Was The Execution Of Gary Glitter well executed?

I noticed that Twitter comment on Channel 4’s The Execution Of Gary Glitter last night was almost entirely negative but, to be honest, I didn’t see what the big problem was.

Quite a few people complain the programme failed to add anything to the debate about the death penalty. But, I’d ask: how many TV programmes seriously add to the debate about … anything? Not many. And anyway, weren’t these people on Twitter having a bit of a debate themselves (albeit of the “wasn’t that shit” variety in some cases)?

I blogged about the programme before it screened and questioned whether the concept – using a disgraced child-abusing celebrity – was a wise move when you’re charging into the territory of dramatising capital punishment. (No, it wasn’t).

Actually, though, after now seeing it in its overlong 90-minute glory (complete with interminable ad breaks) I think it worked. Sort of. Yes, it was pretty ludicrous: the Home Secretary justifying doing away with nearly all appeals and opting for a fast-track execution in 30 days; Ann Widdecombe and Garry Bushell (playing “themselves”?) acting as supposedly key opinion-formers welcoming capital punishment’s return; Miranda Sawyer pretending that she covered the trial for the Observer from “a music point of view”. And the lamentable use of real Glitter Band music, which was about as subtle as the way that Gary Glitter the 1970s pop star used to strut around TV studios (looking like a joke shop version of Mick Jagger). An Idiot’s Guide To Dreaming and Throng are both good on the general wackiness of it all.

But, as I say, what do we expect from a TV drama like this? It wasn’t an Amnesty report turned into television! It was entertainment, albeit on a serious topic. To my mind the filming was good (lots of partially sighted viewpoints, things obscuring the camera etc), the acting perfectly OK (especially Hilton McRae as Paul Gadd) and the device of pretending we were watching news bulletins totally acceptable (well, a bit clumsy but I’ve seen worse).

Was it a pro-death penalty drama? Some of the 1.2m audience clearly people think so. And flashing up an opinion poll finding that 54% of people in the UK want capital punishment back right at the end did make it feel like that. But actually the drama itself didn’t seem particularly one-sided to me.

In fact there’s another way of looking at it. For one thing: Gadd is shown as a man on the edge of mental illness (bizarrely planning a reality-defying come-back “world tour”). You could say The Execution Of Gary Glitter threw up the disturbing – and realistic enough – spectacle of a mentally ill prisoner going to his execution. (See, for a glaring example, the situation in Japan). 

And what about the safety of the trial against Glitter? A tearful mother’s claims and disputed DNA evidence basically convict Glitter. But we also see the defence barrister questioning whether the impoverished mother was lying to sell her story and whether the DNA evidence actually meant anything at all. In the end we are never certain that Gadd as depicted is guilty. In fact, you could ask, did we actually watch a drama about the wrongful conviction and execution of Gary Glitter? The “innocence risk” absolutely haunts this topic. Later this month Martina Davis-Correia, the sister of American death row prisoner Troy Davis is visiting us here at Amnesty in London; in his case seven out of nine people who testified against him later withdrew or recanted their evidence. What price innocence when it comes to the death penalty?

Finally, there’s another good point about The Execution Of Gary Glitter. Watching it last night meant I stayed up to see An American Werewolf In London. Now there’s a real piece of hokum …

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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