Grace Dent on TV: Kirsty Young in a Whistles frock emoting controlled disgust at paedophiles on Crimewatch


For many years Nick Ross told us, “don’t have nightmares”, in the closing moments of BBC1’s Crimewatch. It was a chipper little phrase which we all enjoyed, although it did little to assuage the bleak mental remnants of 60 televised minutes of man’s inhumanity to man. Violent muggings, bank clerks from Rugby – always Rugby – tied up and tormented in vaults, the random unexplained murders and that bit midway through about missing, beloved antiques that no one gave a stuff about. Oh, you lost a vase? My heart bleeds for you, we’ve just watched news of a series of unfortunate events happening to an innocent mother-of-two in a parochial commuter-station car-park.

Obviously, Nick’s nightmare advice made no sense. One has no power over nightmares. That’s the nightmare’s USP. No appointment, one might recall, was made for a visitation by Freddy Krueger. He danced to his own drum. Nor are nightmares anything like Crimewatch reconstructions. I have yet to see Kirsty Young cover a police incident that involves a person spending three solid nocturnal hours bargaining with a mystery man who is apparently Nelson Mandela, but has the voice of your old headmaster and the paws of Mr Foxy Bingo, and is determined to teach you the butterfly stroke. That is a nightmare.

I returned to Crimewatch this week after almost two decades of consciously “giving it a swerve”. I stopped watching when I moved to London after I’d been warned by northerners that in the capital it was commonplace, nay bog standard, to be violently assaulted in broad daylight, and that not only would cold-hearted Londoners refuse to help, they would join in and rob you again. Life is too short, it could be argued, to watch security-camera footage of women losing teeth in return for a TopShop handbag containing £3.75 in coins. We know that this sort of thing happens. The trick is to ignore it. The same goes for the local freesheet newspaper that plops through the letterbox and should be shredded immediately lest you read that your postcode contains sex-trafficked Latvians and are then put off your Ocado guacamole.

In the 1980s, however, Crimewatch was up there with Fame re-runs, Blackadder and Corrie as my top TV treat. It was a family event. The Dent clan would gather round the set, wholly excited at the prospect of being “disgusted by the levels people sink to” with a catch-up segment after the news. Live telly too! Stuttering CID trying to deliver the lines they’d clearly been worrying about all day. Hunky police presenters. That part where they intricately describe how they caught a criminal from last month, which was little more than blatant trumpet-blowing. Reconstructions featuring people far more TV-friendly than the real victim. “Rogues Gallery” was a particular highlight, the family game being to shout out names of unfortunate friends who resembled the fraudster or barbarian in question. We made our own fun, pre-internet. Kids today will never know this rip-roaring diversion.

Format-wise, not much has changed in three decades. Post-X Factor, the reconstructions seem cloying and manipulative. Should we care about a victim more because they’d “had a very bad year and really needed this caravan holiday”? Cameras linger on the victim’s relatives, an off-camera researcher clearly prodding them to cry. What’s more, modern crime-scene evidence now benefits from multi-angle CCTV. Now we can watch the violent drubbings at a more intense, Game of Thrones level. After Tuesday’s episode, I was haunted for days by the very determined stalking and robbing of a 79-year-old Bolton woman by two men, and also by the footage of a man running around Manchester city centre at 6am sexually assaulting women. Crimewatch is an uncomfortable stare at the daily grind of humanity’s dregs. The dishonest, indecent work of people whom, as a good little liberal, I am supposed to want rehabilitated but after 60 minutes would calmly watch put in a tank with sharks.

Thankfully, if anyone can reassure me of a natural, inherent force for good on Earth it’s Kirsty Young in a Whistles frock emoting controlled disgust at paedophile networks and hospital-bedside robbers. Tuesday’s episode featured the killing of Nahid Almanea, stabbed 16 times on the way home from a lecture, and the death of Robert Hart, who was killed at Parklife festival in Manchester. It tried to make sense of the discovery of the corpse of Alan Jeal, found on a beach with a sock stuffed in his mouth.

I promised myself I wouldn’t have nightmares, but then I was far too frightened to sleep. So that all worked out rather well.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas