THE LONDON NAILBOMBER
In the balmy late spring of 1999 one of the most worrying episodes in postwar British social history played itself out on London's streets. A (presumably) lone-nut neo-Nazi, David Copland (now a self-styled 'political prisoner') targeted blacks, Asians and gays in a singularly vicious no-warning, no-prisoners nailbomb campaign. Was this the beginning of a suedehead apocalypse? It wasn't, although you wouldn't guess it from this quite hopelessly shabby and inadequate programme. In fact you wouldn't have guessed much full stop.
I shouldn't get angry at dramadoc. I know it's (vomit) here to stay. But by the end of this especially annoying example of the subgenre I was almost as angry at the TV as at Copland. Here was a diamond of a story just waiting to be plucked from its neglected rough and shone to perfection, in the honourable tradition of , say, Storyville and which could at a stroke have restored, inexpensively, terrestrial BBC's reputation for responsible and compelling reportage in the van of Pettifer or Pilger, or Watson's docs.
Instead we got a gallery of irrelevant style-over-substance cliches, as superfluous to the sum of human knowledge as a sixth-form girl dotting i's with heart-shapes when writing on the Council of Trent. Bully for the actors playing the main parts (including Copland, whose bedsit was festooned with swastikas but which looked suspiciously spiffy and intriguingly well-lit), but much of this was almost insulting to the memory of those who died/injured/took part in the rescue operations. A scene in the Admiral Duncan pub, Copland's last target (a direct gay hit), had a shorn-skulled queen chatting up our anti-hero, shot with one eye on This Life and one on EastEnders; everyone, actors, directors, best boys, weren't making this to reflect a fascinating moment in modern British history, merely to add to their CV. To paraphrase Julie Burchill, everything on screen now looks increasingly like an audition for something else. The final scene transcribed Copland's interview-room fessing-up; but nobody, in the words of Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, talks like that. The lines, from copper and con alike, are uttered not in the flat banality of such situations but in true soap stylee, every last syllable and emphasis milked. How do you think that sounded, darling?
One of the 21st century's great unanswered questions is; how much does the flogged horse of dramadoc cost license-fee payers? Actors, rightly, don't come cheap; they certainly have costlier demands than academics or bystanders. But because the programme makers have stumped up for them we learned little as to what motivated Copland, the mechanics of British neo-Nazism and, despite the presence of Searchlight anti-fascist stalwart Gerry Gable, just how many more nearly-nailbombers there might be out there. Copland was presented as a lone nut - but was he really?
In the same way that media discourse, and by extension our everyday language is influenced by the creep of Hollywood populism - i.e. everything related to espionage has to have a Bond connection - British TV increasingly rationalises experience, even grave issues like a fanatical right-wing spacecase blowing people up in pubs, through the lowest-common-denominator lens of the media itself. For example, people having rows in pubs are actually starting to act like soap characters - ('I don't believe I'm hearing this') - have you seen them? I have. They didn't do it fifteen years ago, but they do now.
But when this tendency, possibly harmless in itself, starts to irradiate factual television, as seems to be the mission of dramadoc,then something's amiss.
Copland's worldview was dangerously and lethally fractured by exogamous fantasy, a fundamental discontinuity in seeing the world as it is. Programmes like this encourage us likewise - to view the world as seen on mainstream TV, and act accordingly. Worrying. Very worrying indeed.