Britain at the Bookies
BBC, 2015

Thought I'd throw a few words together regarding this recently transmitted, fly-on-the-wall, BBC documentary. It didn't take long - as you can see from the length of this review I haven't written very much, in the main because there wasn't very much to write about.

When it was first promoted, I did think this documentary was going to be a piece of cutting edge investigative journalism, taking an objective snapshot of the bookmaking trade in Britain; the winners, the losers, the history of high-street bookmaking, whether criticism often levelled at the industry is justified or not, the fallout and not-so-good-bits from having a mini-casino located in every highstreet bookmakers nowdays etc. But no, it was just another in a long run of dismal, lightweight, offerings akin to the Greggs documentary commissioned by Sky (oh shit, big drama, someone left the pasties in for too long!). To my mind it achieved little more than to provide the Gala-Coral Group with a raft of free publicity at the licence payers' expense and keep a film crew employed.

It all goes wrong from the start - with the title, which is a tad misleading to say the least. Rather than "Britain at the Bookies", a more apt one would have been "A few people at Corals", due to the fact that a large number of the personalities profiled throughout the three instalments were Coral's employees, from junior members of staff working some of their highstreet betting offices to the Corporate Head of PR and his entourage based at the Group's headquarters in Stratford, East London, with the majority of the rest being "regular" punters from, er, Corals. Did anyone else with an interest in the subject matter get any air-time? The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport perhaps? MPs representing the views of their constituents? CEOs of Local Authorities? Campaigners for change in the current regulatory frameworks for gambling in the UK? Heads of the gambling addiction support charities? The RGT, ABB, SENET Group? No - all missing, presumably because they either don't work for Corals or bet with Corals? Having said that, an old-time trackside bookie with a pitch at Romford dogs did get a look in.

Any good bits? There were a couple; the low-stakes punter and his wife, who's aspiration for a day out at the races is simply to have it all paid for from winnings, and limits himself to a couple of quid a race. A very pragmatic guy, for whom betting was a hobby. Then there was the wife of the professional gambler, golfing tipster and Racing Post columnist who watched him drop seventy five grand fairly quickly and who reined him in when she could see the last twenty five that they needed for a deposit on a house going the same way. Smart lady, although according to him she didn't really understand what he was doing or what he could achieve by doing it. Yeah, right. These two people were both a breath of fresh air when compared to the many other punters who took part in the programme and that Corals no doubt depend on for their bread and butter business. Based on the input from the punters who did take part, the bookies' assertions that most of their patrons gambled responsibly, and that the trade doesn't encourage or rely on problem gamblers, does look to be highly suspect. One could be forgiven for thinking that their inspiration is Horatio Nelson and they very deliberately, and cynically, turn a blind eye; "I see no problem gamblers !" ?

Any conclusions to be drawn from the screening of this documentary? Yes - that standards of documentary making at the BBC are in freefall. And as I said in my blog somewhere, Simon Clare, Corporate Head of PR at Corals, must have thought Christmas had come early when this one got the green light from the luvvies in Programming. Perhaps things can only get better?

All three episodes making up Britain at the Bookies can be found at:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b063ly3b


August 2015.


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