Television Review

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ONE OF the more startling aspects of the late 20th century has been the way that almost everybody turns out to have been a spy of some sort. George Orwell was busy making lists of fellow travellers; Errol Flynn was a Nazi sympathiser; Elvis offered information to the FBI; East German three-year-olds compiled dossiers on their friends at kindergarten. Channel 4's Station X has been revealing how, during the Second World War, schoolboys who had solved a couple of Daily Telegraph crossword clues or once did quite well in an algebra test were herded into Bletchley Park and left there for the duration. Bookmark (Sun, BBC2), devoted to Elizabeth Bowen, described how, despite being a supporter of Irish neutrality, the novelist got involved with what she called "difficult secret work" for the British Ministry of Information, writing reports from Dublin on Irish wartime morale.

Meanwhile, The Spying Game (Sat, C4) talked to men trained to work behind enemy lines in the event of a German invasion of Britain, leading ordinary civilian lives, but on stand-by to dive into secret bunkers and begin a campaign of guerrilla warfare. "They're not worth describing, some of the things we were taught to do," one said. "They were horrendous." Brigadier Derrick Baynham talked about working for the SOE in Occupied France. Among other things, he had to assassinate informers, using silenced weapons which were developed at laboratories in, incongruously, Welwyn Garden City.

Once or twice in Bookmark, attention was called to Bowen's view of the world as a smooth surface, but with alarming cracks in it - "life with the lid on" was a favourite phrase. This seems natural enough for an Anglo- Irish woman who had seen the calm, country-house world of her childhood destroyed by civil war. All her life Bowen had a sense of displacement, but perhaps that gave her a greater purchase than most on post-war Britain. Watching The Spying Game, you got alarming hints of a country seething with repressed violence, full of men who had spent six years learning how to kill.

Bowen would have found plenty of material in present-day Boston, at least as seen in Roger Graef's new series, In Search of Law and Order (Sun, C4). The high murder-rate among young black men has pushed Boston's authorities into some imaginative experiments in law enforcement, including the creation of a small band of "streetworkers", many of them ex-gang members, who meet the teenagers on the streets and try to act as mentors.

One gang was mourning the death of Rico, shot in retaliation for a fist- fight. Hoping to stop grief getting worked up into violence, the streetworkers organised a memorial service around Rico's grave, where his friends were encouraged to express their feelings. One offered up a prayer: "Even though he lived this life that everybody else saw him live, y'know what I'm saying?, he was real, he made his shit, y'know what I'm saying?, so that's why I got to give him much respect... I love him dearly, sad to see him go..." The depth of emotion was tangible; so was the frustration - the sense that feelings were trapped behind inarticulacy and fear of violence. The moment caught the programme's mood: desperately worried, but giving hope a foot in the door.