OH, FOR the simplicity of life where everything is black and
white; where a person is either a saint, or an irredeemable sinner.
A particularly vexing case of the opposite syndrome - that real
world in which virtue and evil are teasingly muddled up - was
presented in Himmler: The decent one: Storyville
(BBC4, Monday of last week).
I over-egg the pudding: there was nothing here to make us wonder
whether the head of the SS was, after all, a much maligned chap.
But it was a masterly presentation of how someone responsible for
the most despicable acts and policies can also be, in some limited
respects, loving and considerate.
A large cache of Himmler's family letters and diaries has
survived, and the programme was constructed of readings from these,
in German, with subtitles, illustrated with archive film. The
contrast was shocking. Concern about whether his beloved daughter's
birthday presents had arrived were counterposed with vile images of
the carrying out of his brutal orders.
His private writings offer clues to his twisted pathology: a
desperate longing for order and cleanliness, a desire to find a
scapegoat, and a phenomenal capacity for hard work made him the
ideal tool for Hitler's conviction that, if only all undesirables -
above all, Jews - could be got rid of, then Germany would recover
its rightful greatness in the world.
Revolting footage of the cold-blooded shooting of Jews was
matched with letters expressing tender concern for the effect of
these murders on the soldiers carrying them out. Presumably, it is
a kind of psychotic delusion: for Himmler, his millions of victims
were sub-human parasites fit only to be purged from society.
We saw a very different wartime episode in The Queen's Big
Night Out (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week), the story of how
Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret mingled with the crowds on
VE night, 70 years ago. It is a slight theme, when all is said and
done; but the sheer sense of public abandon, the uncorking of six
years of privation and fear, by a society far more regulated than
our own was well communicated.
And, although the future Queen was one of a party of 16,
nevertheless it can reasonably be considered that this was the one
and only night in a life of duty and separation when she has joined
in with entirely unstructured street-life, experiencing at first
hand the moment in our story when one age ended and another
Of course, our freedom from totalitarianism has been guaranteed
by the secret world of espionage and counter-espionage, or so
countless novels, films, and TV series would have us believe.
The Game (BBC2, Thursdays) is a superior example of this
genre: it has superbly convincing evocations of the Cold War world
of the '70s, in which three-day weeks and power cuts added to the
paranoia of wondering exactly which side anyone was on. Who is
loyal, and who is a traitor?
It is a bundle of clichés, but far enough in the past, and so
brilliantly executed, as to provide unsettling but ultimately