, had a slightly dated idea of male-female relationships, too. "I don't know where they get this madness from," she said of her notorious partner. "I mean, I've bashed him up sometimes and he's not even recilitated (sic)... and when I've really actually been saucy and deserved it, he's never laid a finger on me." What a gent... can't think what his former associates were groaning on about. Then again, Marilyn's relationship to the truth was a bit dubious too: "I admired him... they never killed anybody," she said, before breaking into giggles at the manifest absurdity of this remark.

Others had less gentle handling - Georgina Ellis (the daughter of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hung in this country) described her break- up with an unnamed villain. He wanted a ring back which she was unwilling to part with, so he took her into a Cheshire field and threatened to pour nitric acid over her head. He kindly let her keep the various scars he had already inflicted on her. It seems, though, as if the potential for violence is positively attractive to some women, as long as it is directed outwards at someone else. The most frightening character in the film was not one of the elderly aristos of crime but Dave Courtney, the menacing figure with a taste for Renaissance tailoring who acted as master of ceremonies at Ronnie Kray's funeral. His girlfriend has had a knuckle-duster shaved into the back of her head to honour his particular expertise, and she chattered on with childish pride about his peerless ability to terrorise and damage people. Interesting, I suppose, but not good in any sense of the word.

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