Tune in, switch off - It's dead good viewing

Ray Tarleton

Now I know why Year 11 enjoy science so much. It's the forensics, stupid. The last class I went into had a body on the floor and crime scene levels of activity. I beat a hasty retreat to avoid being fingerprinted. The nation, like the science class, loves a good murder. In Watching the Dead (BBC Four), we were treated to a forensic examination of the TV crime series' enduring popularity.

First under the microscope were the early cop shows. Swab samples rescued from the archives proved that they were about people, conflict and social issues. No figures in white space suits dissecting lumps of butchers' flesh. Just old-fashioned detective intuition. And we all know how accurate that was.

Contributors described scientific methods, from DNA sampling to "vein patterning". I'm so squeamish I look away when Sherlock Holmes produces his magnifying glass.

There was plenty to be squeamish about in Waking the Dead (BBC One) as Dr Eve Lockhart (Tara Fitzgerald) scientifically proved a suicide was a murder, identified the owner of a rotting finger and used something like a metal detector to locate a corpse. I was convinced she could unearth Anglo-Saxon treasure if asked.

But the person who really knew where the bodies were buried was Linda, the Hannibal Lecterish inmate of a high-security psychiatric unit, a mission-oriented killer who manipulated others to do her will. Watch out, Detective Boyd (Trevor Eve). She's not just behind you, she's everywhere around you and she's got a razor blade.

Anne Robinson was preventing crimes in Watchdog (BBC One). Look-alike successor to Esther Rantzen (they must share the same plastic surgeon), the Robinson-Rantzen morph hosed down a spokesman from First Choice holidays.

He faced studio guests complaining about poor hygiene in a Turkish holiday village. There was plenty of drama in the shouting and abuse. It was just like a parents' evening.

The sting for rogue gas fitters was the combination of secret cameras with practical jokes: a Victorian brass band reminded one he was operating to 19th-century rules; a billboard advertised another's lies and deception.

From cam scam to sham scam, it was finally the turn of the audience to be shamed. Fake fraudsters rang a sample of them, offering free TVs in return for delivery costs for which they requested credit card details. Trap snapped, half freely gave the information.

Earlier in the week, I received a similar request from someone pretending to be a colleague from our partner school in Thailand, claiming she'd had her credit card stolen and needing #163;1,500. So, in jest, I told my finance office to pay her from our international budget.

When finance replied that they'd arranged the transfer, I rushed in, panicking, to be greeted by guffaws. I've passed the details of that scam to Year 11 for forensics and they're on their way over to fingerprint me.

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

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Ray Tarleton

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