TELEVISION / Putting police and criminals in the same frame

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The Independent Culture
VINCENT BROWN, a man with a face like a parboiled ham-hock garnished with a yard brush, is also a man of wounded dignity. The News of the World had called him a 'lager-swilling crook' and a '23-stone slob'. Sitting in Hiccups, the Hendon wine bar where he worked as a bouncer, he drank his lager with an extended pinkie, as if to demonstrate to the world the delicacy of his manners. Lager, yes - crook, maybe (he confessed to having been persuaded by a police informer to supply an illegal shotgun) but 'swilling'? Say not so]

Vincent was one of the more obviously comical elements of a Panorama (BBC 1) which frequently had a little difficulty in maintaining the appropriate gravity of manner. It was a serious enough subject - an investigation into whether police informers are being used not just to report on crimes but also to set them up. Serious enough, certainly, for the police themselves to make angry representations to the BBC about the safety of informers and for the BBC to get slightly antsy about the programme, which has now been postponed twice.

But the film's case was undermined both by the subtlety of the distinctions it was exploring and by the Runyonesque pack of scoundrels to whom it had to resort for its evidence. If you were to grasp the nuances involved here - the difference between participating in a crime and procuring it - you had to concentrate.

But your will to hang on was constantly weakened by the fact that some very dodgy types ended up in jail. So while it was just about possible to be theoretically indignant that Joe Pyle had ended up in jail after being invited to take part in the sale of stolen morphine by a police informer, given that he had eagerly taken up the offer you felt it wasn't yet time to start writing letters to Amnesty International.

The programme made some more serious points - that the desire to protect informers was leading to the abandonment of prosecutions; that they enjoy a virtual carte blanche to commit crimes themselves; and that one particular officer had been collaborating with the News of the World to set up crimes which otherwise might not have happened and which could then be 'solved' in spectacular style. There is an obvious danger that the police might find it easier (and more productive of media publicity) to ensnare small-time criminals rather than go out and catch the big ones.

But, just as you were beginning to feel the first flickerings of civic indignation, you would be confronted with yet another aggrieved low-life, insisting that he would never have dreamt of supplying so- and-so with an Uzi unless the idea had been forced into his blameless head, and then you thought that maybe it was no bad thing that he wouldn't know who to trust next time.

As his tour of Italy continues, Keith Floyd has been getting more grumpy and desultory by the week. He has always been a casual cook, encouraging you by his lack of precision - but something almost beleaguered is creeping into his manner. Yesterday he chucked a garnish of cherry tomatoes on to a dish with a gesture of outright contempt, as if adding something noxious to a compost heap.

He's not much more careful about his script, which has become a tiresome excursion through the same themes - the producer's anxiety about shadows, the soundman's paranoia about passing Vespas and the scrumptiousness of his own cooking. I did think, though, that he had finally made it through a programme without resorting to his favourite cliche, until, at the very last moment, he blew it. 'There we are,' he said, pointing at the finished dish, 'Puglia on a plate.'