The Man Who Saw Too Much, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer presenter, producer and director Alan Yentob and Jill Nicholls.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000bqt9/the-man-who-saw-too-much

The story of 106-year-old Boris Pahor is a eulogy to the twentieth century. The man who saw too much and experienced too much is a testament to man’s inhumanity to man. He wrote a memoir, Necropolis- City of the Dead about his incarceration in a little-know Nazi concentration camp, Natzweiler-Struthhof in the mountainous regions of Alsace, France.

He was also sent to Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Dora, Harzungen, Ironically, Natzweiler was one of the first concentration camps liberated by the Allies, but it was empty. Prisoners were sent to Dachau, but it was Natwieler he judged to be the most cruel. His account is illustrated by drawings by fellow prisoners.

Pahor’s ability to speak several languages, his native Slovenian, Italian, French and I imagine a bit of German saved him. It allowed him to get a job inside the barracks as a translator for the camp doctor an Austrian, who also trained him to be a diarrhoea nurse. Almost half of the 52 000 prisoners were executed, died of illness or malnutrition or died outside working in the granite quarry in sub-zero temperatures. A mountainous region, each step going up the graded slope to work was recalled as the equivalent of Christ on the road to Calvary.  The camp produced a particular type of red stone favoured by Hitler’s architects who created public buildings in honour of the thousand-year Reich.

Pahor was sent to the camp because he was considered to be an anti-fascist. He was arrested in September 1943.

Fascism comes from the term fasces, a bundle of rods with a projected axe blade, a symbol of the magisterial power in ancient Rome.

The neologism fascism was associated with the rise of Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain and Hitler in Germany. A megalomaniac belief in the strong-man theory of history. A contempt for the democratic process and calls for its suspension so the great man can act on behalf of the people.

Pahor, for example, recalls his upbringing in the cosmopolitan Slovenian port city of Trieste with access to the Adriatic being taken over by Italy after the first world war. As a precursor to Kristallnacht, Mussolini’s blackshirts burned down the Slovene cultural centre, closed their schools and banned the speaking of their language in public. School lessons were in Italian. Pahor, the anti-fascist was drafted into Mussolini’s army to fight the anti-fascist Allied forced.

Fascism = Capitalism.

Mussolini, the former Communist and man of the people, had a mandate to rule given by aristocracy, landowners and the moneyed classes. In contemporary terms it was based on deregulation. The bogey men of communism and working men organising themselves into trade unions was outlawed. Deregulation meant no regulation, the whip hand was with the rich and only the poor paid taxes.

King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy’s intervention in the second world war and his late backing of the Allied forces led to the arrest of Mussolini at the end of July, 1943. One fascist force replaced another. The German’s sprung Mussolini from prison and took control of the defence of Italy and split the country among fascist and non-fascist supporters.

An estimated 600 000 joined the anti-fascist resistance movement in Italy, around 70 000 of whom were women. Pahore was caught with a typewriter and accused of producing anti-fascist leaflets. So begins his odyssey in the death camps.

Primo Levi, Italian Jew, in his memoir, If This Is a Man asked a question what is it to be truly human?

Necropolis –City of the Dead is the answer. Them and us.  The ersatz category of subhuman that fight each other over a finger-tip of bread while mining pink-coloured rock that has decorative value. Capitalism in its purest form can be found here. Fascism and the strong man theory of history have made a dramatic comeback. Boris Pahor tells it like it is. He saw too much. We understand too little. This is a Boris you can trust.   

Miriam’s Dead Good Adventure, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, editor Gwyn Jones, episode 1 of 2.

miriams dead.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0004gpl/miriams-dead-good-adventure-series-1-episode-1

There’s a simple rule in life, don’t get old and don’t get fat, which becomes a commandment on television. Presenter Miriam Margolyes is the exception to the rule. She looks a bit like Grotbags, the witch, but without the green hair. Margolyes has become something of the flavour of the month on BBC, a kind of low-rent-a-gob, fat and Jewish and a lesbian version of Louis Theroux that is sent to comment on the crazy American trends that perplex and amuse us.  Miriam’s Dead Good Adventure, for those not in the know is a play on words, mimicking Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the rewriting of history into something groovy. Groan you might.

