Television (Review) / A half-hearted offender and a big-hearted victim

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The Independent Culture
HOW MUCH good could a do-gooder do if a do-gooder could do good? That's a question that twists judgement as well as tongues at the moment, now that 'understanding' is in bad odour and unrestrained rage is being elevated to a moral principle. Michael Howard's answer is a simple snarl: none whatsoever. That proposed by Short Story (C4) was slightly more complicated. 'When You Ran Me Down' recorded the meeting of Ian and Brian - not their first, as they originally became acquainted over the bonnet of Ian's car, which Brian was in the process of stealing. Now they were coming together in a process of reparation and mediation, with the help of a Juvenile Justice Coordinator (should justice be coordinated?).

It probably isn't yet libellous to call somebody a do-gooder, so it's safe for me to say that this man fitted fairly neatly into the Tory demonology. Soft-spoken, resolutely non-judgemental, he took the view that while this process might not be as immediately gratifying as giving the culprit a good thrashing, it was far better in the long run. 'It works,' he said decisively. You could decide whether to believe him or not, but you couldn't, in all honesty, judge for yourself from what you saw.

For one thing, Brian had turned himself in, tormented by uncertainty about whether he'd hurt his victim. But joyriders with a bad conscience are hardly the real problem - it's the unappeasable little sods who don't give a toss who would test the system. And though the film was uniformly described as 'powerful' in the pre-publicity, its early scenes were actually curiously inert, as if the participants were re-enacting things for the camera. Only after a card had flashed up 'six months later' did you get the sense that what you saw was spontaneous, and that wasn't particularly encouraging.

Contrition was remarkably painless for Brian, a matter of exculpation rather than apology ('My mates got me stoned'). When the victim pressed him for the names of his accomplices he refused, and the social worker quickly cut in to prevent him being unduly distressed by further requests: 'As far as I'm concerned, it's not in his personal interest at the moment to reveal the names.' Oh, that's alright then - we'll just have to hope they don't kill anybody next time out. And though Brian promised to repay the money Ian had lost, he didn't: money was a bit tight, he said, though clearly not tight enough to prevent him taking driving lessons and buying his own car. The final conclusion seemed to be that if you have a half- hearted offender, a big-hearted victim, and no unpleasant consequences if the agreement is betrayed, then it all 'works' perfectly.

Here and Now (BBC 1) continues to deliver solid populist current affairs without tipping into sensationalism too often. Last night's programme included a report on Scottish loan sharks which will have had some bank managers smiling wistfully (an APR of around a million per cent and you get drawing pins through your thumbs if you renege), and a piece about a computer which predicts the life expectancy of patients on life- support - 'the machine that plays God]', if you're Tom Mangold.

Because of budget cuts, this machine may be used to help in clinical decisions about who gets switched off. They rather made out that this was an unprecedented scandal, fudging the issue that such decisions have always been made and, short of unlimited resources, always will. Personally, I'm not sure that I wouldn't prefer a computer to reckon my odds of survival, rather than a consultant exhausted by battling with one of the glib accountants who now run the health service.

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