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Private eye for hire

13 July 2012


IN A business culture where everybody purports to offer "solutions" to problems - from office supplies to beetle infestation - the term "compliance advisory solutions" is still a creative euphemism. For "compliance advisory solutions" read "private investigator"; and the kind of thing for which compliance was being sought were employee discipline, and, of course, marriage vows.

In Crouching Low, Hidden Camera: Life as a PI (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), Jake Wallis Simons worked his way up the hierarchy of private-detective firms, from the husband-and-wife team James and Maureen, who mostly took pictures of alienated spouses enjoying a quick knee-trembler in the municipal car-park, to the man who recovered stolen Titians from dodgy-looking men in railway stations.

What these people had in common was a childlike excitement about gadgets - cameras hidden in pizza boxes, hearing devices in Costa Coffee cups, or pretty much any kind of packaging for takeaway comestibles - coupled with a disdain for the unethical end of their business, which brought them into disrepute.

Most of them were ex-policemen, and they all expressed frustration at the way the police were now hampered by so much red tape that they could not take the kind of "flexible" approach that the investigators could.

This message was somewhat undermined by the news that our compliance advisory expert for "banks and other financial services" had, since the recording of his interview, been arrested for bribing a police officer. Nor is it easy to sympathise with the protest against an inflexible investigative protocol, when the Leveson inquiry is bringing to light so many infractions of privacy. Nevertheless, the "profession" clearly continues to excite new recruits: we heard from a 20-year-old who described the thrill of her first assignment, which was "just following some woman round and round".

What does God sound like to you: Charlton Heston or Morgan Freeman? John Huston or Rowan Williams? All of these have played the omnipotent one at some time in their careers (the Archbishop was in a student production of a Mystery Play, since you ask); and, from what we discovered in The Voice of God (Radio 4, Monday of last week), all did it with a mode of delivery that was established at the start of the age of talking films.

It is astonishing how persistent is this caricature. One need only hear Val Kilmer in the Moses biopic Prince of Egypt to see how deep-rooted is our assumption that God speaks in a voice which is deep, portentous, and - most important - beardy.

Such typecasting gives no oppor-tunity for God to take on the subversive roles that can be found in the Old Testament. And where, asked Lord Sacks, is the still small voice that Elijah heard - the voice that you can hear only if you are truly listening?

Richard Coles's jaunt through history and faith traditions was typically entertaining. Just as - in the words of Lord Sacks - God speaks in a way that is specific to the context of his listeners, so we characterise his voice in ways that express our own cultural heritage and assumptions.

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