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Place your bets

22 January 2016

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THERE was something in his tone of voice which gave it away. The “untold” bit of The Untold (Radio 4, Monday of last week) is how the story ends. The producer, Laurence Grissell, had been following the lives of Stacey and Steve since last April; Steve is a gambling addict, and Stacey is his long-suffering wife, who finally decided to kick him out. The bit we did not hear is whether he would successfully change his ways, and she would take him back.

But, in the final interview of the show, amid the painfully nervous laughter, Steve admitted that, if he went back to the bookies, then that would be that: “We’ll call it a day.” He said it in that wilfully fatalistic way that suggested that his journey of narcissistic self-destruction was not over; that he was not through yet with messing it up.

Grissell’s interviews were nuanced enough to allow us armchair psychologists a chance to pore over this story of a young couple — together since their mid-teens — growing into a world of responsibility and endless temptation. Like alcohol, gambling, nowadays, is everywhere: you cannot open your email or switch on the television without enticements. Steve was doing all the crazy stuff that addicts do, culminating in a one-hour binge in which he managed to lose an entire month’s wages.

This would have worked best had the subjects been allowed to relate their own narrative; but, with an external narrator, Grace Dent, came a layer of commentary at best unnecessary, and at worst trite. Thus, when Stacey met Steve for the first time, she “took a chance and fell head over heels”; and now she was sticking by him “despite the odds”. I suppose it is too much to hope that Dent might quit while she’s ahead, and leave the rest of this promising series to speak for itself.

It is a depressing state of affairs when a programme investigating another child-abuse scandal brings on a sense of ennui. So acclimatised are we to the sordid horrors that it only barely registered as outrageous that Jeremy Vine (Radio 2, Monday) should ask of the journalist responsible for the latest such documentary: “What was the worst thing you saw?”

The journalist in question, David Nolan, seemed understandably bewildered by the question, and, to his great credit, steered away from detailed exposition. But, in any case, we got the picture from his excellent Radio 4 show that evening, The Abuse Trial.

What made this account different was not so much the extent of the case brought against a teacher at St Ambrose College, in Manchester, Alan Morris, but the fact that the presenter/journalist Nolan was one of Morris’s victims, and that many of the witnesses were former schoolmates. Advised to withdraw as a witness from the trial, Nolan then had access to the police investigation, and even to recorded interviews with Morris.

Notable in this instance is the way the investigation was prompted. Earlier complaints against Morris had been largely ignored, but, when a member of Morris’s congregation overheard a semi-inebriated conversation in a pub between two of his former pupils, the alarm was raised. In this case at least, loose words can save lives.

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