CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Missing boys’ families deserve better than this tacky gimmick
In The Footsteps Of Killers
Coventry Cathedral: Building For A New Britain
A boy soprano’s haunting warble hangs over the title sequence. We cut to Emilia Fox, scowling purposefully. Murder is afoot.
At her side, faithful Scottish sidekick David smoulders under his stubbly beard. All this can only mean the return of Silent Witness, which must be on about series 361 — television’s longest-running crime drama.
Except it isn’t. Emilia has turned private detective in her spare time, and her helpmeet is not actor David Caves but the TV criminologist, Professor David Wilson.
Emilia Fox has turned private detective in her spare time, and her helpmeet is not actor David Caves but the TV criminologist, Professor David Wilson
For her investigations on In The Footsteps Of Killers (C4), Emilia and David even had an incident room with a whiteboard where they could stick photos and news cuttings, linked to a map by a web of ribbons. Mostly, though, they were fearlessly pounding the streets of Chelmsley Wood near Birmingham Airport, where two boys vanished on Boxing Day in 1996.
Someone should have warned Emilia how much shoe leather a private eye gets through, because she was wobbling along in pixie boots with three-inch heels.
She sat at a bus stop, opposite the former petrol station where the boys were last seen, to leave a scripted voicemail for David about her latest findings. Perhaps I’m wrong and Emilia travels by bus all the time, but she perched on that red plastic seat like she was in danger of catching scabies.
All this would have been merely silly if the case they were pretending to probe was not real and horrific. Best friends David Spencer and Patrick Warren were aged 13 and 11 when they went out to play and never came home.
But any claim the show had to being a serious crime report was undone by its blatant mimicry of Silent Witness — a cheap and tacky gimmick that exploited the desperate need of the boys’ families to get some answers after 25 years
Archive film from a few miles away made up the bulk of Coventry Cathedral: Building For A New Britain (BBC4)
A witness later told police the boys were seen a few days earlier in the company of a gardener named Brian Field, who was later convicted of the rape and murder of a Surrey schoolboy in 1968.
Four months after they vanished, photographs of the boys were printed on millions of milk cartons — the first time in a missing persons case in Britain.
Professor Wilson has been urging police to step up the investigation for years. But any claim the show had to being a serious crime report was undone by its blatant mimicry of Silent Witness — a cheap and tacky gimmick that exploited the desperate need of the boys’ families to get some answers after 25 years.
EAR PUNISHER OF THE NIGHT
England tend to do well at tournaments when we’ve got a good song. Think of World In Motion for Italy 1990, or Three Lions in 1996.
To judge by Krept And Konan: We Are England (BBC1) and their rap anthem, Southgate’s lads might struggle at the Euros.
Archive film from a few miles away made up the bulk of Coventry Cathedral: Building For A New Britain (BBC4).
This was a celebration of Sir Basil Spence’s great Christian monument to post-war reconciliation. But even if ecclesiastical architecture is not your thing, the vintage newsreels and excerpts from black-and-white documentaries were hypnotic.They began with a Nazi propaganda film about the fire-bombing of Coventry. ‘Mr Churchill babbles on about how invincible his RAF is,’ sneered the voiceover.
The city was remade. ‘This is Festival Of Britain architecture,’ enthused presenter Kenneth ‘Civilisation’ Clark, in raptures over the pedestrianised shopping centre: ‘Light, trim, democratic.’ To see engraver John Hutton creating the great glass altar screen, 70ft high, and painter Graham Sutherland designing the largest tapestry ever woven, was fascinating.
It was just as intriguing to guess at what was being left unsaid. The highest praise Spence could muster for that tapestry was to admire its ‘acoustic absorbency’.
Though it amounted to 75 minutes of ancient footage (including the wedding of Spence’s daughter Gillian in the half-built cathedral), this was a marvellous, compelling example of how old TV can tell a story.