The Times Review

The Times (January 10, 1999)
by Roland White

Battling: Sean Bean in Bravo Two Zero

Something very peculiar is happening to television. It's been looking up dirty words in the dictionary. There's no other explanation for what's been on recently.

A few weeks ago, I saw part of a film on Live TV about a musical penis. Live TV is a cable channel whose usual late-evening fare is gratuitous sex. You know the sort of the thing:

"Oh, Adèle. I am so lonely what with my 'usband away so much as a travelling seaside novelties salesman."

"You have nothing to worry about, Marie Claire. I am with you now. But what's that noise?"

"Ooh la la, Adèle. It is my bed. It 'as exploded."

"Say no more, Marie Claire. From now on, you will spend the night with me."

Even by these standards, a French film about a musical penis was bizarre. But the disease seems to be spreading, and not just to the studios of Men Behaving Badly. Last week I watched a man licking faeces from his fingers, and a woman sniffing her bedsheets. Goodness knows what she was looking for. (Actually, I know very well what she was looking for but am too embarrassed to say. Goodness has nothing to do with it.)

More of the sheets later. First the faeces, which appeared in Bravo Two Zero (Sunday and Monday, BBC1) and were entirely justified by the plot. This tells, as you probably know, the story of an SAS patrol dropped in Iraq to destroy mobile Scud missiles during the Gulf war. Two members of this patrol have written books. One, by Chris Ryan, was called The One That Got Away and was filmed for ITV and shown in 1997. This account was by Andy McNab, who led the patrol and was played in the television version by Sean Bean.

Almost as soon as the patrol hit the ground, there were problems. Their communications were faulty, they found that the Iraqi desert can get very cold, and then they were discovered by a young shepherd boy who alerted some Iraqi troops who happened to be in the neighbourhood. In the understated jargon of the British army, contact ensued. This meant a savage firefight in which Iraqi soldiers, sheltering behind tanks and armoured tanks, were blown to pieces while the SAS patrol, firing from a prone position in the sand, standing up occasionally to launch anti-tank missiles, remained unscathed. It was like something from The A-Team and was all the more remarkable for being true. McNab was the military adviser to the programme. "Of course, you're scared," said Bean, narrating as the battle was about to commence. That's very reassuring. I was terrified just watching.

The second episode began with four members of the patrol waiting at a checkpoint in a hijacked taxi. It was like the current adverts for the army: you are an SAS patrol trying to escape from Iraq to Syria. You are only a few kilometres from the border when you are stuck in a line of traffic being checked by Iraqi soldiers. There are two lorries to go before an Iraqi reaches your window. What do you do?

As it happened, the Iraqi leant into the car and was shot dead before the patrol leapt from the taxi, all guns blazing. And how thin is the thread on which a soldier's life hangs? If I'd been in the back of that taxi, everybody else would be out and I'd still be fumbling with the child lock in the back. In the end they are captured and subjected to indignities that involve a lot of punching, kicking, involuntary dental work, plus fingers and faeces.


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