…If you don’t want to know the result look away now.
WHAT tension for a Friday evening. I spent six hours watching the same queue of police officers blocking a road through Rothbury, a telephoto still picture of the backside and jeans of an unidentifiable man lying on the ground and the same clips of a police car driving through the village and armed police parked up on a tennis court. And yet somehow this repetitive cycle of not much felt like a kind of watershed in British journalism, albeit without anyone really sure whether the boundaries being broken would have been better left in tact. We were peeping where we probably shouldn’t have been, but there he was, Raoul Moat, cornered by both police and Kay Burley at last.
Burley – did she really ask an expert: Living rough for a narcissist must be tricky, eh? – actually wasn’t to be seen when it all started kicking off at around tea-time. She turned up later (like a Mountie, she always gets her man, they sniggered on Twitter). Jon Sopel, more used to grilling cabinet ministers on The Politics Show was instead pottering around the police tape first. A woman from ITV, which of course gave up its 24 hour news channel, alongside him looked desperate for it to tick on to ten o’clock so she could join him on air. And Sky reporters meanwhile seemed hidden in the right bushes to hear the start of the negotiations first hand. This was a pop-up media village in a picturesque town none of these journalists had probably heard of before July.
Yet for all the mocking of news channels with their endless padding and hours of journalists interviewing journalists, hours of Kevin Maguire, their intrusion in Northumbria stole the airwaves on Friday night.
But what the smudge were we doing watching? What did we think would happen? That if we stayed up long enough we’d see a film script shootout live on Sky? Because, you know, you can’t freeze frame the ending like in Thelma and Louise or Butch Cassidy.
Yet, the more Sopel told us there was a man with a shotgun to his neck, the less real the danger of death seemed. The more he went on, the more it felt like this was one big giant Brookerish, Truman Show mockumentary of TV news. As if frightened onlooker Paula with her mobile phone hotline to her even more frightened mother might peel off some make-up and actually turn out to be Chris Morris of-off Brass Eye.
Throw in Gazza and his fishing rod – what chance did we have? See the vid above, listen but do so knowing that you will end up screwing your eyelids into sea shells at the human tragedy of Paul Gascoigne more than anything else. I can’t get to the end.
By bringing us up to the minute details of an understandably slow negotiation, clubbing us over the head with those details and adding shiny overhead maps and legends, saturating the space behind our eyeballs with everything down to Moat’s brand of jeans, the less real the news channels made this ominous and ultimately bloody episode feel. Their Ace In The Hole or in this case ace on the riverbank might have dropped his gun and surrendered peacefully but there was always the prospect of what happened happening.
Still, in the what-next?!? void of hours of coverage: jokes rashed across the internet like what we were actually seeing was simply a bad episode of Bergerac. If he isn’t caught, the reward would be doubled in a Raoulover, tee-heed one writer. Somebody tell Raoul Moat that the guy from the Go Compare ads has been shagging his missus too. None of these jokes are Raoulmoatly funny (best said in a Brummie accent) added a fan of wordplay.
And so by hiding like Harry Lime in a sewer drain, Moat had secured some sort of folklorish status for himself in the world of TV drama that had temporarily become the news – and deliberately so according to the experts who appeared post-shooting. We were told, this media mastermind had somehow orchestrated his own PR so that some would see in the papers and TV coverage a persecuted Robin Hood figure rather than a man unbothered by murder and maiming. It wasn’t media thirst that did that then?
Surely before setting off Moat didn’t run through a checklist: Gun. Got. Bullets. Got. Code Red Media strategy. Got.
I’m not sure that washes. Yet in the presentation, Moat’s crimes and the life that conditioned him into a killer – the important bit, the bit of the story we could possibly learn from to stop similar events – certainly had descended into ‘that-bodybuilder-bloke-on-the-run-who-shot-himself’. A tale to recall locally and maybe nationally for decades to come. Somebody will be working on a docu-drama right now, maybe a movie. Times writer David Aaronovitch noted in centuries past a Ballad of Raoul Moat would have swept across the villages.
One of the sharpest little lines in the Truman Show, as referenced above, is the ending. I mean the final ending. After Jim Carrey’s character, who has spent his whole life unwittingly filmed for TV entertainment, sails to freedom, we see viewers from anywhere staring at their sets and celebrating his escape from his false world of cameras. A man in a bath, a bar full of people, two grannies all transfixed. He walks away from view. The credits roll. And then one security guard munching doughnuts says to the other something like: Anything else on?
There was that kind of feel about the broadcasting from Rothbury, that once we knew the ending we could simply switch over to something else and it didn’t matter. We’d never heard of Rothbury either. We could forget about it. Here had been a rush of unpredictable drama caught by news lens, the tragedy of it all reset with a swipe of the remote control.
Anything else on?