Last Night's Television - Ross Kemp in Search of Pirates, Sky1; My Child Won't Sleep, ITV1; The World's Greatest Musical Prodigies, Channel 4

In at the deep end
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Ross Kemp, the former soap-opera star, didn’t find any of the pirates he was searching for in the first episode of Ross Kemp in Search of Pirates. Butwe are promised that he will conduct a facetoface interview with one in the third and final programme. Which is great, because I’d hate to imagine Kemp being disappointed.

It’s easy to sneer at the sight of a man who used to play the part of a publican who idealised his days in the army, actually enacting the dreamfuture that Grant Mitchell himself might have yearned for. But Kemp the journalist has twice been Bafta-nominated, for his work in Afghanistan andKenya, so it’s more appropriate to succumb to the tougher option, and take the man seriously. The shocking truth is that he is pretty good at what he now does.

When the news of a pirated merchant ship breaks in the international media, it piques macho curiosity. Clearly, Kemp’s curiosity had been piqued in just this way, and he had the power to follow his nose to find out more, in the way that many a layman would if he could. This unabashed and boyish tendency gives Kemp a natural link with his target audience.

Piracy is a ruthless form of organised crime that has long been romanticised, in part out of a halfacknowledged recognition that the pirates of long-since past were not only criminals but also the troublesome consequence and bugbear of similarly self-centred and ruthless national interests. Kemp didn’t go out of his way to present the resurgence of piracy in similar terms.

But one of the good things about his style is that he understands how to let a story tell itself. In last night’s episode, Kemp travelled with the HMS Northumberland, which patrols the Gulf of Aden as part of an international coalition in an attempt to keep Somalian waters free for commercial traffic. The idea is that the existence of a country destroyed by civil war and poverty should not be allowed to inhibit the ability of other nations to keep their shipping costs to the minimum, by obliging them to follow more expensive and longer routes.

Of course, the easiest way for this to happen would be for Somalians to keep their troubles to themselves, instead of taking them out on others. But it is never as simple as that, as one of the crew of the Northumberland displayed in answer to a question from Kemp. “They say they’ve got to feed their families. I’ve got a family to feed, but I don’t go around pointing guns at people. Well, I do.” Modern setting, same old double-standards. Kemp teased out the contradictions inherent in the Somalian piracy phenomenon with relaxed clarity.

There was not much relaxed clarity in My Child Won’t Sleep,which followed several young children and their families as they battled with bedtime. Six-year-old Megan got three hours of sleep a night, leaving her mother Rachel exhausted, frustrated and depressed. Advised by the Solent Sleep Clinic in Southampton to let her daughter stay up much later before bedtime, instead of doggedly trying to get her off at 7.30pm each evening, Rachel had soon got on top of the problem. Moving the television out of the little girl’s room no doubt helped as well. Likewise, the sleep-clinic experts solved three-year-old Keira’s sleepwalking problem by telling the parents to be consistent, and advising that the father, in particular, had to be more supportive. One doesn’t want to be too hard on parents doing their best, but it seemed a shame that these families needed experts to tell them such simple things.

The children in The World’s Greatest Musical Prodigies displayed the sort of unusual behaviour that many parents fantasise about, but which almost inevitably brings its own peculiar problems. Prodigies are always fascinating, but the way this reality show pitted them against each other, and also placed 16-year-old prodigy Alex Prior in the role of ringmaster, seemed exploitative and weird rather than illuminating.

Prior, a gifted composer with 40 works to his name already, is travelling the world in order to assembleanorchestra of prodigies for whom he will compose a concerto. Yet, Prior had experienced terrible trouble with his peers at school when he was about 13 and salvation only came when the St Petersburg Conservatory took Prior on, making him the youngest student they had accepted since Prokofiev. The awful thing was that this hugely talented young man came across as unremittingly bumptious and arrogant, contradicting other people of great wisdom and experience, whose job it was to advise him, as if they were unimportant and irrelevant.

A competition in which Prior was ostensibly judging others, looked much more like a creepy mechanism inviting assessment of Prior’s own difficult character, in the most public arena possible. Prodigies, surely, need to be treated with greater sensitivity than this.