Miriam starts episode one and ends it in Wren Hall, a place where men and women with dementia spend their last days. As you’d expect with television cameras there’s plenty of activities and the staff all smile. Nobody beats the patients or steals from them. And they even feed them regularly. They get involved in old-fashioned sing-songs. It would break my heart, if I had one. This more than anything else scares the shit out of me. My partner argues it wouldn’t matter that much because you wouldn’t know what’s happening to you. Geoff who visits his wife June most days is a case in point. Miriam went away to America and came back about a month later and they were still repeating the same conversation. You is no longer you, but somebody else. We get the usual stuff from Miriam about how in love they are. Past tense?

In California they take the dictum never get old and never get fat very seriously and test them to breaking point.  The Revolution Against Ageing and Death (RAAD). Miriam usually begins the conversation by asking what age the plastic man or women is and what beach did they wash up from. Then she says they don’t look that age. Plastic people and Domestos bottle never do. Miriam aged 77 looks her age. She has always looked 77, even when she was 57. Plastic people’s pouts give them away. No they haven’t had surgery they were born with a heavenly, fish pout. They all seem to be that certain age where they plan to live forever.

Miriam jumped from California to Arizona. This is the place to go if you want to freeze your body, or if you can’t afford that, your brain for future generations to marvel about how stupid you were.  Pioneers of the super longevity movement plan to live long enough to outstrip our current body’s capabilities by freezing the balls off themselves and achieve escape velocity. Science will have the cure for death and dying and they’ve just got to wait until they can pick up the keys at the nearest showroom.  82-year-old Bernadene, who seems more plastic mannequin than person and cryotherapy enthusiast Jim, her youth partner, who discovered the secrets of eternal youth in his freezer and you’ve only to look at his hair to know it’s true. Bernadene is honest, for those schmucks or poor folk that can’t afford to pay for treatment and live an eternal kind of life, well, the world would be a better place. The secret of eternal life is only for some rich, white folk. Here is Trump’s America in a freezer bag. There’s more, but I won’t bore you with it. Nothing I’ve not seen before.

The Murder of Jill Dando, BBC 1 and BBC iPlayer, directed by Marcus Plowright

jill dando.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0003w40/the-murder-of-jill-dando

There seems to be a plethora of anniversaries and murder reconstructions on all of the main channels. We’ve had the Bulger, The Yorkshire Ripper and Jack the Ripper recently and before that Fred and Rose West. The list goes on. Partly, I’d guess to the world-wide success of The Making of a Murderer.  BBC couldn’t let the twentieth anniversary, 26th April 1999, of one of its own, the presenter of the Holiday programme, Crimewatch UK and The Six O’Clock News, without a commemorative mock-up of the main actors, talking heads and what we know about the killer. The Queen commented on Jill’s death as did the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The police were under enormous pressure to bring the killer to justice. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Hamish Campbell, who led the investigation, features in the programme. He tells us how he came to identify Barry George as a suspect, how he came to be convicted of Jill Dando’s murder in June 2001 and released on appeal seven years later after the UK High Court ordered a retrial and the Court of Appeal found the forensic evidence in the case ‘inconclusive’.

The presenter Nick Ross, who appeared alongside Jill Dando in Crimewatch, said, he’d also have acquitted Barry George.

Yet, we have DCI Campbell, giving the impression he got the right man. The evidence was circumstantial. After five months, the police were getting nowhere and had spent over two million pounds on the investigation. A tip had come from Hafad Taxi Company that someone, later identified as Barry George, had been acting strangely on the day Dando was killed. Six months later he was still acting strangely. A warrant and search of his house found that he’d filmed women, kept a log of car numbers and had press cuttings of Jill Dando. He also has a three-quarter length coat.

