IT HAS been all medals lately; so it seemed natural to watch
members of our emergency services getting some, too. The BBC
999 Awards (BBC1, Thursday of last week) brought on to the
stage a mixture of ordinary people who had done extraordinary
There were the two police officers who refused to leave a man to
die in a burning car that was about to explode. In fact, the woman
officer climbed into the car as flames engulfed it, and refused to
go until help arrived to drag him from the wreckage. There was the
volunteer doctor who performed a life-saving amputation, 100 feet
above the ground on top of a piece of machinery.
Then there was the Welsh paramedic who stayed on a beach caring
for an injured patient while the tide rolled in, until, with a
rescue helicopter overhead, he was desperately holding the man's
head above the waves.
And there was the schoolboy who ran across the road to intervene
when he saw a girl attacked with a knife, rugby-tackled the
assailant, and then fought off blows that left him bleeding from
multiple wounds. His was the award for a "member of the public" who
had behaved heroically. His explanation was typical of them all: "I
saw it happen, and just ran across to help."
The programme was a tribute to humanity at its best, as well as
to the courage of our emergency services. The default testimony of
the winners was simple: "I just did what I could." It never seemed
to occur to any of them to pass by on the other side. Indeed, the
whole programme was built around the assumption that, if someone
was in trouble, it was "normal" to help them, even at the risk of
one's own life.
It was marred only, for this reviewer, by the
show-business-style production, with gorgeously clad celebrities
handing over the awards, kissing the winners, and offering a few
patronising comments. It seemed like a case of real life meeting
A factually based drama, The Best of Men (BBC2,
Thursday of last week), told the story of Dr Lud- wig Guttmann, the
German/Jewish émigré doctor who used sport at Stoke Mandeville
Hospital, at the end of the Second World War, as a means of
rehabilitation for servicemen with crippling spinal injuries. It
presented a compelling portrait of this awkward but brilliant man.
His work led in due course to the Stoke Mandeville Games, the
linear predecessors of our present Paralympics.
Needless to say, his ideas were not readily accepted. "Cruel"
was the word the ward sister used. Could throwing balls and playing
wheelchair hockey really transform their lives? The Paralympic
Games surely vindicate the reputation of this bold, unconventional
Has anyone noted a cooling-off in the British public's love
affair with soap opera? The evidence is two-fold: steadily
declining audience figures (Coronation Street and
EastEnders down about a third from their peak); and the
desperate attempts by production teams to win back those missing
So far, bringing back long-departed characters, spicing up the
storylines, violence, sex, and bitter feuding have failed. I wonder
whether if they might try going back to those likeable, ordinary,
characters of yesteryear, such as Ena Sharples and the