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The Strange Things Boutique




DVD. Network.

World in Action Volume 3World in Action was, for over thirty years, ITV’s flagship current affairs programme, back when the channel was still interested in more than X-Factor (it’s now been replaced by Tonight with Trevor MacDonald, the TV equivalent of The Daily Express). Over the years, the programme featured some hard-hitting, controversial investigations, often clashing with TV regulators and the government. Its removal from our screens in 1998 remains one of ITV’s most shameful moments.

This three disc collection features shows from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s, and is a good across-the-board selection of what the programme did. A few stand out – especially for Strange Things readers - though all are interesting slices of life from the past.

In The State of Denmark, the notorious prude Mary Whitehouse (hilariously and accurately described on the press release as a ‘professional moraliser’) visits Copenhagen a year after the abolition of censorship in Denmark, to meet a female vicar, a politician, a pornographer (there’s some good archival footage of a Color Climax photo-shoot) and a researcher, and to learn absolutely nothing from them. You can’t help but admire Whitehouse’s audacity as she condemns ‘small lobby groups’ who are trying to push their own agenda – unlike her highly vocal organisation the National Viewers and Listeners Association, of course – and the way she both ignores and disputes basic facts with people who clearly know what they are talking about, and refuses to visit any sex shops or the Copenhagen Sex Fair – because Whitehouse, like most people who want to ban things they object to, never felt the need to actually see the material for herself. The programme allows her to effectively undermine herself with nonsense about porn being a Communist plot, attacks on abortion, gay rights and other signs of permissiveness, and by showing herself to be entirely closed-minded.

The Shrinking World of L. Ron Hubbard is an effective expose of Scientology, with an interview with the creepy Hubbard, who ends every sentence with a child molester smile and skirts around questions with double-speak and smug condescension. Then, as now, Scientologists would set out to destroy the lives and reputations of any critics, and this documentary reveals this, without the shrill hysteria of some more recent anti-Scientology campaigns.

The Hunt for the Ripper follows the police investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper, after he claimed his thirteenth victim. Unfortunately, this is less interesting than you would hope, concentrating on tedious police procedure as they fail to track the killer down. As Peter Sutcliffe was caught due to sheer luck rather than police investigation, none of what we see has any real significance, even in hindsight.

Cleaning Up the Yard is a depressing look at Operation Countryman, the biggest UK investigation into police corruption that was dogged with obstruction in high places and ended up with just two convictions, while some four hundred coppers who were recommended for prosecution were instead simply allowed to resign – nothing surprising or unique there.

The Nazi Party is a sobering look at The National Front from 1978, when the bigots seemed on the rise, concentrating on their violent actions. There are some positive retrospective elements to this – as with the BNP and EDL now, the NF at the time seemed on the ascendancy, but within a few years had fizzled out – it’s likely that our current, much less popular fascist organisations will follow suit in the end.

Other documentaries here include The Blood and Guts Shift – a fly on the wall look at Saturday night in casualty from 1975, which might be a revelation to people who talk about ‘binge drinking Britain’ as if hospitals full of drunks at the weekend is a new thing; The Third World, which follows Stokeley Carmichael (the Black Panther leader and inventor of the phrase ‘institutional racism’) on his tour of Britain; In Search of Gusty Spence, an extended interview with the UVF leader that neatly reveals the insanity of Northern Ireland at the time; and The Coal War, where the leading combatants on both sides of the 1984 Miners Strike are exposed as extremist tossers. There’s also an interesting, but ultimately over-long 3 part look at the history of the CIA.

Some of the master copies of these documentaries are a bit battered, though never less than watchable, and the no-nonsense production values – usually allowing the story to tell itself rather than self-consciously imposing a viewpoint on it – is refreshing. In many ways, it’s probably a good thing that World in Action is no longer on air, as any current version would undoubtedly be compromised by commercial requirements (it’s notable than no shows from the 1990s are included here). But with investigative journalism in Britain at a low ebb, programmes like this are a reminder of what we once had. Essential viewing!


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