Nevertheless, Thursday night's Channel 4 programme Our Man In .. managed to hit at least five different targets as this strangely fascinating documentary went about its business.
When documentary film makers take it upon themselves to become a fly on the wall whilst investigating a subject, much of what ends up on our screens is more to do with clever and sometimes sensational editing as it does telling the unvarnished truth. So when I sat down to watch Thursday night's offering I was half expecting a stitch-up-job that would have me diving behind the sofa in embarrassment. Not so, in fact the programme was fair and balanced in its approach to both the unfortunate Brits abroad featured and to the staff of the British Consulates in Majorca and Ibiza who were filmed desperately trying to sort out the woes of their customers.
Drugs, alleged police brutality, a nasty car accident and a very premature birth were some of the incidents aired, but the one that riveted me the most was the unique filmed interviews that the Vice Consul undertook with two men incarcerated in Palma Prison for very serious crimes.
One man whinged as if his imprisonment was everyone's fault but his own, and the other, a convicted murderer, seemed to be full of remorse for his crimes... however, the thing that struck a chord with me was the way that Vice Consul Gillian Brion handled the situation; frankly the lady was brilliant... the absolute star of the show. The British Consul to the Balearics Paul Abrey and the British Ambassador to Spain Giles Paxman (older brother of Jeremy) were in one scene filmed entering a club in Ibiza to check out the medical facilities available to clubbers should they accidentally take illegal pink pills or somehow become inadvertently legless; it must be a different world out there nowadays! Both Paxman and Abrey managed to keep their dignity but the whole incident was surreal in the extreme.
The ubiquitous Bill Nighy managed the narration with his usual understated dry wit and the tone, although serious, wasn't either over-wrought or flippant, which from past experience can be a real pain in the neck. As the Consular team smoothly went through the gears of their pressurized jobs, it struck me that apart from the Consul and the Ambassador they were all women, every single one of those staff featured were women... could it be that women, as well as being well organised, are better communicators and more naturally empathetic than men? Another stand-out moment was when Gillian Brion confronted an innocent young guy who had been Tazered by local police when trying to avoid the clutches of a group of pimps and prostitutes in Magalluf.
The young man understandably just wanted to forget the incident and go home; the Vice Consul's righteous anger on his behalf was magnificent to behold. You go girl! As the credits rolled, I was struck by how good HM Consul Paul Abrey and his team are at their jobs, the vaguely depressing sight of some of my fellow countrymen being less than useless when away from home was counter-balanced by the absolute professionalism of the Balearic consular staff. As for the programme itself.. if that's what Our Man In Majorca does on our behalf, and then he and his staff would be cheap at half the price; now thanks to this documentary many more people know what they do for us.
I can also see a spin-off TV series with Meryl Streep playing the part of the redoubtable Vice Consul Gillian Brion... stranger things have happened!
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