ITV's flagship current affairs programme is less inviting than a truck driver's passenger seat, says Mark Lewis
There surely isn’t a more sympathetic group of people in this country than UK lorry drivers. They helpfully keep our speed in check by passing each other at 56 and 57mph on two-lane motorways. They keep us entertained in service stations by writing hilarious racist banter on the walls of the toilet cubicles. And they keep our emotions in check by selflessly blockading fuel pumps preventing us from meeting up with our new girlfriends in Bournemouth in the year 2000.
‘This month’s Budget brought no relief for British truckers,’ said the voiceover in Tonight – Killer Lorries (Monday, 8pm ITV1) tugging at the compassionate threads of our weeping hearts like a master puppeteer.
Worst of all, the threat to these burly champions didn’t come just from a callous Government. It also came from foreigners. And let’s not forget: Quite apart from driving on our roads in their foreign trucks; these feverishly breeding foreigners bloat our population almost as quickly as our lorry drivers can keep it in check my murdering hitchhikers.
And the evil of foreigners doesn’t end there. Some of them can’t even speak English. “You vehicle no drive,” said a Kent policeman to a foreign truck driver who spoke perfectly good English. “Get tyre replaced. You responsibility not mine.”
And then just when you thought the programme couldn’t get any more lightweight, they rolled out Quentin Wilson. “What are the worst breaches you’ve seen?” he asked a UK truck driver.
Then: “What do these guys get up to?” Wilson was never Jeremy Paxman but neither was he quite so Alan Partridge. He used, at least, to be the sidekick to Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear. But in last night’s Tonight, he was reduced to showing us how dangerous left-hand drive (read: foreign) articulated lorries were, by driving one whilst saying, ‘it looks like I’m in control but I’m not. This is really scary. I’ve driven most things but this really freaks me out.”
No wonder he doesn’t do Top gear anymore. It’s not easy to see Richard “nearly-died-in-rocket-propelled-car-accident” Hammond being quite so easily perturbed. Neither did this faux-serious documentary even have any of the delicate sensitivity and moderation for which Clarkson and Top Gear are so famous.
“Foreign drivers are four times more likely to be tired than UK drivers, according to the police,” said Wilson. They are also nine times more likely to be homosexual, 16 times more likely to be paedophiles, and 140 times more likely to be responsible for the death of Princess Diana*.
Yes, foreign trucks are often un-roadworthy, the drivers are often tired, and there were 44 deaths associated with accidents involving overseas truck drivers in 2006. But this was simple tabloid foreign bashing at its most basic. The half-hour format of any documentary programme lends its subject very little credibility, and Tonight is more lightweight than a boxing match with Mr Muscle.
The teaser for next week’s Tonight told us people were prepared to lie to get jobs. The programme is going to set up a panel of judges to see if they can tell which of three candidates in a mock interview is lying. It will be hosted by Ian Wright with voiceover commentary from Harry Hill.
In reformatting to half-hour, Panorama (BBC1, 8.30pm) suffers from the same inherent credibility deficit. But last night’s programme, Jersey – island of Secrets, was a typically well researched documentary with lot of new information about the horrors of the Jersey children’s home, Haute de la Garenne, the inability of the Jersey authorities to govern themselves, and the probable cover up across the whole Island of an abuse scandal which last at least 40 years.
The comparison between the flagship current affairs documentary programmes on the two most popular free to air TV channels says a lot about the problems facing ITV. But as difficult as Panorama was to watch, at half hour it simply wasn’t long enough.
That’s not a criticism you can level at Eastenders (BBC1, 8pm), which has been trailing the return of Ricky and Bianca for the last few weeks like it was the biggest televisual event since the queen’s coronation in 1953. Had the queen then captained the English football team to World Cup success. On September 11.
The message here is that if you give something enough of a build-up then you can bring back anyone. Ricky was the first to return, approaching Pat with a glumness even more pronounced than usual. The credits were about to roll, so Pat knew something was up. ‘Something’s happened to Frank hasn’t it? What’s happened to Frank…’
Good luck bringing him back.
*research by the Daily Express xenophobe office of inaccurate statistics