See if you can spot what's troubling about this sentence. "Powerless to nick them, the police were well aware who were their main suspects." It occurred in Catching Britain's Biggest Thieves, and it isn't the syntax that's a problem. It's that faintly perturbing cocktail of frustration and police certainty, a combination that has in the past lead to excessive zeal when it comes to the production of evidence. Were the Johnsons – a proudly notorious traveller family – genuinely West Country criminal aristocracy, or were they simply the best available candidates to close an embarrassing rash of high-profile robberies? Readers of this paper yesterday will know that Alan "Jimmy" Johnson, family patriarch, vigorously cleaves to the latter theory. The jury at the trial of several of his relatives and associates preferred to believe the police and the prosecution.
If the Johnsons were fitted up, they don't have far to look for the chief culprits. Judging from the archive extracts from an earlier film about the family that padded out this post-trial retrospective, they relished their reputation as incorrigible outlaws in a dangerously provocative manner. "I feel I've got the right to rob the lords, sirs and the ladies," said Ricky Johnson, Jimmy's brother, and then, just in case this hadn't worked up the police enough, Jimmy taunted them directly: "What is wrong with the Gloucester police?" he asked. "Can't they catch anybody?" The closest Ricky got to a declaration of innocence was to say that "I will only rob your house if I feel the need to feed my children", a guarantee that wouldn't have been very consoling to anyone within driving distance. And the footage of those children being taught how to box and drive a 4x4 would probably have squashed any hopes that the crime rate might drop with the next generation.
The Johnsons' protestations of injured civil rights sat a little uneasily alongside their candid indifference to the civil rights of anyone with more money than them, but the programme's decision to dub them "Britain's biggest thieves" may have provoked some hollow laughs after the recent banking crisis. And given the scale of the robberies they were said to have been involved in – including numerous ram-raids on village ATMs and a £20m haul of antiques from the home of Sir Harry Hyams – they could hardly be accused of living high on the hog. One rumour has it that the loot went into the ground and the Johnsons have now forgotten where they buried it, which would sit well with their somewhat impulsive attitude to asset management. But wherever it went, it certainly wasn't into home improvements: they didn't even appear to have bought themselves bigger caravans.
Shameless, back for series six, couldn't really compete with the real-life flagrancy of the Johnsons. Indeed, last night's episode could reasonably have been retitled "Ashamed", since it featured two members of the Gallagher clan recognising, with appalled clarity, that there might be a downside to life in the urban underbelly. Ian lost his memory after being hit by a car, and for the first time saw the Chatsworth Estate without the blinkers of family affection. "Why would I want to remember this?" he asked. Meanwhile, baby Stella announced, by means of telepathy, that she was so disenchanted with the life prospects fate had delivered her that she was going on hunger strike. If Frank and Monica couldn't find five good men on the estate, she planned to starve herself to death.
The desperation of this last device was telling. It can't be easy coming up with new ways for the Gallaghers and their friends to deliver a seamy brand of schadenfreude for the middle classes, and inspiration is clearly beginning to flag. That said, David Threlfall is still charismatically ghastly as the feckless Frank, and the script can still deliver a two-fingered salute to notions of the done thing. Noticing that she was being looked at askance for lighting up immediately after her pregnancy scan, Kelly was uncowed. "Twenty a day," she sneered back. "I'm trying to keep it small because I'm too posh to push." The series may have jumped the shark, but the fact that the shark is covered in graffiti and the jumper has just cracked open a can of Special Brew means it retains a certain flair.
No shortage of shame and self-loathing in Gok Wan: Too Fat, Too Young, in which Channel 4's body-image maven let a personal skeleton out of the cupboard, though that's hardly the right word for the seriously overweight past he was revealing. His personal experience of obesity – conquered, it seems, by an unsupported act of will – made him a good listener to the overweight teenagers who appeared in the film, and possibly an inspiration, though it could easily have gone the wrong way and made them even more depressed ("If he could do it, why can't I?"). The message, as always, was the same – eat less, exercise more – but it was gently and sympathetically delivered.Reuse content