People Just Do Nothing, BBC3 Wednesday
Heroes of Helmand, Channel 4 9pm Tuesday
What is the state of the Great British mockumentary? Well, if BBC 3’s People Just Do Nothing is any guide, it is still capable of sharp, funny, skilful satire. It’s quite hard to say exactly what this show “about”, because not that much really happens, just like real life I suppose. People Just Do Nothing follows the lives of some idiots running a pirate radio station in west London, the absurdly named Korupt FM, with pretensions to being garage musicians. They are, as they describe themselves, “the best kept secret in Brentford”. Five years ago the underclass was rioting and the rest of the population was quivering in fear. Today they’re being mocked, which is perhaps the best way for us to deal with that collective trauma. DJ Beats, MC Grindah and DJ Steve are all superb studies in modern masculinity, with Grindah a sublime mix of Ali G and David Brent. My favourite, though, is Chabuddy G, a self-styled entrepreneur who thinks that the stains on his pungent mattress “add character”. He has invented a new cocktail called the Peanutini, surely as much a satire on the current craze for portmanteau neologisms as anything. Smouldering comedy, is this, well deserving its third run, and proof that BBC 3, as well as the art of the mockumentary, is in good condition.
It is strange how distant the war in Afghanistan – I mean Tony Blair’s one, not the Victorian dry runs – seems now. Distance lends some perspective, though, and as we look back on that ill-starred campaign we can see just how bravely fought and futile it was. Channel 4’s Heroes of Helmand – “The British Army’s Great Escape” – reminds us, more precisely, just how poorly equipped and prepared were the British troops who were sent in to beat the Taliban: “We didn’t have the blokes”, as one veteran puts it. Indeed not. In the summer of 2006 a small force of Royal Irish Regiment and Paratroopers – about 55 men – held out against a vastly larger force of insurgents. The testimony of the survivors traces how Easy Company as they called themselves managed to hang to the notorious “base” at Musa Qala, one of the most remote in that desolate country. The Army won’t allow any currently serving troops to take part in this sort of filming, but the various intelligence officers, gunners and snipers, plus the commanding officer, who have sent left the armed forces, are able to give a vivid account of their problems, including photographs and video taken on their phones.
I suppose that until you have a rain of Taliban mortars pouring down on you, with no shelter and little ammo to hit back with, you will never understand the term bravery. Easy Company pretty much defined the term in their struggle against the odds. It was indeed reminiscent of one of those colonial wars fought in the nineteenth century, or at least the Boy’s Own versions, the British heavily outnumbered and outgunned, with no vehicles, hardly any medical support, not much air cover and, most grievously of all, a “base” that was really no such thing, overlooked by lots of derelict buildings and with hardly any walls at some points. “It was not a defensive position in any way”, says the CO.
Whether you’re in favour of the Afghan expedition or not, there were plainly serious shortcomings in the British army’s equipment and, more unforgivably, its attitude. Never great at looking after the average Tommy, the Afghan campaign surely marked a low point that the modern military ought to be ashamed of, or at least their political masters. What saved them? Skill and determination, obviously, but also a curious relationship that the British struck up with the tribal elders in the town, which saved many lives on both sides, and helped Easy Company escape.
Earlier this year the Taliban re-took the town. Even though the Afghan war was a direct result of the 9/11 attacks, and explicitly authorised by the UN with wide intentional support, it is difficult to argue with the blunt conclusion of the commentary that the loss is “symbolic of the failure of British government policy in Afghanistan”.
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