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What is Toffs & Crims about?
WHAT a depressing concept for a season of programmes Channel 4 has come up with in Toffs And Crims not just an ugly title, but an ugly idea, at least going by the first programme, The Princess and the Gangster. The former was Princess Margaret, whose reputation has been well and truly trashed since her death, the latter a dodgy character called John 'Biffo' Bindon. They knew each other, apparently. When they met in the early 1970s, the Palace was still managing to keep a lid on various rumours about the Princess thus proving that any antics the current generation get up to are hardly any surprise and she was holidaying on the island of Mustique. Her ex-lover Colin Tennant, who owned it, was apparently the 'ringmaster,' according to her biographer Noel Botham, who orchestrated the whole island to deal with her needs. Sort of a literal Fantasy Island, I suppose. Bindon was deemed suitably amusing to divert Margaret for a while, having played small thuggish roles in impressive films like Poor Cow, Performance and Get Carter. Less well-known was his real-life role as a West London enforcer who practised extreme violence on people unlucky enough to cross him or his connections. In the recollections of those who knew him, he was apparently hilarious: his party piece consisted of taking down his trousers, displaying what was discreetly referred to as his "advantage in life" and doing something fairly vile called the helicopter trick. "Frightfully funny!" yelped his posh girlfriend of the time, the Hon Vicki Hodge, clearly someone with no sense of humour whatsoever. Princess Margaret also thought this, and his other vulgarities, a total hoot and after the holiday continued to see him secretly. Were they Doing It? Ooh, were they? The programme, to its evident regret, could not quite prove that they had, though the Hon Vicki certainly thought so. Nor could it make me care. What ghastly people everyone involved was: the slumming aristocrats; as a "prize exhibit" (in the words of former royal correspondent James Whitaker, hardly unsympathetic to the princess), the nasty former associates chuckling over the time Bindon stabbed someone in a pub fight and, of course, the gangster himself. After keeping quiet for a few years, he began to leak out boasts about having "had Margaret in Mustique" and, to general amazement, was cleared of all charges in a murder case. How on earth did that happen? Once the news and an incriminating photograph of the two of them got out, both retreated from public view, thank goodness. "It's endlessly fascinating," added Whitaker. But it wasn't, just a sordid and pointless story. Certainly it's good that those we fund with public money can't just cover up their misbehaviour with anodyne froth anymore (that is, we hope they can't). This grubby film, though, didn't have anything else to offer than prurient gossip, with nothing to say about why 'toffs and crims' might be attracted to each other, if in fact they are. Once Britain's most dynamic station, Channel 4 is struggling at the moment, fighting off a merger with Five, freezing salaries and trying to argue a case for public funding when its schedules are a messy mix of worthy campaigning shows (Jamie Oliver and co), struggling reality controversies (Big Brother, Boys And Girls Alone), strong news coverage and the odd, squashed-in bit of quality drama (like The Devil's Whore or the upcoming Red Riding). Where this seedy sort of muckraking fits in, I've no idea and it feels as if no one at Channel 4 has either. Perhaps they should do an Identity Crisis season.

Season 1 of Toffs & Crims

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