Saturday, 13 February 2016
336 Life At Stake
First viewed : 17 February 1978
It might have made the cover of Radio Times but this series really has fallen down the plughole when it comes to popular recollection. I honestly did know it was coming round without the help of Genome but it does feel like I'm treading through virgin snow here. There's nothing on wikipedia or TV Cream and very little on imdb , just an incomplete cast list and an erroneous "A" added to the title.
Life At Stake took over the Friday night post-news slot from Gangsters and was a series of eight dramatic reconstructions of some of the more traumatic news stories of the decade, some of them so recent that I'd been able to follow them. That was the case with the first episode in the series which recreated the ordeal of Dr Tiede Herrema. In one of the stranger incidents during The Troubles, the inoffensive Dutch owner of a factory in Limerick was abducted in 1975 by an escaped IRA convict Eddie Gallagher and his girlfriend Marian Coyle who then demanded the release of some Republican prisoners. The Irish police tracked them down to a house in Dublin and after a tense three week siege, sanity prevailed and the kidnappers gave themselves up with Herrema unharmed. Some Stockholm Syndrome bonding had occurred between Gallagher and his captive and he considerately gave the doctor one of his bullets as a momento.
The other events covered were : the rescue of Pisces III a submersible that got in trouble under the Irish Sea in 1973, the hi-jacking of a train in Holland by South Moluccan terrorists in 1975, the seizure of the West German embassy in Stockholm by the Baader-Meinhof gang the same year, the Faraday school kidnapping in Australia in 1972 , Apollo 13, an episode of post- plane crash cannibalism in remote Canada in 1972 and the kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross by Quebec separatists in 1970 . Although Genome doesn't give any more clues I'm wondering if it was an international venture ; the production values were pretty high, it was all on film and I don't recall thinking the effects on the Apollo 13 episode were shoddy.
Overseas money or not, the series had problems and it has never been repeated or released on VHS / DVD. The chief problem was that in most of the cases you knew how it turned out so you needed to engage with the characters to make it really gripping. That was difficult enough given the time frame but here it was compounded by the need to avoid giving offence to people who were very much still alive and hence to stick rigidly to what was in the public domain. With the series largely eschewing recognisable actors - I only know Edward Hardwicke, Tony Osoba and Sylvestra La Touzel from the cast list - what you had were basically 50 minute Crimewatch reconstructions with the same potential for emotional engagement. It also suffered from the same disadvantage as Gangsters in being up against The Professionals on the other channel.
Although it was obviously a failure and never gets mentioned in despatches I think the programme does have some significance as an early experiment in docudrama. I've already mentioned Crimewatch and if you take away the terrorism episodes, what's left looks pretty similar to the nineties series 999.