Last night's viewing - Double Cross, BBC2; Bug, Sky Atlantic
If I say I was a tiny bit disappointed with Double Cross I don't mean to suggest that Ben MacIntyre's documentary about Operation Bodyguard, the misinformation campaign that preceded D-Day was anything less than fascinating.
Like his previous exercises in espionage history it was studded with raffish chancers and dashing military men. And, like previous programmes, it told an important story – about the ways in which deception and double-dealing helped shorten the Second World War. It's just that in earlier programmes MacIntyre was beginning to develop the notion of the stunt presenter, an on-camera presence who delivered his lines while engaged in the same hazardous activities he was actually describing. But I'm afraid the most hazardous thing he did in this programme was to ride a sit-up-and-beg bike along a country lane.
The cycling was a reconstruction of the activities of Agent Treasure, one of five British double-agents who were used to convince the German High Command that the eventual Allied invasion would take place across the Straits of Dover. And Agent Treasure was fairly typical of the twisted timber with which MI5 had to build. A Frenchwoman of Russian origins, Treasure had been recruited by the Abwehr in Paris. At the first opportunity she revealed her identity to the British and offered to turn, on condition that her beloved terrier Babs could come with her. In a wonderful display of the inflexibility of British bureaucracy, she was told Babs would have to go through quarantine in Gibraltar first. Half the world was burning but rules are rules.
I'm afraid we didn't really keep our side of the bargain with regard to Babs, who went under the wheels of a truck before being reunited with her owner, an incident that MacIntyre hinted might not have been accidental. If Babs was the victim of a wet job, though, it was a bad move. Agent Treasure was so distraught that she threatened to employ the secret code warning her German handlers that she'd been compromised. Almost as unstable as Treasure was Agent Bronx, the bisexual daughter of a South American guano magnate who gossiped her way round London nightclubs, notionally feeding back loose-lipped chatter to the Germans.
Bronx proved her worth when an Enigma intercept revealed that the Germans were about to move a Panzer division to Normandy, the last thing the Allies wanted. A pre-coded message was despatched hinting at coming action in the Bay of Biscay and the Panzer group was told to stay where they were. Naturally, given the doubled and sometimes tripled loyalties of those involved nobody could be entirely sure whether the most critical plan wouldn't be betrayed at some point, but fortunately everyone involved appeared to behave with typical British understatement. "It was quite tense" said David Astor about the possibility that the greatest seaborne assault in history might be rumbled ahead of time.
Bug, a television version of Adam Buxton's very hip BFI showcases, is a triumph of personal character above all. The elements of the programme are dead simple. He shows music videos he's found on YouTube, cueing up all the visuals from his laptop. Then he reads out a selection of the comments underneath. Essentially that's it. It's not easy to capture the delicious flavour but this might help. Buxton brightly cued up one of the self-made films which each show includes like this: "Now, the video involves a lot of real explosions... all of which were very easy and fun to set up. So why not try something similar at home?" The onscreen title read: "MORON WARNING: DON'T. OBVIOUSLY". I'm laughing typing it, but not nearly as much as when I watched.
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