TELEVISION / The bad guys won

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TIMEWATCH (BBC 2), back for a new series, enjoys a challenge. Indeed it opened with one last night. 'The Mafia had nothing whatsoever to do with the invasion of Sicily,' croaked an old man in an open shirt, '. . . and I challenge anyone who asserts that to produce the evidence.' No sooner said than done. Richard Bradley's film, evocatively dressed with lowering sunsets and a mournful Sicilian soundtrack, proceeded to trace in some detail the origins and consequences of the United States' decision to enlist mobsters as part of the war effort. The old man, an ex-OSS man called Max Corvo, was just one of a string of witnesses who succumbed to a convenient attack of senile amnesia when confronted with proof of the close association between American forces and the criminal network that controlled Sicily before - and after - the war.

Ironically, Mussolini had paved the way for this alliance. His regional governor, Cesare Mori, was given a free hand to suppress the Mafia and kidnapped, bullied and tortured his way to some degree of success. The principle that 'My enemy's enemy is my friend' was true for both the Americans, struggling to push the Axis out of Sicily, and for the Mafia, nursing a long grudge against the Fascist state.

The first contacts were made in New York, however, where Naval Intelligence had decided to enlist the help of waterfront racketeers in order to provide warnings of sabotage and spying. It worked so well that Lucky Luciano was invited to extend this useful franchise from the Fulton Street fish- market to the whole of New York. When the invasion of Sicily was planned it seemed obvious to solicit information and assistance from relatives in Sicily.

The programme's mild indignation about this seemed a little unworldly at first, robustly answered by the intelligence officer who agreed that he would have done a deal with anyone who might have helped in the war effort. But the second half of the programme produced evidence for something far more shameful - while the Americans boasted in newsreels about restoring local democracy and the rule of law, the truth was that they were installing known Mafia leaders as mayors of local towns, providing the bricks and mortar with which the organisation would rebuild its power base.

The film didn't have to argue very hard that there was a direct continuity between the men promoted and protected then and Sicily's current misery. Asked about one post-invasion go-between (whom we saw now with a mouthful of unmelted butter), a hitherto voluble witness declined to comment. 'He's still alive,' he said, adding meaningfully after a long pause, ' . . . he's got a wonderful family.' And if Timewatch seemed too inclined to lay the blame at the door of the Allies, they had the honesty to include a glacial piece of handwashing from one of the intelligence officers involved. It's not our fault, he said, 'it's the fault of 54 governments who lacked the will or the ability to stop the Mafia.'