TV COLUMN: SS-GB, SAS: Rogue Warriors, Has Political Correctness Gone Mad?

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television...

You know a programme is in trouble when a Twitter storm begins within 10 minutes of its start. And by 9.10pm on Sunday evening, Twitter was in a whirl of withering snipes at the sound quality of SS-GB (BBC1), the Beeb’s new World War II counter-factual drama.

Having already turned our TV up to the max, it was clear that the mumble-vision gang who brought us Jamaica Inn, Happy Valley, 10 Rillington Place and Taboo had a hand in SS-GB too.

All the national press reviewers who are privy to advanced press preview screenings got caught out as their post-programme reviews never gave sound a mention. By the following morning, they were doing re-writes.

One small clue to the decision behind the sound direction lay in the German dialogue, which was clear as a bell. Perhaps, the direction wished to give the feeling that English was now the defeated language of whispered secrets and German was the brazened out-speaking of the victors.

Of course, the sound and drab colour-filtered visuals also had the effect of hiding the other glaring flaw – it was unremittingly dull. The opening episode dragged five minutes’ worth of plot through a whole hour. There was more action in the ten-second trailer for week two than in the whole of week one.

Audiences are losing patience with poor production quality of BBC dramas – Jamaica Inn lost 1.2 million viewers in a week – and at some point, given the current climate of cuts, questions will have to be asked. If the BBC can afford £60 million for a new Scottish TV channel, then I’m sure they can find an odd £100 for a microphone and a trainee to hold it in the vicinity of an actor’s mouth.

SAS: Rogue Warriors (BBC2) concluded its three-part story of the earliest days of the SAS during World War II. Presented by Ben Macintyre, this was one of the best military documentaries in recent years, supported by a unique access to the SAS archives and interviews with the last survivors of the regiment’s first forays in the dessert theatre of 1941.

Macintyre presented a very British tale of idiosyncratic misfits, oddballs and anti-authoritarians who somehow managed to carve out a role that was right for the time and significant to the war effort. It was proof that sometimes less really is more and different can be better.

The interviews with the founder members, intercut with archive footage, were reminiscent of the post-drama Band of Brothers interviews and provided the most moving and human aspect of the documentary.

Even 50 years later, they came across as professional, pragmatic, human and humane soldiers. Anyone who can maintain that having lost so many friends in action and been the first to discover and witness the horrors of Belsen deserves more than mere medals. This outstanding documentary was a fitting tribute.

Trevor Phillips was at it again, asking the questions one feels many wish he wouldn’t. This time it was Has Political Correctness Gone Mad? (Channel 4), which looked at the current fashion for shutting down debate and the associate impact on contemporary politics.

Phillips doesn’t need to justify himself. He’s got a CV and background that makes him the perfect person to examine the uncomfortable.

As an interviewer, Phillips says very little, content to give a shovel to his interviewee and let them dig themselves into deeper and deeper holes.

And dig they did, proving once again that the best way to discredit some is to give them a voice and let them show the world what they are, rather than shutting them up and leaving people unsure.