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20. Menaces

Jim Shelley knows the trouble a knock on the door can bring

Tapehead no 20

This week’s documentaries – about members of the Kray twins gang and the Richardson brothers’ clan – are liberally laced with stories of minor London criminals cutting each other, coshing each other and attaching electric cables to each other’s testicles.

But in The Money Police, when the knock on the door comes, the person answering knows he’s in real trouble. Money is owed, and if you haven’t got it, you have to take what’s coming to you. These are the sort of people you just don’t mess with. Yes, it’s the Revenue; the Inland Revenue.

In this rare look behind-the-scenes at your local tax office, the hard bastards and bitches of The Revenue Gang are shown controlling their manor with ruthless (sorry, “roofless’’) authority. Those of us taking diabolical liberties get sorted out pronto.

Members of the Revenue tail their targets in cars; turn up mob-handed on debtors’ doorsteps, demanding money with menaces, and go round assessing whether people with double-glazing and back patios are meant to be able to afford them.

One tax assessor gets even with the owner of the Chinese takeaway who are claiming for more fried rice containers than they’re using. Terrifying.

Each day, in the post, the Shipley end of their operation gets
£100-800 million worth of cheques, making The Revenue the tastiest firm in the country.

Compared to Da Rev-en-ue, the henchmen and spielers in The Underworld look quite cuddly. One villain in particular (‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser) recalls prolonged sessions of torturing a bloke’s testicles with an electricity box, a sort of East End version of ECT.

“After a while,” he shrugs, “it was obvious he didn’t know nuffin’, cos he would have told us by then.”

And how.

Not content with this, the thugs would dope their victims first. One describes how once he started breaking a geezer’s toes with some pliers, “but he was so drugged up, he didn’t feel the pain. So then I got annoyed.”

Understandable.

Years later, this sensitive individual is now working as an assessor at the Croydon tax office. Cover your eyes as gangs of cliches maraud through an innocent script, led by their ludicrous leader, narrator Bob Hoskins.

A similar sort of havoc in Wildlife On One’s The Storm Troop, on a 30-strong mob of Wedge-capped capuchins, the Goodfellas of the South American monkey world.

When ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser joined the Richardson gang, one hood says it was “like China getting the atom bomb. They were already a tasty firm.”

Like a knock at the door in the middle of the night, Fraser also crops up in this week’s Gangsters, in an episode dominated by the sinister villain, Jack Spot (“they useta call me The Guvnor”).

Dressed in classic gangsters’ suits and hats, leaning forward, talking out the side of his mouth, Spot’s old man’s menace and Cockney Yiddish threat comes over like Berkoff ripping off Brighton Rock.

“He was a bad man. ‘E ‘ad no feeling, Billy. ‘E was not a warm-hearted man.”

He sums up the lot of them: “Egoists, you see? Nutters, right?”

Intimidation, pride and terror on a different scale altogether in Secret History, which recounts how gangs of Japanese soldiers on the Pacific Island of Saipan fled from the invading US army, and tuned Saipan into Suicide Island.

Afraid and uncertain, Japanese civilians believed the soldiers’ propaganda that Japan as a nation was finished. They committed suicide, died huddled around a man with a grenade or (in astonishing footage) leaping off cliff-tops, some with children strapped to their backs.

The survivors’ recollections are truly harrowing and the silent footage of the tiny children finally surrendering is almost unbearably moving.

Finally, the gargantuan charm of Oliver Reed is commemorated in The Obituary Show (Without Walls.) Olly imagines his own death will be, “in a bar, of a heart attack…. We were having a cabbage competition.”

The Money Police: Sun, 5.15-6pm, C4
Gangsters: Tue, 7.30-8pm, ITV
Without Walls: The Obituary Show: Tue, 9-9.30pm, C4
The Underworld: Wed, 9.30-10.20pm, BBC1
Wildlife on One: Thu, 8.30-9pm, BBC1
Secret History: Thu, 9-10pm C4