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Friday, December 20, 2013

What the world needs is Wikipedia TV

I’ve been watching ITV’s Lucan and the BBC’s The Great Train Robbery. They’re both fictionalised versions of real crimes that took place in Britain within living memory, though not, in all probability, within the memory of the people who made them.

From the two programmes we learn a few things. One magnificent actor, Rory Kinnear as Lucan and Jim Broadbent as Superintendent Tommy Butler, can’t help but make the rest of the cast look as though they’re, well, acting. All TV directors wish they had directed Mad Men and will grab any chance to do scenes featuring lounge singers, cocktails and cigarettes. Efforts the writers make to point out the prejudices of a bygone age will mainly reflect the prejudices of the present. We turn fact into fiction by giving it an ending which real life doesn’t provide.

Both dramas sent me back to the facts of the original cases. I remember them both happening. We were on holiday in north Wales in 1963. When Dad wanted to get us out of his hair he would tell us to keep digging in the sand until we found some of the mail train loot. I was working in HMV in 1973. One of my colleagues was the son of one of the senior Lucan detectives.

Neither story is the same as it was back then. Accounts change. People die. New details come out. New theories arise and are rebutted. I’m always interested in what happened to the offspring of the key people. Bruce Reynolds’ son is a member of Alabama 3, whose theme for The Sopranos will have made him more money than his father managed to retain from the train. One of Lucan’s daughters is now a barrister.

The best place to keep track of all this is Wikipedia. People say “you don’t trust Wikipedia, do you?”. I’d say it’s no more or less imperfect than any of the traditional history resources. And the stories it tells are, thanks to its open nature, never-ending. At a stroke this makes them less like stories and more like the truth.

What I’d really like to see is Wikipedia TV. I’d watch that.