Box-set binge

26 January 2018

The Assassination and The Cameron Years

By World Economic Forum/Moritz Hager (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Former prime minister David Cameron speaks in 2011.

Former prime minister David Cameron speaks in 2011.

IN A culture where entertainment appears to be getting relentlessly crashier and bangier, the phenom­enon of the box-set download offers a respite. Stretching over multiple episodes and long hours, the box-set unfolds at the speed of a weighty Victorian novel.

In radio terms, the equivalent to the box-set is the podcast series which, in some cases, are download­able in one go. Because of the un­­even length of episodes, they are not scheduled for broadcast as part of radio-station schedules; and they can be creat­ive in their presentation and produc­tion stance. Those who, like me, have been hooked by the World Service’s The Assassination, have to wait a week for another episode to appear. But, once the series is com­plete, late-comers can binge to their hearts content.

The author of The Assassination is Owen Bennett-Jones, a long-serving journalist in Asia. It tells the story of the death of Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Aficionados of this genre will recog­­nise elements of the pro­duction style which have been lifted from Ameri­can models, not least the doleful, repetitive music. Bennett-Jones is not, as he would have to be in a straight documentary, the object­ive reporter: he is part actor, part commentator, and part angry cam­paigner.

In the case of The Assassination, the threat we are encouraged to sense is all too definable. It seems obvious that there are some dodgy people in the security forces who are supposed to be defending Bhutto, and it would come as no surprise if, at the end of it all, we find out, as in Agatha Christie’s most famous novel, that they all did it. But this hardly detracts from the grim fas­cination of seeing the tragedy played out. If ever there was a death fore­told, it was this one; we are on episode four, there have already been four assassination attempts, and Bhutto seems resigned to her fate.

The dramas of home-grown poli­tics seem trivial by comparison, but even making such allowances does not help much with The Cameron Years (Radio 4, Monday of last week), a survey by Steve Richards of David Cameron’s gov­ern­ment. Since the only thing any­body will remem­ber about him is the decision to hold a referendum, you can imagine what most of this series is about.

Last week’s episode promised some­­­­thing else — an analysis of social reform, the Big Society, and en­­­­­viron­­­mental policy: all areas where the Cameron government was promis­ing to storm the centre-ground.

The most interesting scrap came from his Director of Communica­tions, Sir Craig Oliver, who sug­gested that discussions about the Same-Sex Mar­­riage Bill started over a dinner of horsemeat in Davos. To divert atten­tion from the food, Cameron invited his entourage to debate some unappe­tis­ing policy ideas.

Cameron eventually forced through the Bill, with cross-party support; but the stench arising from that uneaten meat got only more pungent, until he could no longer avoid taking a bite.

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