EXPOSÉ is a crucial element of TV journalism, employing the
immediacy of visual image to confront us with uncomfortable truths
about our society, our world, and ourselves - and shock us into
doing something about it. It is one of the justifications of the
medium as a serious player in public life. Behind Closed Doors:
Elderly care exposed (BBC1, Wednesday of last week) was a
classic example of the genre, using undercover reporting to
demonstrate how badly elderly people are treated in some so-called
It made distressing viewing: a woman crying out for several
hours for a nurse to help her to the lavatory, then being told off
for being incapable of walking there herself; the clandestine
unplugging of "difficult" residents' emergency bells; the
unrecorded bruising on arms and legs. All these are deeply
shocking. But, once the immediate trauma of the programme wears
off, serious questions arise.
It received such saturation trailing in advance as to give me an
uncomfortable sense of the Corporation's self-satisfaction at its
hard-hitting radicalism, after which the film itself had an air of
anti-climax. And the focus on the patients' ill-treatment, and the
distress of the relatives in having their own worst suspicions
justified, is a relatively soft target.
The programme suggested different, harder lines of enquiry: why
are some care-workers so inadequate - is it lack of training, or
physical exhaustion because they have too few colleagues, or an
inherent lack of compassion which means they should never have been
employed in the first place?
How much profit are the owners of our 17,300 care homes making?
Why does statutory inspection still overlook the shocking abuse of
vulnerable people? Why are owners allowed to bully and dismiss
staff members who complain about the unacceptable treatment of
residents? These subjects would push far harder for reform and real
The north is a gritty place, its tough windswept beauty
presenting both a contrast and an echo to the violence and crime
that is entirely endemic to the region - according, that is, to two
new drama series launched last week. BBC1's Happy Valley
(Tuesdays), and ITV's Prey (Mondays) give us an
interesting opportunity to compare and contrast: both are
brilliantly acted, both are entirely compelling, and both are
beautifully directed and composed. Happy Valley has space
for comedy in the cop-heroine's battle against her community's
saturation with drugs, and the ineptitude of the downtrodden
accountant who sets its brutal kidnapping in motion.
Prey is darker: a reworking of the familiar story of
lone virtuous cop wrongly charged with the murder of wife and
child, exposing deeper and deeper layers of corruption as he seeks
to prove his innocence and expose the true murderer.
Both series manage to draw us into complex emotional and moral
worlds, to convey pain and fear and passion, studies in weakness
and impotence. The genre demands that in the end virtue will
triumph - but the question is, will that resolution seem
believable, or merely (sorry about this) a cop-out?