19. Disappear

Jim Shelley salvages a tapeful of shoppers and praises Homicide, even as he buries it

Tapehead 19

This week for those of us lost in television, the art of disappearing.

Horizon spent a year following the investigation into the perplexing disappearance of a Boeing 737, COPA Flight 201, headed for Colombia, in June 1992.

Passengers’ naked bodies were found scattered across the Panamanian jungle, their clothes stripped of by the speed at which they were ejected. But there was no explanation for the crash, there was no mayday call, there was just data from the black box. The data revealed that before it crashed ,the plane was performing “impossible aerobatics”.

One mystery Horizon doesn’t solve is why they don’t make the planes from the same stuff the black box is made of.

We are all looking for something and Encounters follows Dave, an American shipwreck salvager, who has devoted years of his life to his obsession with the location of Noah’s Ark which disappeared into mythology long ago.

“A shipwreck above sea-level is very unusual,” he explains, sharing the benefit of his years of experience.

But there it is. Seventy miles from Turkey’s Mount Ararat, an Ark-shaped, Ark-sized, scar marks the mountain where the Ark is now believed to have landed after the floods and earthquakes.

Rival archaeologists swarm to the site, among them the “grandfather of Ark hunters” – a boat-shaped American called Earl Cummins, who swears his explorations will confirm everything “from Noah’s lighting to his air-conditioning.”

The arch enemy explorers are soon bickering like Hollywood bitches (“next year, after you fail, you can join us”). Suffice to say Noah’s black box has disappeared into time.

Two billion pounds worth of goods disappear from our shops each year, half of them in Cutting Edge (Shops and Robbers) which has splendid close-circuit surveillance footage of professional gangs, teenagers and light-fingered chancers having it away with half of Marks & Spencers.

Who says family values are in decline when whole clans go shoplifting together every weekend ?

There’s an exclusive interview (after a hard day’s shoplifting) with one Megan Brown, a legendary thief, and the scourge of Marks & Spencer’ stores the length and breadth of Dudley.

When Megan appears on one store’s security screen, the head of M&S’s security admits she does look like an M&S customer (respectably dressed, etc), but then she would – she’s been nicking clothes from M&S for years.

Other, less illustrious, shoplifters appear to have had lessons in how to look shifty. This Cutting Edge will serve as an essential training video for generations to come – not for security staff, but for shoplifters – in how not to.

Shopping is reaching potentially fatal proportions in High Interest’s look at the boom in the Britain’s airport shopping malls, Terminal Shopping. At the awesome Pittsburgh Airport, the terminal has become a dazzling shopping universe – a few planes have been thrown in as distractions. You need never leave. People (Americans) have started spending days there either side of their departure, taking it all in, shopping. A modern Ark.

Finally, tragically, this week Homicide disappears from our screens, possibly forever. TV archaeologists of the future will be excavating the archives for years to uncover episodes of this historic, nay Biblical, work.

Bury your heirloom videotapes of Homicide in the garden now.


High Interest – Terminal Shopping: Sun, 5.15pm6pm, C4
Encounters – Quest for the Lost Ark: Sun, 7pm-8pm, C4
Horizon – Air Crash: Mon, 8pm-8.50pm, BBC2
Cutting Edge – Shops & Robbers:Mon, 9pm-10pm, C4
Homicide – Life on the Street: Mon, 10pm-11pm, C4