THE CRITICS : Somebody's watching you

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Indy Lifestyle Online
IN The Gamekeeper (BBC1), Charlie, the gamekeeper, took Lara, a middle-aged Belgian woman, out to shoot her first stag. They crouched behind a hillock and Charlie whispered to Lara to move very slowly. In these wind conditions, he said, the stag could hear a voice at 400 yards and the safety-catch click at 200 yards. What Charlie didn't tell Lara was the distance at which a stag could hear a BBC cameraman and sound recordist.

A man steeped in tradition, Charlie was observing the time-honoured custom that documentary-makers are invisible. This is not a custom with which stags are familiar, so it would have been fun to have seen shots of the BBC crew crawling through the heather in an effort to avoid catching the stag's attention. But then that would have necessitated a second TV crew crawling in front of the first one and in that case it would have been a shame not to have seen them, too.

Charlie spotted a stag in the distance, pointed it out to Lara, tapped the telescopic sight and suggested she look through that. Short of pulling the trigger he couldn't have been more helpful. The TV crew kept still, Lara took aim and fired and the stag collapsed on its haunches. Charlie was delighted, the TV crew said nothing, everyone headed over to inspect the kill.

Following the continental custom, Lara put a bunch of heather in the stag's mouth. Following the Scottish custom, Charlie smeared Lara's face with blood. She looked overwhelmed, she may even have blushed - in the circumstances it wasn't easy to tell. Following the BBC custom, a hesitant voice said: "Some people would think that might be a bit barbaric, Charlie?"

Some people might think you're either in this scene or you're not. If you want to tag along with a stalking party and ask awkward questions that's fine, but first you've got to put in a couple of appearances: getting in and out of the Land Rover, lugging the camera and boom mike across the Scottish moors. Some people might also think the question was a bit late. If the voice behind the camera was seriously worried about barbarism he could always have asked the question when Lara was removing the safety catch. The stag would have heard.

The camera likes to make out that it isn't really there when so often the only reason that anyone else is there is because of the camera. Waris Dirie hadn't seen her mum for 15, 16 or 17 years (she didn't know how many) and she wanted to see her because her mum is the most incredible person in the world and one day she wants to be like her. So she hopped on a plane and paid her a visit. Naturally, since this was The Day That Changed My Life (BBC2), she took along a film crew.

Waris Dirie is an international model. She became quite famous advertising Pirelli, Revlon and Oil of Ulay, and now she is becoming more famous advertising herself. Her mum is a nomad. After scenes in London and New York we saw Waris looking out of the plane as it flew towards Galmudi in Ethiopia. We saw a shot of a camel. Then a shot of Waris walking past a thorn bush. Then Waris leaning down to hug her mother on the ground. Her mum stared into space. Neither of them had a clue what to say to each other. Waris wasn't short of things to say and so she said them to the camera. "It's unbelievable. It's incredible. I don't even know what to explain. I just don't know what to say. Where to start." She has an amazing story to tell and the shame is that she didn't get someone else to tell it.

The programme ended by saying that it had been "editorially controlled" by Waris Dirie. While it's a pity to see the BBC handing over editorial control to anyone, let alone a fashion model, it has to be said that it was difficult to detect any editorial control. Only editorial negligence.

The Day That Changed My Life left you asking, for instance, which day was it? Was it the day her dad sold her for four camels? The day her uncle took her to London to be his servant? The day Terence Donovan chose her for the cover of the Pirelli calendar?

Then again, how exactly had her life changed? She used to wear exotic clothes; she still does. She used to travel across plains; now she travels in them. She used to be a nomad with a family; now she is a nomad without a family, sleeping on the seats of aeroplanes between assignments. Of course, now she is rich and before she was very poor. But anyone who takes a TV crew along to film one of the most private moments in their life might be thought to have discovered a new form of impoverishment.

Thankfully, TV played a benign part in Clockwork Radio (BBC1), which turned out to be a fairytale story in which an inventor came up with the grand slam: something which didn't use electricity, something which would fight Aids in Africa, and something which could be made by disabled people.

Trevor Baylis had been watching the news when he heard about the need for public education about Aids in Africa. The radio was a great educator but many people couldn't afford batteries. Trevor sat there, in a red checked shirt, smoking a pipe, his eyes narrowing, the smoke curling out of his mouth, watching John Humphreys, thinking ... Bingo!

It seemed to be remarkably prescient of the BBC to have a camera crew in Trevor's living-room in Twickenham the evening he had his brainwave. Lucky, too, that they were there the afternoon an accountant came round to Trevor's house with his wife and kids, and had an amicable chat about doing business together. It looked to me as if the accountant, his wife and his kids had gone back to Trevor's house for a second time so they could film them round at Trevor's house the first time. Documentary-makers only like to do the bits of the story that they can film, which makes it tempting to reconstruct the event or rig it in advance. Given the chance they would persuade Archimedes to get back in the bath and shout "Eureka".

Waris Dirie's meeting with her mother involved the BBC tracking her mother down and persuading her to come to the Ethiopian border where it was safe for the two of them to meet. This wasn't mentioned in the programme which preferred to concentrate on Waris's debut as a guest presenter on Soul Train. In Clockwork Radio, Nelson Mandela was taken along to inspect the new wind-up radio that is going to be mass-produced in his country. Presumably someone had told Mandela what it was he was going to see and why a TV crew was there. But just in case they hadn't the radio was explained to him again in front of the camera.

"No electricity. No batteries," Mandela was told.

"No electricity. No batteries," Mandela replied.

"No electricity at all," Mandela was assured.

"It's a fantastic achievement," Mandela replied.

Sometimes documentary TV feels more staged than theatre.