Leading Article: Giving gangsters a touch of glamour

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The Independent Online
PEOPLE object strongly enough to real-life crimes, especially if they or their friends are the victims. Yet they cannot, it seems, have enough of crime and criminals on television. The schedules are stuffed with programmes reconstructing crimes, with fictional treatments and with long-running police series.

To these have recently been added two concurrent six-part series, on BBC and Carlton called, respectively, The Underworld and Gangsters, featuring, among others, members of the fearsome Kray brothers' entourage and the Richardson gang that terrorised parts of London in the Fifties and Sixties. One of them, 'Mad' Frankie Fraser - interviewed in the Independent yesterday - has even produced his memoirs.

Television series of this sort are put together because producers reckon there is a public appetite for them, and all the evidence suggests they are right. Reasons for this fascination probably range from vicarious excitement to a touch of unacknowledged admiration for criminals' readiness to pit themselves against society and the forces of law and order.

Those responsible for the programmes say they regard their interviews as a contribution to social history, and have been at pains not to glamorise the criminals involved. But there is an element of hypocrisy in such claims. Their makers know they will be watched precisely because crime is associated in many minds with money, women, violence, fast cars and the whole exciting world of crime found in books and films.

There is a further and serious difficulty, which showed up even in our own wry interview with Frankie Fraser. The very act of interviewing somebody implies and even confers a hint of approval and celebrity. Interviewers, especially for television, cannot constantly express disgust at what they hear, or the subject will clam up. Nor can they be constantly saying: 'And you really feel no remorse for what you did?' To interview someone is to provide them with a chance to present a case. To show its emptiness without wrecking the interview requires great skill.

The mind of the criminal is a legitimate subject of interest. But as these and other recent programmes show, the greatest possible care needs to be taken to avoid a suggestion of admiration.