TV UK, 25 April

Dominique Walker began making a straightforward documentary about a serial fraudster, but realised he was trying to con her.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

There is something a bit odd about starting a documentary by saying, ‘As a documentary maker…’. But then The Life and Lies of King Con (BBC2, last Tuesday) was more a study of documentary itself than a profile of its notional subject, Paul Bint.

Documentary-maker Dominique Walker began with the intention of making a straightforward documentary about this serial fraudster, but she soon realised that he was actually trying to con her. And he wasn’t very good at it.

Bint is a self-styled criminal genius and master of disguise, but his stories of elaborate long cons turned out to have only a shaky basis in reality. In fact, he is one of those nuts who sneaks into hospitals and pretends to be a doctor, and his other escapades have been similarly un-Lex Luther-like. The resulting tension between Walker and her subject made me think of Louis Theroux’s weird relationships with his victims, except that Walker finally resolved to get her man into therapy, where he duly played the mentalist for his shrink.

In the end, it was difficult to be sure what was true and what wasn’t. The strange-looking ex-girlfriend who was interviewed was surely having a laugh with those cushions. If Walker wasn’t being fooled, I began to suspect, maybe she was doing the fooling. Who knows?

Fortunately there are no such dizzying complications in Football’s Fight Club (Channel 4, Tuesdays at 10pm). The appeal of this titbit of social history rests on the glamour of football hooliganism, or more particularly the retro-chic. The programme is a bit like I Love…Soccer Casuals or Top Ten: Fight Firms, with talking heads reminiscing about the good old days over a soundtrack of Punk and New Wave. (All right – I don’t know what ‘New Wave’ means, but the mystique is half the point of these really old nostalgia programmes. I mean, this is the misty 1970s and 80s, not 1999.)

The implicit immorality of glamorising hooliganism was more than compensated for last week by periodic outbursts of editorial outrage when somebody got a dart in his eye or a letter carved in his back. By the end, the narrator barely stopped short of chanting, ‘Maggie! Maggie!’ in anticipation of Thatcher’s notorious clampdown on football fans. That comes next week, along with stories from the international front. It all sounds a bit ominous.

At times, last week’s programme was in spectacularly bad taste. The story of one boy’s murder was related ghoulishly over the image of blood running into a drain. The tastelessness turned surreal when pictures of a riot at a 1985 Luton-Milwall game were accompanied by Mozart’s Requiem. (Explaining that 1985 was the year Amadeus swept the Oscars didn’t make this any less bizarre.) The climax of the programme was the Heysel Stadium disaster, shown with an eerie soundtrack of wind, which was even worse than the Requiem.

If Football’s Fight Club’s treatment of serious matters was crass, it at least managed the more prosaic stuff, making it clear that for most of those involved, hooliganism was a bit of a wheeze. The 1980s ‘casual’ phenomenon was attributed to Liverpool fans, who ‘robbed’ Lacoste t-shirts on their European adventures. Heavy policing meant that hooligans couldn’t afford to look like football fans, so the boy-next-door look became de rigeur and it apparently became a point of honour never to hit a woman or a bloke in a scarf. Not much, anyway.

There is more shameless nostalgia beginning on BBC1 this Sunday in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (9pm). The 1980s classic about British navvies working in Germany is back with most of the same cast, but it remains to be seen whether their quaint working-class charm will win over a new audience. The actor who played Wayne is now dead, so the gap is to be filled by Wayne’s son, a DJ who leaves London for the north to find out more about his father’s life.

Nostalgia is one thing, but that little plot device stretches credulity too far.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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