Monday, October 13

Review: Dispatches: The Trouble with British Airways; and Wired

Dispatches was lightweight. ITV's latest drama was surprisingly heavyweight, says Mark Lewis

Dispatches: The Trouble with British Airways (Monday, Channel 4, 8pm) highlighted what I have now discovered to be The Trouble with Consumer Documentaries.

Why is it, I wondered, that I almost invariably take the side of big business in the consumer disputes contained within them? Could it be that the neat corporate PR which bedevils me whenever the ad breaks are on, has blinded me to the ills of the companies’ crimes? Perhaps. But marriage-threateningly incessant channel hopping has almost eliminated their power. Is it some idealised vision that everyone – even big companies - means well, really? Maybe. But really, I’m not that nice.

Of course! the trouble with consumer documentaries is that the case studies they unearth are invariably so objectionable.

I know it’s not right that I take arms against the underdog. If I deconstruct my reasoning, I’m aware that it doesn’t quite stack up. I know that, if wronged, a person should not have to write 18 letters of complaint just to get fair compensation for his loss.

But really! What sort of person writes 18 letters of complaint?

British Airways loses more baggage than any other European airline, it cancels more flight than any European flag carrier save for Luxembourg, Croatia and Greece.

And it is impossible to feel fiscal sympathy for a company so big that it can swallow a £121m fine for colluding to fix prices with Virgin Atlantic.

Nevertheless, it is impossible not to take its side when your thoughts on the underdog range between indifference and contempt.

One woman, who had her bag lost, and was sent £250 for her trouble, wrote a letter to the chief executive accusing him of theft. And was utterly incredulous that the company should close the case of her missing bag after a mere 90 days of searching. How could they stop looking for her bag after a mere three months when they kept on looking for the Yorkshire Ripper until they found him?

Andrew Gilligan – as desperate to sex up this documentary as he was to accuse Alastair Campbell of sexing up that Iraq dossier – does his best. He even goes to the lengths of interviewing Scootch, Britain’s cabin-crew-themed novelty entrants to the 2006 Eurovision song contest, with Flying the Flag, for some reason.

But to no avail. The problem, really, is that the trifling inconveniences of ordinary people just don’t merit the hour long honour of as primetime Dispatches programme.

The same – and I find it hard to believe that I am writing this – cannot be said of the latest ITV drama, Wired (Monday, ITV1, 9pm). As strange as it is to report, ITV has produced a programme with pace, intrigue and passable performances from the whole cast.

The bad guy is suitably nasty. (He runs a club so exclusive that it has a French name and a long queue in the middle of the day). The main protagonist is attractive and engaging. And the set up is pleasantly smooth.

All of which risks damning with faint praise. But with two more instalments still to come, the channel which just keeps on bringing you X-Factor, has ample time to mess it up.


Fact checker said...

One reason you might have felt uneasy about the Dispatches programme is that Channel 4 and Virgin Atlantic Airways both do their marketing through a company called As if that was not enough - the Dutch gentleman on the show Hendrik Noorderhaven - runs a cpmpany which makes big bucks by encouraging people to challenge the reasons given for flight cancellations and then charging them 27% of their settlement - so his appearance on the show was basically a free commercial gifted by the shareholders of Channel 4. It just gets dirtier and dirtier.

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