TV NOIR is all the rage at the moment. I do not know whether it
is an austerity thing, but British viewers seem to lap up the grim,
especially when served up in a foreign language and a desolate
No need for subtitles in Southcliffe (Channel 4, Sunday
and Monday of last week), but bucketloads of gloom were on offer.
Bleak but compelling, it flipped back and forth in time to tell the
story of a gunman who, one day in November, lets rip his fury.
We know from the start that the shooter is Stephen Morton, who
lives with his elderly sick mother. He is a loner, obsessed with
the military, and he is angry. A friendship with a soldier newly
back from Afghanistan soon goes horribly wrong. When the soldier
brings his uncle round to teach Stephen a lesson, he snaps, and
picks up his gun.
The drama does not glamorise the appalling consequences of the
shootings that follow. But it does create a context for it. There
are obvious echoes of familiar tragedies - Dunblane and Hungerford
spring to mind. It is all uncomfortably convincing and
The story of how Stephen got to this point, his crumbling mental
health, unfurls. But we also begin to appreciate the terrible fall-
out within the community, where ordinary people are getting on with
their lives: the unfaithful husband who discovers that his wife and
children are victims by spotting her car numberplate on the back of
a policeman's hand; the social worker whose case-load includes
Stephen's mother repeatedly calling her daughter's mobile, while
we, the audience, know she is out running, close to the scene. And
there is the TV journalist who comes from Southcliffe, and is sent
there to cover events.
While the format of the flash-backs is disorientating, it adds
to the sense of confusion as the events are pieced together after
the shootings. But there is a desperate edge-of-the-seat tension
and im-pending tragedy that make it hard to turn away from the TV.
So, while the series is hardly enjoyable, it is certainly gripping,
and feels genuinely authentic.
After that sobering subject-matter, you could hardly imagine a
more richly colourful and cheering contrast than Tales from the
Royal Bedchamber (BBC4, Thursday of last week), presented by
Lucy Worsley, the Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces. The hook
was the birth of baby Cambridge; this offered a golden opportunity
for a romp through history, as the royal bedchamber morphed from
the centre of political power to something more private.
Worsley is relentlessly jolly, and unable to miss the chance to
ask another historian about the precise duties of the "groom of the
stool" (it involved only passing the King a piece of cloth); but
she certainly knows her stuff.
But the biggest TV story of August was unveiling the secret that
Peter Capaldi is to be the new Doctor Who. And what a marvellous
back-story - from the 15-year-old "Whovian" who once wrote to the
Radio Times in praise of a Doctor Who special to
the actor charged with becoming the 12th Time Lord. What's not to