IN THE midst of life, we are in death. Those famous words, repurposed by Cranmer, echoed as I watched Panorama (BBC1, Monday of last week). The programme, slimmed down to 29 minutes, can still pack a punch.
This edition, Get Rich or Die Young, was filmed in Stockton-on-Tees, the town on Teesside with the worst health inequality in the country. “Men in Stockton can’t even expect to live to retirement age,” Richard Bilton intoned. As he walked through a graveyard, reeling off the ages at which people had died, it was clear that this was a necessary but tough programme to watch. “I won’t even be here when she’s 18 and comes looking for me,” one woman sobbed about her child.
Poor people in Stockton die 18 years younger than their rich neighbours. This widening chasm is startling enough when it’s a statistic, but seeing families soon to be torn apart by death was heartrending. A woman who suffered from depression and anxiety said, plaintively: “I’m a total waste of space. . . I’ve had enough of life. . . I should be dead.”
Smoking and poor diet were earmarked as the main causes of the disparity. Yet, if the programme had a weakness, it was a lack of time for further analysis. Public-sector cuts were mentioned, but the thread was not followed.
There is an uphill struggle for community organisations who are seeking to alleviate the tsunami of problems. The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, has led the charge in the pages of the Church Times to change the middle-class bias of much of the Church of England (Comment, 1 June). Those motivated by his words could do worse than watch Panorama and see the stark reality that he describes.
Another unflinching look at a world that many of us don’t know came in The Prosecutors (BBC2, Thursday last week). A series looking at how crimes are prosecuted, the episode focused on a gang that was using drones to fly drugs into prisons: one of more than half a million cases that the Crown Prosecution Service brings each year.
The intricate work that goes into prosecuting cases of byzantine complexity is made even more impressive by witnessing Eran Cutliffe, a blind CPS lawyer whose guide dog assists her to meetings where attempts are made to crack organised crime.
In stark contrast was the final of Love Island (ITV2, Monday of last week). The series has been criticised because of its normalisation of cosmetic surgery and its emotional manipulation of participants. I didn’t manage more than ten minutes before switching off. Yet millions tuned in to see a couple crowned champions who (in Love Island terms) had a long relationship: eight weeks.
Maybe their popularity in light of their relative longevity was cause for celebration? Perhaps that’s making excuses for a programme whose overall effect seems negative. Best wishes to Dani and Jack, all the same.