Television (Review): Will the real Lord Lucan please step forward

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The Independent Culture
THE opening scene of 'Dead Lucky', True Stories' (C4) faintly ludicrous account of 'new leads' in the hunt for Lord Lucan, had a Land Rover appearing through the heat-haze of the Botswana bush. An urgent tribal percussion played on the soundtrack. The white hunter inside was Roy Ransome, the detective originally assigned to the case who had, we were told, 'come out of retirement to resume his hunt'. At this point, his method appeared to consist of travelling round Africa showing people pictures of the missing man, which made you think it might be best not to hold your breath waiting for a breakthrough.

As it turned out, there was a little more method to it than that. A cluster of recent sightings place the ignoble lord in Southern Africa, where his family owned farms and where his brother now lives. More specifically, people claimed to have seen him gambling in Gaborone, suggesting that he was hiding out in the millionaires' estates that border the Limpopo river. My own view is that he must be sharing a bungalow with Elvis and Bigfoot, because Lucan-spotting is now an official sport in the Weirdo Olympics. One correspondent had written to Ransome insisting that Lucan had entered the police force and could be found directing traffic in Trafalgar Square, an ingenious disguise that could be safely ruled out because Lucan was far too dim to have thought of it. The computer enhanced photographs showing the effects of age suggested that he has adopted a broad Yorkshire accent and taken up cricket commentary for the BBC.

The real interest of this pointless exercise was in its record of the social milieu from which Lucan fled, a repellent version of the Drones club which met regularly to squander their fortunes and empty bottles. Charles Benson, recalling the meeting convened by Lucan's friends to decide what they should do if he asked for assistance, had forgotten the exact details of the discussion but remembered with distaste that they had been served 'a very ordinary hock'.

It was clear, too, that Lucan himself was a murderous twit whose only ability was to lose money at cards. To paraphrase Wilde, 'Dead Lucky' was a case of the unconvincing in pursuit of

the unspeakable.

By an unhappy coincidence, BBC 2's Open Space chose the same night to screen 'Let's Kill Nanny'. In this case, the man with the Elastoplast-wrapped iron bar was David Marsland, and the object of his murderous intent was the welfare state. This is a rather intriguing subject, an area in which the old oppositions of right and left are going to become increasingly muddled. Marsland's case, that the benefits system is actively corrupting of its recipients because it destroys notions of personal responsibility, is beginning to be addressed by some Labour thinkers as well as the firebrands of the Adam Smith Institute.

But his approach, virulent and absolutist, seems unlikely to persuade those stuck in a mental rut. By their propaganda shall ye know them. 'Let's Kill Nanny' opened with an apocalyptic montage of machines of war and social decay. Martial music played on the soundtrack as Marsland announced gravely that 'our society is under attack and we are sustaining enormous casualties'. Where his argument wasn't tendentious, it was shallow - even if you think American workfare schemes are worth studying, to simply declare that they have been a 'success' is grossly misleading. The film ended with pretty pictures of a robin in a sylvan glade (a self- reliant robin, I assume) and the solemn uplift of the Slaves' chorus from Nabucco, hinting at a better world to come, once the chains of benefit have been smashed.