Aidan Smith's TV week: Red Eye (ITV1), The Red King (Alibi), Glitter: the Popstar Paedophile (ITV1)

With the jeopardy vibes of 70s disaster movies, I keep waiting for Red Eye’s Airplane! moment – alas, it doesn’t come

What’s your favourite “red” in movies? Three Colours: Red, perhaps, though that art-house favourite seems awfully precious and pretentious now. I think I might prefer The Hunt for Red October for which Sean Connery seemed to squint at the script, note he was playing a Russian submarine commander and decide: “The Fountainbridge accent will do just fine.”

Simply Red or Red Hot Chilli Peppers? Neither - King Crimson. Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” leaves Chris de Burgh’s “Lady in Red” in a layby, coughing on fumes, and books-wise it has to be Sir Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet rather than, er, Red Hot Erotica, which I stress I haven’t actually read.

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Now on TV it’s Red Eye vs The Red King. In-flight murder mystery from ITV, the network chiming with the times again, or Alibi’s pagan island murder mystery, chiming with 1973’s The Wicker Man. Though if you like - and can’t quite face the Gary Glitter documentary - both.

Richard Armitage and Jing Lusi in Red Eye. Picture: Jonathan Ford/Bad WolfRichard Armitage and Jing Lusi in Red Eye. Picture: Jonathan Ford/Bad Wolf
Richard Armitage and Jing Lusi in Red Eye. Picture: Jonathan Ford/Bad Wolf

After dramas about wrongly convicted subpostmasters, wrongly applied flood prevention and wrongly managed Covid-19, Red Eye arrives at a moment of edginess in relations with China.

It begins with a car crash in Beijing after which Dr Matthew Nolan flies back to Britain. Not so fast. He doesn’t reach baggage claim before being bundled off for questioning. A woman’s body was found in the wreckage and China want him extradited. The drama has us about to get into bed with them over nuclear, nothing can disrupt that arrangement, so he’s given up.

Nolan is played by Richard Armitage who’s good at bumptious and excellent at priggish. He has his character recite the title of the conference - his reason for being in Beijing - and this almost takes him until the first ad break. To no avail; he’s going straight back.

We know it’s the same plane because his conference colleagues have been kept on board. One does demand to get off but will soon wish he hadn’t. Nolan is being chaperoned by DC Hana Li (Jing Lusi) - chosen because she’s of oriental extraction. “Beijing’s in China and I was born in Hong Kong,” she points out. Li has already made up her mind Nolan is guilty and is not above the odd bumptious line herself. “Your money and white privilege made you think you could get away with it,” she tells him.

Anjli Mohindra as Grace Narayan in The Red King.Anjli Mohindra as Grace Narayan in The Red King.
Anjli Mohindra as Grace Narayan in The Red King.

The plane takes off but also on board are a hooded stowaway, a stewardess who’d surreptitiously swapped her trolley-bag at the airport and a man with a gun. Is Red Eye about to spend all six episodes in the air? This might be a challenge if it’s going to remain as subtle as turbulence. But I grew up with those 1970s group-jeopardy thrillers, the first of which was Airport. Li starts to change her opinion about Nolan when an in-flight meal meant for him causes violent choking in another passenger. Quick, is there a doctor on the plane? Oh yes, and Nolan is quickly uncuffed.

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Now, at last, I’m gripped. By the prospect of one of the great Airplane! exchanges being repeated. Nolan: “We’ve got to get this man to a hospital!” Li: “A hospital? What is it?” Nolan: ”It’s a big building with patients but that’s not important right now.” (Spoiler alert - sadly this doesn't happen).

The Red King has some things in common with Red Eye, including assumptions made about a woman’s origins. This is Sgt Grace Narayan (Anjli Mohindra), newly arrived on weird, little St Jory as a punishment posting for upsetting the beaks at her previous station. “What’s your background, luv?” asks her predecessor, more than once. She replies: “Is this one of those questions where we go further and further back until I finally concede my grandparents are from Hyderabad?”

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The predecessor, played by Mark Lewis Jones, has no faith in Grace being able to do a “white man’s job”, whereupon the oaf is chucked in the cell. He’s the most suspicious of her, but the welcome from the rest of St Jory is in keeping with the “widow’s wail”, the grim weatherfront which cuts off the island for days on end.

Gary Glitter was hiding in plain sightGary Glitter was hiding in plain sight
Gary Glitter was hiding in plain sight

The locals just want to be left alone to parade around in scary masks. Ah, but they need the tourism brought in by ye olde bonkers traditions. Ah, but if the new cop keeps poking around in an old missing-person case and it turns out to be something much darker, the boats might stop coming. As in Red Eye, commerce is all and nothing must get in its way.

Mohindra is excellent as Grace, undaunted by the boors and bigots. “Are you a strip-o-gram? Does an Indian cost extra?” This is what a couple of teen yobs say to her when confronted by the clearly unusual order to kill their raucous house-party. She arrests them as well, quipping: “Now we’re not going to hear a peep out of you until your mid-thirties.”

I met Glitter once. The glam hits had dried up but there was a bill-topping turn in a stage musical. It’s easy to say this with hindsight but he was creepy in that interview in a Sunderland hotel, fixing me with a lubricious stare which hardly wavered, although obviously I wouldn’t have been his type.

There’s a reminder of the stare right at the start of Glitter: the Popstar Paedophile in a clip of him with Jimmy Savile. “Have you heard about my reputation?” asks Glitter. Savile: “No, tell me!” You might remember the Savile doc and Rolf Harris got the treatment last year. This completes the terrible triptych of popular entertainers who were monsters hiding in plain sight.

That nudge-nudge moment with Savile was in 1974. A year later Glitter attempted to rape an eight-year-old girl. A 12-year-old’s mother was persuaded to leave her daughter alone with him post-show and, again with hindsight, he was taunting the world when he later sang: “What your mama don’t see your mama don’t know.”

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In 1992 on This Is Your Life he was putting a finger to his lips as a guest told how she used to charge her school friends £5 to meet him. Two years after that Mike Read and other DJs were donning silver suits for a Children in Need tribute. And even the first tabloid revelations about Glitter seemed less astonished by the underage sex than the detail about him removing his wig.

His records are never played now. Those faithful backing musicians weren’t victims to the same extent but songwriter Luke Haines would offer his sympathy: “Gary Glitter was a bad, bad man/Ruining the reputation of the Glitter Band.”

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