SOMETIMES, an apparently inflated claim turns out, on closer inspection, to be the unvarnished truth, as in the title of BBC1’s series, shown last week on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Stephen: The murder that changed a nation, marking the 25th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
This was serious television, setting a new benchmark for forensic documentary, eschewing sensation and, rather, building a structure that inspired equal measures of disgust, shame, and admiration.
Somehow, the unfolding story of failure, for two decades, to convict anyone of the outrage had to be acknowledged as our story, too, touching all of us who lived through the period. The shame derived from the incompetence of the police investigation, and the realisation of the elements of corruption that might sully the Met; and the general ignorance, on the part of comfortable white Britain, of the daily indignities visited on our Afro-Caribbean neighbours. The admiration was for the dignity and tenacity of Doreen and Neville Lawrence, and Stephen’s friends — and, it is good to record, DCI Clive Driscoll, who never gave up in his determination to pursue the culprits.
Even aspects of the scrupulous caution of the legal system which made the case so difficult were indicative of the principle that getting it wrong, and throwing away the chance of a conviction, might be worse than not bringing the suspects into court until cast-iron evidence could be found. Religion came into it, too: the Lawrences’ faith clearly provided a community that sustained them, and gave them the strength to utter words of forgiveness.
What the story pointed up was how little Britain understood about its own peoples and institutions — or, perhaps, still fails to understand.
In contrast, ITV offered us the opportunity to feel good about ourselves with a cosmic conjunction of forces for good in The Queen’s Green Planet (Monday of last week). Her Majesty conducted Sir David Attenborough on a private stroll through the garden of Buckingham Palace to examine some of its 1400 trees.
Many of them have been specifically planted by members of the royal family; many have little plaques to record whom or what they commemorate, and much joshing was engendered as Sir David misread this or that inscription. The programme’s cutting edge was its promotion of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy: a scheme to encourage national leaders to sign up and guarantee to protect and extend areas of forest. The Queen spoke about the need to reverse climate change to provide biological diversity and hope for future generations.
Frank Field told us that the whole thing was his idea: he has been trying to persuade successive governments for years to take it on, with no success. It was only when he turned to our 92-year-old monarch that she jumped at the concept.