The Weekend's TV: Dispatches: Catching the Gun Runners, Sun, Channel 4
Heartbeat, Sun, ITV1
Odd One In, Sat, ITV1
Arresting tale from the underworld
Monday 19 July 2010
You'll know the Fiat Multipla even if you don't recognise the name.
They're those strenuously eccentric family cars, with froggy headlamps and curvy toy-car bodies. They look as if they've been designed by Fisher-Price and run on Ribena, a car you would no more associate with dark criminal endeavour than a pull-along toy caterpillar. Which may be why they were the vehicle of choice for the criminal gang featured in Dispatches: Catching the Gun Runners, a documentary about a two-year operation by Lancashire Constabulary's Serious and Organised Crime Unit. Who would suspect that a jolly, cartoonish Multipla would be stashed with cannabis, Ecstasy and guns? Well, nice theory, guys, but perhaps it wasn't sensible for you to be so exclusive in practice. Because once the police had spotted an unusual blip in Preston Multipla sales their task became considerably easier. This is not a car that it's difficult to spot in a crowd.
Dispatches was like The Wire with Lancashire accents and butter pies, instead of Baltimore drawl and lake trout. And – it has to be said – without the criminal intelligence or the swearing. It involved British policemen using that peculiar diction that only policemen use: "This is where Ivan Hue resided," explained a detective constable taking us for a drive down the Preston street where the chief target of their investigation had a house. Most of us live at home but criminals always seem to reside there. And it also touched on that same sub-culture that has been loading Raoul Moat's Facebook page with admiring panegyrics. Though there were attempts to present the film as an audit of a mounting social problem, with a factitious intro linking it to the Cumbrian shootings and frequent interruptions from statistic-spouting criminologists, it was really just a case history of one complicated bust and a lot of Lancashire low-lifes.
None the worse for that, I guess, particularly if you have a taste for the details of real-world crime that rarely make it into things like Taggart or – God help us – Heartbeat, where the crime has to be perpetrated and solved in just a few days. You can't imagine a crime drama spotting the Multipla thing, for example, or passing on the handy household tip for drug dealers who want to keep all their different sim cards in order. Apparently, a big ball of Blu-tack is perfect for ensuring they're immediately at hand when you need to cover your tracks. Not that it had worked particularly well for Ivan Hue or his friends, all of whose calls had been logged on to a nifty piece of police software that draws up a spider's-web of suspicious associations. The police team were also using something called cell siting, which tracks the location and time of your calls, automatic number plate recognition and secret surveillance by the Dutch police. All of which seemed to confirm the fears of those who believe we already live in a police state where our every move can be monitored, though it was difficult to feel too indignant about its employment here, against people tooling up for a drug war.
Talking of Heartbeat, incidentally, it has to be seen to be believed and you don't have long left, since ITV is soon going to do the decent thing and turn the life-support off. It is astounding that it has lasted this long, since you'd have to be in a vegetative state yourself to watch it without cries of outrage. This week's episode involved the murder of a newcomer to the village, and detection work that would look insultingly simplistic in an episode of Balamory. Spotting a boot-print on the hearth rug next to the murdered woman, PC Joe instantly thought of George, the village idiot. "He always wears wellington boots," he said thoughtfully. I don't suppose he's the only one in a rural Yorkshire village, but that didn't seem to trouble Joe, who obligingly chased red herrings until the drama finally saw fit to join the rest of us at home standing around the obvious conclusion. Providing light relief from the police procedural was a ponderously comic sub-plot involving a hot-dog van, which concluded with it being chased across the moors by a hearse, a yellow bubble car and a vintage Anglia police cruiser. At the end, just in case anyone's been left unsettled by this broadcastable form of Complan, everyone on screen chuckled amiably to reassure the nervous.
I'm not convinced that Odd One In is going to do much for ITV's viewing figures either. Bradley Wiggins hosts a comedy game show, involving a lot of noisy orchestral brass accents and flashing blue and red lights (are they an Ofcom requirement for game shows?). The idea is that the panel identify the genuine eccentric or oddity in a line-up of fakes, an exercise which – like the similar section in Never Mind the Buzzcocks – offers a modest opportunity for comic improvisation ("Have you ever smuggled children out of Austria in wartime," one panellist asked one of a line-up of nuns, in an attempt to identify the real thing from the forgeries). The audience in the studio can take part by means of electronic handsets and the one who performs best gets the chance to go up on stage and win £5,000, once the celebrities have finished. Unfortunately, the creators of the format have neglected to come up with any kind of incentive that might persuade the audience at home to stick around till the end.
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