Tune in, switch off - Gore blimey, it's a ripper

20th February 2009 at 00:00

I am glad I ignored the Guardian preview on the first week of ITV's Whitechapel crime series and didn't go into a dark room with a pizza on my face, as advised. You see, we've had no cops on our telly for some time now - I didn't take to the snowy wastes of Wallander, the acclaimed Swedish detective series with Kenneth Branagh.

All those long drives through the ice reminded me of local weather programmes I watch when trying to decide whether I'll need to close the school. But Whitechapel's trails of blood, a Ripper copycat and London streets have me hooked.

Fresh from Spooks, Rupert Penry-Jones stars as novice detective inspector Joseph Chandler, who clashes with the Jack-the-lad old guard detective Ray Miles, played by Phil Davis.

Chandler is in for a hard time, as the team work him over. Don't we all love to see a new boy making mistakes? An obsessive compulsive, with much hand washing as well as wringing, his subordinates think they have the new boss sussed: "He's gay." How do they know? "I've got gaydar". Loud guffaws.

So Chandler has to face down the real enemy - his colleagues - before he can even contemplate catching the Ripper-esque murderer.

But our stumbling, fumbling senior officer has his own dark secret: he can't even look at a bloodied body without covering his mouth with his silk handkerchief and going off to vomit behind the bushes. I'm with Chandler when it comes to gore: I can't even have an injection without passing out, so this is scary stuff.

However, we know he's finally going to be at the scene during one of the murders because, if you've studied your Ripper history, the times and places are predictable; though we're fed enough false clues to create a Times crossword.

We viewers, however, always know when the flash of knife and outpourings of guts are about to appear on our screens. The eerie music and dark photography are such a giveaway. Why don't the victims ever notice, I wonder?

So this nice, clean detective has to work with those dirty, unruly policemen. Of course, that's the trigger he needs to assert himself. Holding a piece of chalk and using something we used to call a blackboard, he tells them to put on their ties, clear their desks each evening and stop belching and farting.

We could use this sequence on a staff training day with our NQTs. Self-discipline, self- respect and deodorant are the learning points. There's even a great punchline if you want to fast-track them out of teaching: "And you smell."

All the big, burly police officers go off quietly at this point for a shower. How does Chandler get away with it? It's like Alan Sugar in The Apprentice glibly mouthing: "You're fired."

Seriously? Surely he knows about the three stages of capability investigation, four years of evidence-gathering and thousands of pounds in damages just to suggest to an employee that, as they're not pulling their weight, their job might be at risk. I might go and lie down with that pizza now.

Ray Tarleton is principal at South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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