I must admit to also having a three-quarter length coat. My partner Mary hates it and wants to give it to the Salvation Army of some other charitable institute. But I’m quite oddly attached to it.  I was never a suspect in Dando’s killing.

Let’s get to the forensics on which the case was won and lost. Locard’s principle, sounds very much like Sherlock Holmes’, ‘every contact leaves a trace’.  A single particle of gunshot residue was found in the three-quarter length coat Barry George admitted to wearing. To describe it as gunshot residue is to place Barry George in the coat and have him pull the trigger and shoot Jill Dando on the doorstep. Such is the power of forensic evidence to captive a jury and convict Barry George.

Remember the newspaper headlines ‘Auntie Annie’s bomb-making factory’ associating trace elements of nitroglycerine with the Maguire Seven. Trace elements that were found in handling an ordinary pack of playing cards.

A single particle of gunshot residue would have to be magnified around 2000 times before it was the size of a pea. How else could it have got into Barry George’s pocket? Someone handling guns, perhaps a policeman, could have brushed against him on public transport.

The Crown won and lost its case on a single particle of evidence. Barry George in Scottish law would be found Not Proven. The hunt for Jill Dando’s killer goes on – only it doesn’t. The police have no new leads.  Case closed.

The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, written and directed by Liza Williams.

yorkshire ripper files.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0003m0l/the-yorkshire-ripper-files-a-very-british-crime-story-series-1-episode-3

Episode 1, Chapeltown.

We all know what happened to Peter Sutcliffe, dubbed in the late seventies the Yorkshire Ripper, he was arrested in January 1981 and sent to Broadmoor the high-security psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, for thirteen murders and eight other attacks on women. Although we sometimes hear in the press of him getting fat or going blind with diabetes or being attacked by other inmates – I can’t remember, whether he’s alive or dead, and I guess like many others, I don’t really care – case closed.

Liza Williams re-opens the case and looks at it through a lens in which journalist Joan Smith sum it up as ‘a conversation among men about dead women’.

Listen, to example, this conversation between Michael Greene, a senior officer in the investigation of the murders and a prostitute in Moss Side in October 1977, when at least nine victims have been linked with the Ripper. A police operation costing an extra two million has been given to the police and 150 000 car number plates logged, 4000 cars a night on Moss Side alone.

Greene with a film crew approaches a prostitute on a street corner and asks,

‘Are you on the game?’

The prostitute replies, ‘Yes, I am.’

Greene replies, ‘Don’t you know that’s silly!’

This sounds like something from a Monty Python sketch, but nobody was laughing. You can have your own opinion, but you can’t have your own facts, is one response to today’s political shenanigans. There was no amnesty for prostitutes. Arrests of prostitutes increased even as the murders continued. The idea of arresting kerb-crawlers was deemed unrealistic and impractical.

The murder of sixteen-year-old Jane McDonald in Chapeltown on 26th June 1977, we were told changed the mood of the nation. Here was an ‘innocent victim’. There was an open letter from Jane McDonald’s mother printed in the mass media asking Sutcliffe to hand himself in. It followed his usual pattern, hitting the victim with a ball-peen hammer to render them unconscious or incapable or both and stabbing them with a screwdriver and molesting them. This was regarded as an honest mistake.

Prostitutes weren’t regarded as innocent. A fat women from Chapeltown summed it up for viewers, there were bad men she said, but bad women…were a different breed. Them and Us. Jane McDonald was one of us. Everyone else killed was a prostitute and one of them.

Ironically, it was women jurors in the 1950s and 1960s that were far more likely to acquit another serial killer, Peter Tobin, for crimes of molestation, assault and rape, because he was clean cut and the woman brought it on themselves.

