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. 

No comments:

Post a Comment