Television review

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The Independent Culture
In the sequence that welcomed you to Chester PD Blue (BBC2), a mallet the size of a beer keg thwacked down a wafer-thin front door. A scrum of blokes in casuals piled in, pursued up the narrow stairs by a hand-held camera. It zoomed in on a suspect - oops, no, that's a dried flower arrangement - then glared in indecent close-up at a petrified face in the clamp of someone else's hand. You could almost hear the mind of Detective Constable Tim Roberts, whose contribution to Video Diaries this was, whirring like a director's: this'll knock 'em dead on the telly.

There's just the mildest irony that in a documentary about the police fighting drugs, television knows that it's best to go in with a massive fix of adrenalin. Viewers have addictions too, and require regular dosing up. So, every now and then you'd get another glimpse of the mallet, and you knew you were in for another huge hit. As was some innocent door.

Roberts had the honesty to confess his own habit: "Driving to the bust is one of the best moments," he said guiltily, but that only made you warm to him more. He was pretty obviously the linchpin in a put-up job: he's personable, he's liberal, in his spare time he's doing a masters degree in psychology, for heaven's sake. And he could do the navel-gazing stuff required of video diarists standing on his head. A copper with soul, his PR value to the force is incalculable.

The title suggested a reverence for Steven Bochco's world view, where the war against crime is seen through the lens of a director of photography pumped up on stimulants. Except that Chester isn't New York, notwithstanding all the nocturnal shots of mean streets straight out of Scorsese. Part of the mission of "Chester PD Blue" was to redefine television's intimate relationship with the police. These two are always spotted in bed with each other, but you never see them doing the housework. You certainly never see the bizzies going to work with jaunty pop music on the soundtrack, like a cute boy band in a jump-cut video.

To show police work as it really is, it would have been easy to go the other way and zoom in on the humdrum - all that paperwork, and sitting around in passenger seats. There was a bit of that here, but the real eye-opener was just how decent all the coppers were, how patently honourable and committed. And, in some cases, how well-read: to kill time in a stakeout, Roberts and a colleague quizzed each other on mythology. But then it's a subject they ought to know a lot about, because drugs-busters tailed here are the descendants of Sisyphus, forever rolling rocks uphill.

It's possible they were behaving for the video camera, but you waited in vain for the sexist aside, the bollocking after a cock-up, the intimidation in the interview room that are the diet of fictional accounts of police work. On one bust, when they hauled in a dealer called Byron, Roberts's camera did perhaps linger a second too long on the leggy girlfriend pulling on her jeans. But on most busts, they spent as much time making friends with the baby drooling in the cot as they did reading the cuffed suspect his rights. Perhaps they were missing their own children. (Dealers seem to be keen breeders, presumably because a Babygro makes a good stash. Roberts found one infant lying in a litter of syringes. "I'm going to lock it up in 16 years' time," he said ruefully.)

To find out that cops are all new men wasn't the only scoop of course. There was also a full-frontal - better make that full-rearal - of a gloved doctor scooping cocaine bags out of a dealer's rectum. That's what's known in documentary circles as access. It was a fairly graphic health warning, you'd imagine, to any users who may have been watching: like a mother castigating a child for picking chewing-gum off the pavement, it was very much a case of you don't know where that's been.