Arms and the man with pride and prejudice

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The Independent Online
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune has probably been trading arms with the Arabs."

So begins the new TV drama on which I have been working for the past few months.

Does it seem familiar, yet somehow different? Yes, indeed - it is very reminiscent of the opening of Pride and Prejudice, spiced up with a more modern reference.This is because my producers and I have calculated that the only way to bring the Scott report to a wider public is by dressing it up as period costume drama.

Channel 4 made a brave attempt on Saturday night to bring the Scott report to the public, or at least to the select few of the public who watch Channel 4. They set out to encapsulate the Scott report in an enterprising mixture of verbatim re-enactment (using the actual words spoken in the Scott inquiry) and the use of Rory Bremner and other comic performers to impersonate politicians and media people, and it was instructive that the words spoken by witnesses in the Scott inquiry got every bit as many laughs as did Mr Bremner's script.

But when you mix up genuine documentary with recreation and comic commentary, you run the danger of people not knowing which bits to believe.

It is quite possible, for example, that a viewer will watch Rory Bremner pretending to be the Prime Minister and disbelieve implicitly his version of events. In which case, the viewer would be wrong. It is the essence of our system that it is John Major who pretends to be the Prime Minister, and that we implicitly disbelieve what people tell Sir Richard Scott, for there is more truth in anything that Mr Bremner says than in anything that anyone tells the Scott inquiry.

Why, I even overheard someone saying yesterday that he was struck with the portrayal of Paul Foot in the programme and that whoever had played Foot had been a skilful actor, as he was very like the real man, even though not half as funny. His companion replied, truthfully, that the part of Paul Foot had been played by Paul Foot and not by an actor, to which the man said they should have made that clear by putting a caption under his face saying "Paul Foot, not played by an actor".

In such confusion, my producers and I feel the only way out is a soap- opera version of the Scott report.

Like the Labour Party, we have only been able to look at the Scott report for half an hour, but in that time we have seen the germs of a thrilling new serial to be entitled not Pride and Prejudice, but Arms and Actualite ...

"My dear Mr Waldegrave," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that we are to have a new neighbour?"

Mr Waldegrave replied that he had been too busy with his red boxes and his cabinet papers to hear of such a thing.

"Well, it is so," returned Mrs Waldegrave, "for Lady Hussey was not long here, and she heard it direct from Lady Rees-Mogg, that Matrix Churchill Hall is to be let."

Mr Waldegrave made no answer.

"Do you not want to know who has become our new neighbour?" she cried in vexation.

"Tell me who it is and I will tell you whether I wish to know or no," said Mr Waldegrave, with a rare wit that surprised even himself.

"It is a Lord Scott, who is reputed to be a man of rare conversation and an ideal dinner companion," said Mrs Waldegrave. "Why, it is said that he can fix you with a look like a falcon and ask questions to which you did not think you knew the answers, until you find yourself telling him your life story ..."

As Mistress Waldegrave prattled on, a more diligent observer than her might have noticed that Mr Waldegrave had gone pale, clutched at his chest, taken a hasty swig from a hip flask, plucked some papers from another chest marked "Secrets of the Iraq Arms Trade" and thrust them deep into the comforting fire which always burnt harmoniously in the great fireplace.

As he did so, they heard the sound of horses' hoofs outside.

"Why, it is Squire Alan Clark!" said Mrs Waldegrave. "But he looks so distressed and upset - I wonder why?"

"I think I might hazard a guess," said Mr Waldegrave. "Let him in, but lock up all the girls first in their bedrooms."

Coming to a TV screen somewhere near you soon.