Review: Rah! C4 reporters had me so cross, man

Dispatches: Why Kids Kill, Channel 4; Ross Kemp in Afghanistan, Sky One; Celebrity Wife Swap, Channel 4
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The Independent Culture

Dispatches: Why Kids Kill didn't live up to its title. Flashing statistics like a PowerPoint presentation, it gave a lot of evidence that youth-on-youth violence is happening, but not enough explanation why. When the Dispatches reporters went on to the street to interview hooded, pit-bull-yanking youths in Peckham, you could hear the fear in their polite little Channel 4 voices. "But why do you do it?" one reporter piped up. "Basically it's just a lifestyle for kids. It's how we live."

There was precious little further probing. When the interviewees spoke street slang ("Rah, if I don't get my peas I'm bustin, man") it was translated by the presenter from the safety of the post-production studio (rah = wow; peas = money; bustin = shooting; man = oh, you know that one?). I had the feeling the interviewers were straining so hard to be cool that they didn't dare ask what the kids meant, there and then on camera.

That would never happen with Ross Kemp, one of the most robust interviewers around.

By the end of Dispatches, when youth-on-youth crime had been blamed on the Government (the fact that 17p is spent per child per day on youth services was revealed as if it explained everything), I was really, really ready for Ross Kemp. His Bafta-winning series about gangs included a south London special that had more grist per minute than the entire Dispatches programme, running through the history of Yardies, and posing the psycho-social questions (ie whether absentee fathers contribute to gang allegiances) that the Dispatches programme wouldn't face.

People can be snotty about soap stars who've turned serious. I was until I saw Kemp's work. He's really good. He faces his interviewees with genuine interest, listening hard, man to man. He doesn't act "looking"; he looks. His fame doesn't hurt, either. It makes him accountable, unlike the anonymous Dispatches reporters, and his supreme confidence on camera helps his interviewees to relax.

Ross Kemp in Afghanistan is a bit like Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy, in HD. It cleaves close to the experience of war, rather than the purpose. It shows the boredom, the fear, the endless stratagems and planning, the futile, circumstantial heroism – all in micro rather than grand macro. Even when Kemp is using army jargon, which he likes a lot ("We haven't had enemy contact as yet", etc), he makes punchy, straightforward sense. One moment he is arguing with locals that defeating the Taliban is their responsibility too. The next, he is sitting under the desert sky the night before a battle, likening the atmosphere to Henry V.

Kemp's film is not unique; Sean Langan made a similarly heart-stopping report from Helmand province for Dispatches last year. Langan was, if I remember, critical of military underfunding, whereas Kemp is a little blinded by love. But it is still truly valuable TV, especially in the week Afghanistan was declared a "failing state".

Celebrity Wife Swap blends psychological insight with the snooper's bliss of Through the Keyhole. My favourite moment in last week's edition was when Freddie Starr's wife, Donna, tried to guess who lived in a house like this.

"Hmm," she said, looking around the bedroom at the sculptural casts of women's torsos and the paintings of busty horizontales. "It's very ... feminine." Indeed. The gaff belonged to Sam Fox and her partner, Myra.