Aidan Smith's TV week: Murder Island (Channel 4), Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution (BBC2), Ridley Road (BBC1)

I love when TV sends itself up. Alan Partridge’s desperate list of hopeless ideas for shows - Monkey Tennis etc - was genius and my favourite character in W1A was David Wilkes who was always mashing up genres in a deranged manner. He could have concocted Murder Island (Channel 4) and no mistake.
Young Gordon Brown, before Tony Blair and New LabourYoung Gordon Brown, before Tony Blair and New Labour
Young Gordon Brown, before Tony Blair and New Labour

A programme combining crime and reality is so obvious that you wonder why it hasn’t been done before. Indeed, you’re imagining entire departments of commissioning editors being sacked this week for the egregious missed opportunity.

Here’s the set-up, devised by no less than Ian Rankin: someone has bumped off an eco warrior on the Scottish island of Hersha (played by Gigha) and eight amateur sleuths compete to nail the killer while being overseen by retired detectives who still expect to be addressed as “Sir” and “Ma’am” and have everyone stand to attention.

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As in their favourite whodunnits the wannabe crimebusters work in pairs. Now the most notable double-act on TV this week has been Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. It would be great to see them on Murder Island - Broon doing the spadework, Tones grabbing all the glory - but we must make do with Dot and Rox, with the latter declaring: “I literally am the nosiest person ever!”

Agnes O'Casey as Vivien fights the fascists in Ridley RoadAgnes O'Casey as Vivien fights the fascists in Ridley Road
Agnes O'Casey as Vivien fights the fascists in Ridley Road

But these two are handicapped by being - their words - "a bit fick" - and have to be reprimanded for stomping across the crime scene and trampling in the blood. Other weekend gumshoes include two old bats who hope that age doesn't count against them, pointing out that Miss Marple was 108 or something. As silly as televised Cluedo but you might want to find the killer before the trainee tecs.

So to Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution (BBC2) and I must admit Murder Island’s motives checklist - “Jealousy, greed, fear, lust … the culprit might be the person who loves the victim the most” - is still in my mind during the first of this five-part documentary.

It’s engrossing stuff, a story of our (recent) times, beginning with the sort of soundbites that were completely beyond the party in the red flag days before these two arrived bearing fragrant roses. “The Lennon & McCartney of Labour,” says someone, just before another Merseyside pop legend, Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Paul Rutherford, hoves into view. Or is that Peter Mandelson?

Mandy is good value: “People say Tony and Gordon were two peas in a pod. I’m not so sure. Tony was much more New; Gordon was much more Labour.” Neil Kinnock explains their differences thus: “Gordon had a tank-like intellectual domination of the discourse. And there was Tony with his suit, his tie, his appearance, the way he spoke … ”

Amateur sleuths Richmond and Sarah in Murder IslandAmateur sleuths Richmond and Sarah in Murder Island
Amateur sleuths Richmond and Sarah in Murder Island

The series begins in the now-traditional way, capturing the subjects just before they think the cameras are rolling. Blair offers that slightly silly grin and Brown fiddles with the coo’s lick in his hair, the tics that archive footage confirms have always been there.

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Though Blair especially emphasises their friendship and colleagues describe them as having been “soul-mates” their journeys to collaboration on the grand plan were markedly different. Politics gripped Brown from the age of 12 when 400 textile workers two streets from the family home in Kirkcaldy were thrown onto the scrapheap. Blair meanwhile was turning on to rock music.

“It’s not a matter of right or left but of style,” he says as a young mover and groover in a party which the electorate were still mistrusting. The revolution is hatched in a tiny windowless office, great piles of paper almost barring entry, with Mandy occasionally popping by: “Hello boys, what are we up to today?”

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At first Blair defers to Brown’s greater experience, relying on the latter to finesse his speeches, but when Brown decides not to run for leader against friend and mentor John Smith, Blair gets restless and, according to Mandelson, “the scenery shifted”.

When Smith dies the first on the phone to Mandy, tellingingly, is Blair. It’s assumed Brown, the more senior, will go for the leadership with Blair at his side but the latter says: “I became convinced I was going to be more radical in modernising the party.” Brown is “taken aback” by Blair becoming the media darling and protests: “But what about the intellect, the ideas, my performance in Parliament?”

Brown does the honorable thing, won’t fight Blair and cause a war, believing his moment will come. Says Brown aide Sue Nye: “Gordon told me that Tony had given him a personal assurance he would only stand for two terms.” Blair is uncomfortable in his recollection of events and there’s sure to be lots more to come about this - who said what in that restaurant and whether anyone brandished a candlestick or length of lead piping.

In BBC1’s new Sunday night drama Ridley Road a large florid man bellows: “It’s time we took our country back!” A tale of Brexit? No, facism in Britain and the Jews who fought it. We’re in 1962 when “groovy” has just entered the language but the National Socialist Movement are staging Swastika-draped rallies in London and stoking up resentment about Jews “taking over the world … they’re running our banks, newspapers, television and soon the supermarkets”. This is a tense thriller, eye-openingly based on real events, and led winningly by Agnes O’Casey in her TV debut. She’s the Soho hairdresser who, when the man she loves goes disappears having infiltrated the thugs, goes to work for the Sieg-heiling Rory Kinnear.

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