Fourteen-year-old Mary Browne was attacked by Sutcliffe at Silsden farm before he began his serial-killing spree. He hit her over the head with a hammer, but a car came over a hill, which disturbed him and her flung her over a wall. She gave a description of him as a dark-haired, with a beard and dark, dark eyes. Later she went to the police, again, after another victim had an identikit sketch of the Ripper and told the officer it was the same guy that attacked her. She was told it couldn’t have been. He only attacked prostitutes was the narrative and the police were sticking to it, regardless of the evidence. Another survivor, a black woman with learning disabilities lost her child after the attack, her description of the attacker was a white man with curly hair and a beard, but she was told she was attacked by an unknown black man.

Joan Smith managed to get a copy of the ‘Special Notice’ issued to other police forces out with Moss Side and Leeds by the police forces dealing with the killer. It was a fishing operation, to find out if other police forces had anyone they might know that committed similar crimes on their patch. Smith noticed a term that kept cropping up in the ‘Special Notice’ was ‘loose morals’. Olive Smelt, for example, a mother that went out to drink in a local boozer, could not be classified as a prostitute, but she had ‘loose morals’ because she was not at home.

One of the first victims Wilma McCann’s son, Richard, who in 1975 was just a kid of five, appears in the programme. One of the things he noticed was the black-and-white photograph the mass media used of his mother, Wilma, made her look like Myra Hindley.  For me that had resonance because in my unpublished novel (The Cruelty Man) one of the ways the press mocked the accused and inferred she was guilty was to make her look like Myra Hindley. Misogyny was meat and drink of the seventies cops and red-top newspapers. Innocent until you got your tits out for the boys. At least when we used to watch The Sweeney they got their man. Yet we know Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times by the police. Sutcliffe didn’t have to be very smart. The police just had to be incredibly dim.

The story Liza Williams tells isn’t a whodunnit, it’s a reconstruction of a different kind of misogynist crime, against women in general, in which women also play aid and abet the culprits. It’s a fair cop guv.

 

 

Storyville, Under the Wire, BBCiPlayer

marie colvini.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0002k62/storyville-under-the-wire

Unhappy is the land that needs heroes Bertolt Brecht.

A Private War directed by Matthew Heinemann and staring Rosamund Pike as the heroic shambles that was Marie Colvin is in cinemas now. I see no need to see it. It’s all here in Under the Wire. Based on a book by Paul Conroy and his experience in the massacres at Homs. Here we are at the last stand.

13th  February 2012, war-correspondent Marie Colvin and photographer Paul Conroy entered war-ravaged Syria. Homs.

Taste and see.

No sense of victory.

Through the lens of an eye

We witness a baby die

Her rage is pure

That’s no me

And not you

Common sense advises us not to pry

Humanity hunts and dies here

In a world of fear

Homs an exit strategy and obscenity

Little trace and little trade

Clinics bombed and shot

Barbed wire in every cot

Put stuff on a chair

It’s no longer there

On a bloody easy bed

Whoosh, barrel bombs and gas

World splintered and gone mad

Tourniquet on a leg

Three feet and so many dead

A reporter for The Sunday Times

Reports victims of war crimes

Assad you war criminal and crook

Where no words can cross the void

Vanity, vanity, vanity, of the house of Assad

May god judge you –soon

We pray every day

A black eye patch will appear

To tell hell how it was when you were here

Your legacy will be not judged by history

But the best you put to rest

A Dangerous Dynasty: The House of Assad, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, director Nick Green.

Dynasties BBC 1, BBC iPlayer.

dyanasties.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p06mvqjc/dynasties-series-1-2-emperor

David Attenborough may be over ninety and have more liver spots than a cartoon leopard, his dynasty extends through British culture, but he’s still king of the jungle when it comes to these types of big budget programmes. David Attenborough’s whispering voice gives that imprint of quality control. Planet Earth. Blue Planet, Blue Peter.

Aye, David, you’re right up there and down there. Remember that bit where a whale mourned the loss of its calf? It led to nationwide campaigns to eradicate plastic. Here in Scotland we had newspaper campaigns calling for the elimination of plastic straws. No mention, of course, of the elimination of plastic water bottles, which with tap water of the same quality is the equivalent of buying sunlight or clean air. Both of these are also on sale. Buy now since its Black Friday, but actually it’s Monday. We’ve moved our days about as a marketing trick.

