Daytime TV: From boom to bust

An exploration of the credit crunch offers little consolation to those battling it, writes Gary Day

January 29, 2009

Evan Davis explored the causes of the credit crunch (The City Uncovered with Evan Davis, BBC Two, Wednesday 9pm). But I was distracted by his leathers. Red and black are not really his colours. He was kitted out for a motorbike ride. Vroom! Vroom!

It was hard to hear him over the engine, but the metaphor was plain. The market and the machine have the same appeal. Speed, danger and glory. Was this an analysis or a celebration of capitalism?

Evan merely smiled before roaring off to New York, where he interviewed Hank Greenberg, the founder of AIG, the biggest insurance company in history. So naturally, it made a lot of noise when it crashed. There was an aerial shot of the city. The sort of view the directors might have if they jump to their deaths. How did Hank feel about the collapse of his company? "I lost a couple of billion dollars," he replied, "but I'll get by."

Back in London, Evan walked unchallenged into Lloyd's, the oldest insurance company in the world. To prove it, there was a drawer containing quills and blotting paper. Elizabeth Seeger, a director, explained derivatives without sitting astride a Harley-Davidson. I got the bit about mitigating risk but the rest was a blur, like Evan flashing past in his leathers.

The economy may be flattened in the next few months, but not Evan's hair. At the front of his closely cropped head is an upright clump, so cemented in place that it would take a direct hit by a comet to even crack it. It is all that stands between us and Alistair Darling.

A clearer picture of how the market operates emerges from The Real Hustle (BBC Three, Wednesday 8.30pm). Jess is the sexy swindler, Alex is the confidence trickster and Paul is the con artist. Jess bet two celebrities, called Dim and Thick - or was it Dom and Dick? - that they couldn't push her off a piece of newspaper. And they couldn't, because she placed it over the entrance to a cafe and then closed the door so that Dim and Thick, or whatever their names are, couldn't touch her.

The team justify their scams by saying that they are warning us about what can happen. They'd be more convincing if they actually spoke to the camera, but let that pass. Imagine, though, if Evan had adopted their approach when he was the BBC's economics correspondent. The crisis may have been avoided if he had laid bare the ruses of the stock market instead of merely reporting the ups and downs of the FTSE, or is it the whoopsie?

It's unlikely that Evan will lose his home. Not like Tracy and Mike. Bust (BBC One, Tuesday 10.35pm) chronicled their battle to keep theirs after Mike gave up work to look after young Brett, who had something wrong with his knee. "It's like a heart beating in it all the time."

Without Mike's wage, the family struggled. "If you've got each other," beamed Tracy, "it doesn't matter." But she didn't have Mike as much as she would have liked. It was she who dealt with the bank, she who dealt with the court, she who ended up on antidepressants.

Mike grew impatient when filling out a form. "I can't answer these questions," he exploded, "they don't make sense." And he was gone. Out the door. A plume of expletives in his wake. "I could lose my house and my husband all in one week," Tracy cried. In the end it was just the house. Most touching was her repeated remark that she felt guilty for what had happened.

What a contrast to Crispin Odey, also interviewed by Evan. He added to the £28 million he made last year by betting that the subprime market would collapse. He stood in front of a painting, one of his many acquisitions from Sotheby's. "It's a very bleak subject," observed Evan. "Yes," sighed Crispin, "life is bleak."

"Do you think it is right to make money out of people's suffering?" asked Evan, "Everything is about profit," retorted Crispin.

Three youths come laughing out of a nightclub. They go up to two boys sitting on a wall, whom they have never seen before, and smash one in the face, breaking his jaw. The other boy tries to intervene and is stabbed through the heart. The three youths drive off, still laughing.

This horrific footage was shown on Stabbed: The Truth about Knife Crime (BBC One, Tuesday 9pm). Alf Hitchcock, the Government's knife tsar (and how the director of Psycho would have relished that title), said there was no simple solution to knife crime. The break-up of families, the lack of role models and the dissolution of communities all play a part. And so, perhaps, does capitalism.

"Rubbish," said a Tory on Question Time (BBC One, Thursday 10.35pm). "To give a reason for a crime is halfway to excusing it." E.M. Forster said, "only connect."

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