Cutting Edge is a Documentary programme and has been classified a PG certificate.
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In the first edition of the new series, entitled "Bus Pass Bandits", we take a humourous and moving look at elderly people who have turned to crime, becoming 'bus-pass bandits'.
For most people retirement is a time to take it easy but with an increase in leisure time comes a corresponding decrease in income. Struggling to make ends meet on a meagre pension can be a rude awakening after years of wage earning and for some the temptation to supplement their income through less than legitimate means can prove all too much. For others, a foray into the criminal underworld can be an exciting break from everyday life and even seemingly make life worth living. In the first of a new series of Cutting Edge, Channel 4's premier documentary strand, this humorous, and at times moving film looks at the men and women who have become Bus Pass Bandits.
Bernard is typical of Britain's growing grey crime-wave. Despite bringing back between 8,000 and 10,000 black market cigarettes on his regular trips to the Continent, Bernard 'didn't think there was anything wrong' with his plan to earn a bit extra. As Bernard says 'It was good fun. I used to like going over to France - especially in the summer... I certainly didn't think I'd get into trouble for it.'
Ironically, John from Gateshead veered off the straight and narrow after a small lottery win provided him with the capital to buy his way into the black market. But John is certainly no Mr Big. 'I was only making about £2 on 200 cigarettes... I brought a second-hand carpet for the stairs and a cooker. I didn't squander the money.'
Further up the criminal ladder, Bunty McSkimming, a former Sunday School teacher and girl guide leader, embarked on a life of crime when she was made treasurer of the Glasgow Tree Lovers' Society. Over two years the coffers shrunk from £84,000 to £17.
Seventy-three year old Ivy actively played on the fact that she was old when she developed a taste for credit card fraud at the age of 69. Charlie, aka 'Bang Bang Charlie', took a more direct approach to emptying banks of their cash. At 83, Charlie has only recently retired from his life as wrinkly bank robber while the irrepressible Sid, 79, combines Ivy's cunning with Charlie's hatred of the high street banks. Sid maintains that his systematic campaign of fraud against the banks is revenge for the way he has been treated by them and in doing so seems to have hit upon the perfect crime. When Sid went public about a £117,000 bank fraud the banks chose not to prosecute.
While the self-styled Robin Hood of Basildon lives to fight another day, the others have not been so lucky. Charlie has to visit a probation officer over 50 years his junior (much to his chagrin), Bunty was given 220 hours of community service, Bernard received a suspended sentence, John was parted from his wife for the first time by a nine month prison sentence and Ivy's time in prison has led to problems within her marriage.
But Bernard, Sid and Charlie still look back fondly on their days as Bus Pass Bandits.
The second edition, "Brian's Story" is a profoundly moving and sensitive film about a Cambridge-educated journalist who, after a successful career, found himself living rough, battling alcoholism and manic depression.
Brian Davis graduated from Cambridge with an English degree at the age of 21 and was a published author by 28. His 30-year career in journalism encompassed freelance work for most of the national newspapers as well as editing the Creative Review and Commercials magazine. In 1984, when Brian was 39 and one of the country's best-known advertising journalists, he was made editor of the trade magazine, Campaign. But he lasted just a week in his new job before suddenly leaving.
Brian continued to enjoy some success on trade magazines during the 1980s but the last 10 years were marked by a gradual decline in Brian's health as he struggled to find work as a freelancer and seven months before he agreed to be filmed, lack of money forced Brian on to the streets.
Despite his reduced circumstances, Brian remained phlegmatic. 'It is remarkably easy', he says, 'to suddenly be around Victoria station with nothing in your pocket. I feel sure my circumstances will improve. I don't feel depressed at all.' But Brian suffered from manic depression, a mental health problem characterised by erratic mood swings, and he also commented, 'One of my heroes is Busby Berkley - he ended up strapped to a bed in a hospital. It strikes me that that could happen to me - although I don't think it will.'
Determined to get his life back into order, Brian tried to set up an interview with Roman Polanski but working from a payphone makes life difficult, and when he loses £150 given to him by a friend for travel expenses, the set-back is almost too much. Reflecting on his life, Brian says, 'Every day is a combination of French farce and pure Tarintino.'
Preoccupied by the daily struggle to find enough to eat and a place to sleep, Brian also had to battle for the benefits he is owed. When the money finally arrives, he managed to get through £700 in three days.
Salvation comes in the form of the offer of a place to stay in Liverpool but even with a place of his own, Brian found it hard to cope. Six months after filming began Brian was in hospital receiving treatment. Despite feeling that he needs to 'calm down' hospital left him 'feeling suffocated and very, very bored... I need my own space to be'. Upon leaving hospital, Brian made his way to west London where a tragic fate awaited him.
The film gives a rare and frank insight into mental illness and is a serious attempt to raise awareness of this often neglected issue.
In "57 Screaming Kids", having 57 kids is enough to make anybody scream but for R&B legend Screamin' Jay Hawkins - best known for his hit I Put a Spell on You - it was a source of pride. Not that he ever met most of them. He left that to his friend and biographer Maral Nigolian who recalls, ''The first time he told me about the number of children he had, he looked at me and said it would be great one day to have them all under one roof - find out who they are and what they're doing... I took that as a dying man's wish.''
Maral's search was fuelled after Jay's death in February 2000 when none of his alleged children turned up to his funeral. The following month she set up a website dedicated to finding Jay's kids.
