TELEVISION / Sorted / BBC2

Old video footage and interviews with family and friends make up a short film about the day Leah Betts died.
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The Independent Culture
The embargo on speaking ill of the dead, briefly breached when Robert Maxwell fell overboard, is never more forcefully policed than when the good die young. "Friendly and fun to be around," said an older sister of Leah Betts in Sorted, a short film about the day she died. "If ever I felt unwell she would always come and comfort me," said her younger brother. Siblings being siblings, you wondered if they'd say the same if she were still among them. (But then no one would have asked.)

There's always a risk of hagiography on these occasions, so an effort was made to refer to Leah's ordinariness. And yet there doesn't seem any reason why one Ecstasy death should merit more column inches than any other. This programme ended with a roll-call of 20 other fatalities, none of whom are now household names. If Leah's death was such a strong news story it was thanks to a confluence of media-friendly factors: she fell ill at her own 18th birthday party, her executioner was a happening recreational drug, and her parents, a policeman and a nurse, were both blamelessly in public service. But what got her on the front pages was the photogenic smile that bore out the glowing memorial character references.

This film has a curious provenance. After an interview with Richard and Judy, in which they impressed with their knowledge of the dangers of Ecstasy, the Bettses were encouraged to make a kind of informative elegy for free circulation among schools. It's credited to Leah's parents in association with Granada and sponsored by BT, and was shown on BBC2.

Paul Betts's main contribution was to hand over all the home-video footage he made of Leah as a child. Granada's job was to tweak it into something heartbreaking. Hence, reconstructing the moment her friends sang "Happy Birthday" at her 18th, we smoothly spooled back to the film in which a giggling Leah is foiled by eight trick candles precisely 10 years before her death. Put out the light, and then put out the light.

The interviews with the bereaved observed all the conventions, but derived added bite from their location. The parents talked not, as is usual, side by side on the sofa, but perched on the edge of their bed. "We carried her into here, into our bedroom," said Dad. The camera snooped around the bathroom where Leah complained to her mother of feeling unwell, and her ghost doubtless haunts those she left behind every time they brush their teeth.

A doctor explained exactly why it was that she died: the brain swelled, lost its blood supply, and was unable to control her body's water balance. They rushed her to hospital - you heard the actual 999 call - but she was brain-dead in her parents' bedroom. "Her face just glowed," said Paul, recalling the nervous thrill of anticipation even seasoned party-givers feel before the guests show. "Her eyes smiled. We could see she was really looking forward to this." The pills did that too.

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