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Bring Back Borstal: tv review

My thanks to Richard Garside for bringing this review  by Rob Allen of the first programme in the current ITV series Bring Back Borstal to my attention on Twitter. It is entitled Bring Back Borstal: Serious Policy or Punishment Porn? The review is from the blog Unlocking Potential. It more or less captures my view of the dangers of this programme. I say this despite my admiration for the huge contribution of David Wilson to public criminology. I will also say that I think many of the critical comments on Twitter fail to see the point in making programmes like this. Their assumption is that the rest of the population are criminological morons and that David, a professor of criminology and ex-prison governor, and good rugby player, knows nothing of critical or realist criminology, penology or running a prison full of violent offenders. There are also those of course who will aggressively oppose any authoritative response to aggression, irrespective of the victims' pain and injury. I am reminded of the early 1980's when the 'Left' had no response to the punitiveness of Thatcherite politics. There will always be 'dangers' in the public exposition of ideas, dangers in creating the wrong impression, so I am glad David was brave enough.

Personally, coming from a working-class background, beleaguered by crime and violence, and as lifelong socialist, I am more disturbed by the Left's intolerance and rudeness towards anything it sees as politically incorrect and its middle-class refusal to see young delinquents as a pain in the arse, as scary, and as detrimental to the interests of ordinary or working-class people. Can't critics see that many of the latter actually like 'reality' television and would view David as a soft governor? Or that they don't actually appreciate their commodities being stolen or being physically threatened by kids who seem to fear nothing and have no respect? Or that some offenders do actually need some discipline and some realism? Not that they would get it from a 1930's Borstal in 2015.....

My tweet to David about the programme was to ask whether he thought you could take a 1930's institution out of its social and historical context. My view is that you can't, and modern kids demand and need a modern response. It might be called historicism, fine, and you might also say that we are all creatures of our times and that punishments therefore must fit crimes in terms of the zeitgeist and social structure. No premiership football team manager can manage today's players as Alex Ferguson and Jock Stein allegedly did. Mind you, look at Alex's success rate! He was from Govan. I recommend the critics go and live in rough areas of the UK for a few years and be a bit more modest. Working-class lads need discipline, teamwork and motivation if they are going to get anywhere.

And, whilst we don't often cite the Daily Mail, here is the reason 'matron' in the tv series, Jenny Molloy, author of two books on the subject and herself brought up in a care home, took part in the series. Her reasons echo my own comments above but are much better put.

See also further comment, just posted on the same blog, by Rob Allen Don't Bring Back Borstal; But We can Learn Something from It

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Murder Casebook, series 2

Fred Dinenage: Murder Casebook Series 2

Sundays at 9pm on Crime & Investigation Network® (Sky 553 and Virgin Media 237)

Could you spot a conman?  Someone pretending to be someone that they’re not?  That’s just one of the tasks that I set for the iconic, veteran TV presenter Fred Dinenage in the new series of Murder Casebook on Crime & Investigation Network®, in the hope of bringing to life the case of Archibald Hall.

Hall, a Glasgow-born serial killer, was also known as the “Monster Butler”, given his fondness for either pretending to be an aristocrat, or more usually convincing genuine aristocrats, such as Lady Margaret Hudson and Walter and Dorothy Scott-Elliot, that he was trained as a butler, and therefore could be trusted to run their household affairs.  Their trust was often simply the prelude to murder.

We’d invited into the studio six members of the public, one of whom – Fraser Doherty – just happened to be the millionaire entrepreneur and founder of SuperJam.  Could Fred guess who the millionaire might be, just by asking each of our six guinea pigs in turn a few simple questions, and then basing his judgement on things such as age, gender, demeanour, accent and body language?  

Fred looked at me, and then smiled.  “Wilson,” he said, “you’re going to ruin my career!”

Read more: Murder Casebook, series 2

'Public Enemies': probation and risk management

Anna Friel & Daniel Mays in 'Public Enemies'Tony Marchant is one of Britain’s greatest TV scriptwriters (need convincing? - watch Holding On, BBC 1997) and the National Association of Probation Officers’s Harry Fletcher is one of the most media savvy probation professionals around, so what the hell went wrong with Public Enemies? It got off to a pretty good start in episode one and then threw it all away – fast-bowled it, in fact - for a formulaic and unconvincing "falling in love across class (and in this case professional) boundaries" storyline. Okay, so it didn’t get to a sexual relationship, but there were hard-to-miss tropes of Connie and Mellors and Cathy and Heathcliffe here. The English probation service has not been all that well served in movies and TV dramas – Hard Cases (ITV 1988) more or less nailed its “tough love” ethos, but crammed too much “action” into the lives of its officers - but it could absolutely have done without Public Enemies, given the turn it took.

Read more: 'Public Enemies': probation and risk management

At Home with the Noonans

Starting Sunday 22nd April, a brilliant new documentary series directed by top investigative journalist Donal McIntyre,

Sky 553/HD 555 and Virgin Media 237         Reviews invited [see below]

 "Following the success of Donal MacIntyre’s award-winning feature film on crime boss Domenyk Noonan in A Very British Gangster, the documentary-maker’s ten year filmed observation of the Manchester family continues with "At Home with the Noonans", a brand new series exclusive to Crime & Investigation Network.

To find out more about At Home with the Noonans go to Crime & Investigation Network

Set in the aftermath of gang leader Desmond Noonan’s violent murder, this hard-hitting documentary series adopts an up-close and personal look at one of the most notorious families in the UK, the Noonans, as brother Domenyk steps up to assume control in his own unique way.

Read more: At Home with the Noonans

Public Enemies

Terrific tv drama shown on BBC Jan. 4th-6th 2012, starring Anna Friel and Daniel Mays. Daniel Mays is compelling as a murderer released on life licence after serving 10 years who is tightly regulated, monitored and harassed even by his probation officer, a young woman, played by Anna Friel, who is still shocked at the reaction to her last client killing on licence. Harry Fletcher, Asst. Gen. Sec. of NAPO was consulted on the script so it probably sums up the tensions between public protection and rehabilitation, in a context of ever-growing paperwork, which make today's probation work so much less rewarding no doubt than its previous incarnations. As in academia, the point of the exercise is being lost in a sea of public accountability, anally retentive paperwork and the conversion of the service into a punishment or form of regulation. See our Press Cutting on the realism of the script and the tweets, here and elsewhere, aound that time.

See also this comment on the programme by Staffordshire and West Midlands Probation Trust.

Feb 3rd: I should add that this was written before the dreadful turn in the narrative in the third and final part, following which I asked my old friend Mike Nellis, who has written some major stuff on probation, what he thought. See his review in this section.

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