For two of Jay's children, from the first of his six marriages, the prospect of suddenly discovering over 50 siblings was initially too much. Irene Hawkins says ''When I first heard about it I didn't believe it. All I can say to my father in my mind is, 'if this is true, how could you do it?' In all that time he was married to my mother.''
Irene's older sister Lee-Anne, aka Sookie, has an even harder time coming to terms with her father's past: ''How would you feel if it was your father?'' she asks, ''everywhere you go people say 'what number are you?' It's not funny.''
Jay's career took off in the 1950s and his busy touring schedule created the opportunities for countless liaisons. One of his longest lasting amours, an exotic dancer called Lee Angel, remembers ''He would do five or six shows a day and from the stage he would stake out his victims. He'd take her upstairs for a little bit of sex in between shows and then he'd come down and do the next show and go on to the next woman. Six shows a day, seven or eight women a day, seven days a week.''
Reportedly, another tactic of Jay's was to walk through the town that he was playing, exposing himself to women while wearing a billboard advertising the venue of that night's show. When he moved to Hawaii a former associate remembers him as being ''like a fox in a chicken coop''.
For the children left behind, the prospect of meeting one another is a daunting one, especially for Sookie who clings to her certainty that she is Jay's first child while another of Jay's children, Colette, adds ''All I have is the fact that when I was two years old, my mother says, well, he picked you up. The others have memories.''
In "I Confess" Murder cases invariably attract false confessions. One man in west London has been confessing to every high profile murder for the last 15-20 years. Despite the potential consequences, some people relish the attention a confession will bring them while others delude themselves into believing that they were actually involved. For Russell Keys, the assertion that he had killed five women and buried them along the beach near Blackpool was to have extraordinary consequences for him and those close to him.
Russell, a successful design engineer and programmer, lived with his parents until he was 40. Then in 1998, after a brief romance, he married Dominique, a woman he had met through a lonely hearts ad. As Russell later told police, ''even on our honeymoon I was behaving like a Jekyll and Hyde character. I would awake with a start and my eyes would be open and I would make threats to her: threaten her life or threaten to kill her.''
Russell went on to tell Dominique about the five women he claimed to have killed. Angela, Dominique's daughter remembers that, ''I've never seen (my mother) so frightened in my life.'' Just three months into their marriage, Dominique persuaded Russell to go to the police and confess to his crimes. But after investigating his claims, the police could find no evidence of any murders and Russell agreed to undergo voluntary psychiatric assessment. He was then released to return to Dominique.
While the police were satisfied that no murders had taken place, Dominique was not and she began to tape her husband's 'confessions'. This was to continue after Dominique had fled to Phoenix, Arizona and Russell had followed her there. Despite other people's reservations, Dominique seemingly still believed Russell's claims - but events were to take a dramatic and unexpected turn. As Dominique's old friend, Paul Gilligan, recalled, ''(she) was scared to death of him and when he said he was going to kill her you could see it in her eyes.. she was afraid.. The next thing I know I woke up to the gunshots - I figured it would be the other way around - him shooting her but.. it was her shooting him.''
Claiming that Russell had tried to strangle her, Dominique shot and fatally wounded her husband, but with his death leaving many questions unanswered, would the police in Arizona believe her story and accept a plea of self-defence?
In "The Big Speech" we take a wry look at those times in life when words do not come easily.
The programme includes a best man's wedding-day ordeal, a football manager who is dreading telling two youth players that they have not made the grade, and three girls who only have 20 minutes to chat up a prospective date.
In "Looking For Ricky" we go in search of Londoner Ricky D'Cotta, who disappeared after spending six months in Tenerife.
For many, leaving Britain and jetting off to a sunny island for an unlimited break seems like a dream come true. But for one young Londoner and the family he left behind the dream turned into a nightmare when he suddenly disappeared after six months on the holiday isle of Tenerife. This moving film goes in search of RICKY D'COTTA and, while retracing his last known movements, uncovers a side to Tenerife that isn't found in the holiday brochures.
Long before Ibiza there was Tenerife - a no-holds barred holiday destination which in the 1980s offered British visitors a taste of excess that encapsulated the times. This is where Ricky headed in 1987, leaving an unfulfilling job as a caretaker in south London behind. His friend CLARE sums up the mood when she remembers, "I got to Tenerife on holiday and I thought, 'I want to be here". There's no rules and you can reinvent yourself."
Deciding he liked what he saw, Ricky found work as a party organiser amidst the bars and clubs of Playa de las Americas in a notorious stretch of the resort known as Veronica's. But for the unwary, the bright lights of Veronica's can hide an altogether darker side of Tenerife. One English bar owner comments that British holidaymakers can "get easily led by manipulative people - basically I'm talking about 'round Veronica's and that type of area - and they can get themselves into all kinds of trouble." He wasn't prepared to elaborate.
Initially Ricky appeared to enjoy the party lifestyle in Tenerife. He made friends and was popular with women but as Christmas approached, he phoned his mother to tell her he was planning to come home.
It was also around this time that the drug scene exploded in Tenerife. Clare remembers "The definite change was late '87. People were doing stuff and they had no idea what they were doing. That was the scary time. That really was the changeover to 'I don't feel safe here anymore, I can't trust any one, I don't believe anything anyone tells me, I want to get out'."
Despite numerous rumours describing Ricky wandering the streets in various states of confusion and a sighting by an old Tenerife acquaintance of Ricky in London, Ricky's mother hasn't heard from her son since that phone-call 14 years ago. But as the investigation continues it becomes clear that Ricky's former friends know more than they are prepared to tell.
Classification: PG Certificate
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Database last updated: 22 January - 17:45