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TV review: Kennedy, Sinatra and the Mafia; Paranormal: The girl, the ghost and the gravestone; and Judi Dench: This Cultural Life — Shakespeare special

10 November 2023


Kennedy, Sinatra and the Mafia (Channel 4, Saturday) explored the similarities between the US President and singer

Kennedy, Sinatra and the Mafia (Channel 4, Saturday) explored the similarities between the US President and singer

KENNEDY, Sinatra and the Mafia (Channel 4, Saturday) was initially a compare-and-contrast exercise: despite the obvious differences — JFK’s wealth and privilege, Sinatra’s backstreet poverty — there were, in fact, startling parallels. Kennedy’s Irish Catholic background made him an outsider in the world that he longed to conquer; Sinatra’s immigrant Italian roots were a huge barrier to overcome. But the strongest link was criminality.

The wealth of John’s father, Joseph Kennedy, was built on insider trading and stock-market manipulation; Sinatra idolised the Mafia bosses who personified the power and influence that he longed for. As they rose in their contrasting fields, their magnetic mutual attraction was sealed by inveterate womanising, and Sinatra’s showbiz parties supplied a stream of sexual partners.

Kennedy’s presidential election was greatly assisted, if not actually won, by the Mafia, who controlled the unions: favours were bought in by his father, and Sinatra eagerly campaigned with them on his behalf. But, once elected, JFK reneged on the implied deal. He appointed his brother Bobby Attorney General, who made the dismantling of organised crime, especially the Mafia, his main goal. Muddying the water, the FBI had, for years, compiled overwhelming evidence of both Sinatra’s and Kennedy’s promiscuity and criminal links — evidence with which J. Edgar Hoover blackmailed the President to cut all ties with Sinatra and the Mob. Mafia bosses hated not only what they saw as the new administration’s betrayal of their support, but also its liberal, pro-civil-rights agenda.

This programme considered the case irrefutable: the Mafia, not Lee Harvey Oswald, engineered Kennedy’s assassination. Even setting that conclusion aside, it painted a sordid picture of corruption in public affairs and private life, undermining all the good of JFK’s presidency.

Marking Hallowe’en-tide, BBC3 repeated Paranormal: The girl, the ghost and the gravestone (Tuesday of last week). Sian Eleri, a Radio 1 presenter, was determined to uncover the truth behind “Britain’s most haunted home”: Penyffordd Farm, close to her birthplace in north Wales. Over 11 years, a baffling range of events — mysterious images’ appearing on walls; figures glimpsed and presences felt; words in old Welsh carved into stone; heavy objects toppled — had terrified its owners.

When eventually tracked down, the family members, although still scarred by the experience, seemed rational, normal, and unlikely to have caused the emanations, consciously or otherwise. The presentation veered queasily between sympathetic, serious investigation and deliberate attempts to scare us: finally, Eleri retired, baffled.

BBC4 marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio with Judi Dench: This Cultural Life — Shakespeare special (Sunday): utterly delightful reminiscences of decades of wit, wisdom, and mischief.

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