The story concerned the jailing of Reg Dudley and "Fat" Bob Maynard for the murder of Billy Mosely, and the first snort emerged when it was revealed that Billy had been in trouble with Ronnie "Ginger" Fright, whose missus Billy had been consoling while her husband was in jail.
There were two Ronnies, as it happened, a geezer called Diamond popping up later to give Reg Dudley a testimonial which was a pretzel of inverted morality: "Bob was known as a petty thief, no disrespect to him," he said, scoffing at the notion that he had run a vicious gang called the Legal and General. The disrespect attached to the word "petty", by the way, not "thief", which in these circles is an unimpeachable occupation. Reg Dudley certainly thinks so, as he pointed out when denying that he'd made the implausibly candid statement which helped to secure his conviction: "Any self-respecting thief would say, 'I'm sorry, I'm not saying anything until I've seen my solicitor'," he explained, as if referring to a well- understood code of professional conduct.
Rough Justice suggested that the rather lurid tale told by the prosecution - of a sinister gang, acts of torture and execution and the displaying of a severed head in a public bar - was indeed fiction, yet another product of the nationwide creative writing programme carried out by several police forces in the Seventies and Eighties. Reg turned literary critic for a while as he explained the attributes of a classic "verbal", which often commence with a threat to witnesses so that the police can subsequently oppose bail.
To add verisimilitude to the various confessions and inadvertent revelations the police claimed to have overheard, a villain called Tony Wilde was called to testify to a series of damning conversations in prison cells - testimony which he now claims was false. You couldn't actually judge from his face whether he was telling the truth because he had been both silhouetted and pixellated - "because of the number of people he has fitted up he doesn't want to be identified", said the voice-over, combining understatement and redundancy in one short phrase.
Asked shortly after the conviction what was to stop police officers making up statements, Commander Bert Wickstead (a.k.a The Old Grey Fox of Scotland Yard) looked momentarily stunned at the impudence of his questioner: "What's to stop! Our inherent honesty and sense of fair play in an investigation of this sort," he replied, an answer that the intervening years have not been kind to. If you didn't burst out laughing at that point, then you haven't got a sense of humour.
Reg Dudley is already out of prison on licence, but if Fat Bob, who is still inside, feels last night's broadcast didn't quite do the business, he now has another port of call on Channel 4. Clear My Name, which broadcasts live on Sunday evenings, takes the miscarriage of justice genre and adds a dash of audience-participation game show. The result is strikingly tacky.
Filmed in what looks like a disused prison, the programme blends investigation and interview with appeals to the watching public. "Is there something about the mysterious silencer we don't yet know?" asked David Jessel, soliciting for more information about an odd discrepancy in the police evidence against Jeremy Bamber, convicted of murdering his family.
Another competitor - sorry, victim - who had been jailed for negligence after his sailing ship sank, drowning three crew members, appeared on set to explain why he was fighting on, despite having served his sentence. "Well, to clear my name, really," he said, and you half-expected the programme's catch-phrase to be underlined by a jazzy fanfare and a burst of audience applause. Jessel may need to clear his name by the time this one's over.
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