Last Night's Viewing: Up in Flames: Mr Reeves and the Riots, BBC1
Living with the Amish, Channel 4

 

The Germans are here and they're very nice apparently," Maurice Reeves's son told his father at the beginning of Up in Flames: Mr Reeves and the Riots. "Jawohl," replied Maurice, who, at 80, may harbour some faded wartime prejudices about the old enemy. This time, though, the Germans hadn't come to Croydon to bomb it but to interview Mr Reeves about his furniture shop, which had been comprehensively blitzed by aggressors far closer to home during the recent riots. Mr Reeves, as well as trying to resuscitate the business from premises down the road, was also being kept busy talking about his experiences to foreign news crews. And, rather touchingly, he turned out in the end to have very few prejudices.

He'd been out celebrating his wedding anniversary on the night of the riots, returning to find that the business that had been in the family for 144 years was now providing a lurid illustration for television helicopters of just how bad the riots had got. And in the immediate aftermath all he could see was the cruelty of the thing, a destruction from which nobody benefited. His views on looters were old-fashioned, to say the least: "In my day, in the Commonwealth, they were shot on sight," he said. His son Graham might be able to find a slender silver lining in the disaster, jokily confessing that he hoped certain slow-selling items had gone up in smoke, but Maurice seemed crushed. Two weeks later, during a routine visit to hospital, he collapsed.

James Dawson's film followed him around as he investigated what had happened, visiting other victims, including an Asian shopkeeper who'd been badly beaten as he tried to defend his property. And, at first, he seemed in two minds about whether to rebuild or not, still stunned by the amorality of the destruction. "I want zero tolerance... I told Cameron that," he said to one of his sons as they discussed the police reaction to the riots. But then the cards of support started coming in from passers-by and two local community organisers persuaded him to meet local youths who'd been in trouble with the police to talk about what had happened.

 

He was so anxious about this encounter that he nearly punched his wife in his sleep the night before, but it went well, in large part due to Maurice's open-mindedness. He went on to meet a convicted looter and to give away one of the awards at a Black Youth Achievement evening. In terms of illumination, these events didn't add hugely to his or our understanding. The repeated phrase "I don't know" replaced Maurice's earlier law-and-order certainties. But in terms of morale, it seemed to work, plugging him back in to a community he'd understandably felt a little alienated from. "This is Reeves Corner," he concluded firmly at the end. "We've been here since 1867 and we'll be here for the rest of time." I do hope so.

The values of community are central to Living with the Amish. So central, in fact, that you begin to wonder whether the series is some kind of furtive outreach programme for isolationist religion. It's a bit hard to believe that Amish lives are so sunnily perfect and trouble free, even if their anti-materialist values and austere pleasures chime with the times. Hard to believe, too, that the English visitors respond with quite such biddable humility to their hosts' example. "I do envy it... I actually really do envy it," said one of the girls last night, after hearing about the rigidly codified dating regime. The Old Order Mennonites in this film were positive sybarites compared to earlier groups, allowing themselves patterned dresses, bicycles, tractors and an awesomely blinged-up buggy complete with crushed velvet upholstery and flashing underlights. But even so they lead lives of a radical simplicity. Wouldn't want to live there, but a few weeks would be very soothing, I think.

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