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TV review: The Ipcress File, Servant of the People, and Jeremy Kyle Show: Death on daytime

18 March 2022


Joe Cole plays Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File (ITV, Sundays)

Joe Cole plays Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File (ITV, Sundays)

HARRY PALMER is a vegan. Women in clandestine areas of British defence now celebrate six decades of workplace equality. In 1962, the CIA London station is a beacon of diversity.

Only the first statement is an exaggeration of the reimagining of the early 1960s in The Ipcress File (ITV, Sundays), in which bomb sites have disappeared, nobody goes to church, and only Soviet defectors tolerate rooms with peeling wallpaper. But, while John Hodge’s adaptation of Len Deighton’s novel is loose with facts, it does capture a truth about the Cold War era and the Establishment coming under fire from “egalitarians”, personified by Joe Cole’s Corporal Palmer. Harold Wilson’s white heat of technology is in the air.

The action zips along. Palmer’s Berlin black-market contacts first land him in military prison, and then spring him from it, as they are the only link to an atomic scientist’s kidnapping. As leading characters are established, nods to the era’s televisual treatments multiply. Tom Hollander’s Major Dalby, covert War Office unit leader, wears Alec Guinness’s Tinker, Tailor overcoat. Jean Courtney’s (Lucy Boynton) wardrobe of chiffon headbands and pillbox hats mirror Trixie Franklin’s in Call the Midwife.

Having been left for dead on the wrong side of the Wall, Palmer ends the first episode on a Berlin tram — the first of many raises from the ashes for the insouciant corporal.

In Servant of the People (Sunday of last week), Volodymyr Zelensky plays Vasily, a history teacher and a put-upon everyman who channels his discontent into words. But when his “These bastards come to power and steal and steal” rant is filmed by a student and goes viral, and he is then elected President, the true exploration of power begins.

Made in 2015, the comedy became the basis of Ukrainian President Zelensky’s election platform. Vasily’s overnight elevation from ordinary cares of bank queues and staff meetings is magical to witness. Before his anti-corruption rant’s resonance is known, his head teacher threatens the sack: “Truth? Who wants the bitter truth?”

Truth was The Jeremy Kyle Show’s calling card. The chat-show host said that he got close to people in crisis, offering “conflict resolution”. But, in Jeremy Kyle Show: Death on daytime (Channel 4, Sunday), former production staff, voiced by actors, said “We were a cult.” The documentary (whose account was rebutted in statements put out by Mr Kyle, his producers, and ITV) reported that guests were wound up backstage to create fireworks, and mental-health questionnaires were glossed over. Ultimately it was closed down, after Steve Dymond, a guest, took his own life within days of filming. Desperate to prove his fidelity to his partner, he abandoned prescribed morphine and anti-depressants to take a lie-detector test. An unfavourable result sent him into despair.

Making parallels between Mr Kyle’s trademark disrespectful treatment of guests, and the comedy characters Wayne Slob and Vicky Pollard, the documentary exposed bitter truths about how “feckless”, “jobless”, and “homeless” labels justify viewing people as less-than.

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