77. Bogus

Tapehead no 7

To lie. To falsify. Prevaricate. Deceive. Mislead. Misguide. Misinform. Exaggerate. Distort. Dupe. 

Would Tapehead lie to you? Hell yeah.

Little lies, big lies, white lies, they’re all in Horizon, which manages to devote plenty of great, true lie material to a wholly rhetorical question: 

“Has science caught up with the lie?”

Lying is (obviously) too enjoyable, too useful and amusing for us ever to give up, so Horizon’s suggestion that we are about to enter a world where advances in science will require us to tell the truth the whole time, thus ensuring society collapses around our feet, is both bogus and disingenuous.

“Everyone lies,” says a former judge – and let’s face it, he should know.

To prove the point, Horizon even shows chimpanzees lying – deceiving their fellow chimps into thinking something frightening is going on, so that they have time to eat all the apples. (And you thought Nixon was bad.)

Nixon pops up, of course, along with Olly North, Maxwell, Profumo, and Philby: fine liars all; Tapehead’s mentors (“the dog ate my Tapehead” being a virtual mantra round these parts).

As we soon see, only very young children cannot lie – not even to stop Snow White getting snuffed out by the wicked witch.

However, the CIA’s scary new brain-fingerprinting machine can measure lies by “uncovering guilt memories”. 

(Tapehead’s head is full of these; fit to bursting, in fact)

The dodgy old polygraph merely measures physical giveaways. What Horizon is really missing here is any expert liars capable of beating a polygraph, rather than simply showing innocent people exonerated.

American spy Alrich Ames, for instance, beat the polygraph twice, by “lying calmly”. Forget yoga or meditation. Lying calmly 15 minutes a day, will stand you in good stead for later life. Chilling, literally. 

Modern Times features a special police unit in West Yorkshire which has mug-shots of 144 liars on its walls. They are bogus callers; scum.

Described by the unit as “totally ruthless”, these characters can make fortunes ripping off OAPs by posing as health workers or council workers. Some are children, trained by their parents. They scour the streets looking for handrails, lace curtains, over-grown gardens: typical giveaways of OAP’s living alone.

These are useless witnesses, perfect victims: people so old, ill or confused they can’t remember who they owe money to, or for what; people who trust other because they are so honest themselves.

Many of them fail to recognise the man who ripped them off the day before. Addresses of soft targets are passed around, so the number of visits increases.

One old boy has 12 people currently ripping him off. “How many? !?” splutters the outraged interviewer.

“He’s definitely getting worse with senile dementia,” says the neighbour of one old man who seems to spend the whole programme handing out money.

At one point, he pays out £30 for delivery of some knives and forks he doesn’t even take. Thomas Alcock, sentenced to three and a half years for 892 such offences, admits, “I have no morals.”

A policeman from the unit describes him as “the worst in West Yorkshire…absolutely excellent. Thinks on his feet, ruthless, often violent.”

He denies the unit’s job is depressing on the grounds that “it’s beyond depressing”.

He’s right. A thoroughly demoralising, relentlessly appalling study of cruelty and lying at its most ruthless, this is a show whose moral is not “Be careful who you trust, as its makers might think. It is “Never grow old.”

The eight students on University Challenge (obviously) all lie about how clever they are, relying instead on a series of lucky guesses.

Contestants at modern poly Middlesex claim to be reading marketing and herbal medicine. Students at Exeter are reading politics and law. (Guess who wins ?!) 

The girls at Exeter get very exited when bonus questions are about trade unions (that’s students for you).

Tapehead’s gift to you (finger on the buzzer) is that the answer to the first question is… Eric Cantona.

No lie.


Horizon: Mon, 8pm, BBC2

University Challenge: Wed, 8.30pm, BBC2

Modern Times: Wed, 9pm, BBC2