So last week, Dynasties had David, not an Attenborough, but a chimp, who would know better than to fall for that kind of guff. He was king of the jungle in his wee bit of the world. Happy ending. Then he died.

This week we had Emperor Penguins. There’s that old joke, all Emperor Penguins look the same. They didn’t bother giving them names. What they did  (just as expected) was get up close and personal in Ataka Bay, Antartica, where temperatures dipped to below sixty-degree Centigrade.

The camera follows the travails of the Emperor Penguins from courtship ritual, egg laying, to gestation, to a friendly bit of huddling, chick stealing, and death in a ravine. Well, I must admit, they cheated here. Nature may be red in tooth and claw, even in a whiteout, but the production team dug holes in the snow so some Empire Penguins could get out with their chicks and make the long march to the sea.

Two-thirds of those that started out in the journey make it to food and happiness in the freezing cold waters. That’s the good news.

Whisper the bad news David. Those chicks that made it to the sea, when it’s their turn to court and have chicks there’s less ice, less of a season to incubate the egg and more sea. So with global warming Emperor Penguins, like David the chimp, will be one of those species we capture on camera and keep alive in zoos. I’m assuming mankind will still be here, which is also not a given we care to face.

 

Unsolved: The Man with No Alibi.

man with no alibi.jpg

BBC 1 Scotland, 10.45. BBC iPlayer

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p060xfr6/unsolved-the-man-with-no-alibi-1-the-night-of

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0618hs2/unsolved-the-man-with-no-alibi-2-no-smoke-without-fire

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p061bm2d/unsolved-the-man-with-no-alibi-3-the-truth-and-other-lies

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p061bmtv/unsolved-the-man-with-no-alibi-4-hot-shoe-shuffle

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p061bnlf/unsolved-the-man-with-no-alibi-5-a-fetish-for-murder

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p061bpct/unsolved-the-man-with-no-alibi-6-beyond-reasonable-doubt

The Man With No Alibi is Omar Benguit. He was tried three times for the murder of Korean language student Jong-Ok Shin on the 12th of July 2002, in Bournemouth. She was walking home from a nightclub after dropping off some friends. Around three a.m. she was stabbed three times in the back. She later died from her wounds.

It seemed to the police a motiveless attack. There was no murder weapon found. No DNA or forensic evidence linking anyone with the crime. It was a case they struggled to solve. After about a month, they made a breakthrough.

A key witness emerged, called ‘BB’ to protect her identity.  She said she’d been with Omar that night. She’d picked him up in her car with two other men. Like them she was a junkie. They were going to a well-known crack house to score drugs. She said that they passed Jong-Ok in her car and Omar said she’d ‘a nice arse’.  She’d stopped the car and the men got out. Later they come running back, shouting, ‘go-go-go’. She drove away. Omar changed out of a bloody-T shirt and her passengers dropped the murder weapon in the River Star. BB claimed that Omar committed murder and the three men in the car raped her.

Sixteen years after being locked up Omar still claims his innocence and he was fitted up for the crime by the police. Only in the third trial after two hung juries did the Crown get its conviction. Reporter Bronagh Munro investigates.

The first person she interviews is Omar’s sister, a successful businesswoman, who lives in a gated community in the South of England. She is an absolute doozy. Worth watching for her dramatic performance alone.

Great drama.

Do I think the police coerced vulnerable drug addicts into appearing as witnesses for the Crown? Absolutely.

Do I think Omar’s family tried to buy witnesses and provide Omar with an alibi for that night? Absolutely.

Do I think the key prosecution witness, BB, is creditable?  Well, that’s the easiest one of all. She appeared on The Jeremy Kyle Show to talk about the murder.

Now that is the murder. Pity we can’t lock Jeremy Kyle up for life for his crimes against common humanity. I’d go a Crown witness at his trial.