Documentary Season: Strangeways: Britain's Toughest Prison Riot

This is a documentary about the 25 day riot and rooftop protest at Strangeways prison in Manchester in April 1990. It is the 2015 documentary here.

As always I'm finding that blogging about TV brings out things about shows which I wasn't expecting. These posts about documentaries are making me think about different documentary techniques and making me criticise the way different documentaries show their subject.

This one primarily uses a deceptively powerful technique about this technique of some narration but mainly depending on interviews with the prisoners, officers and even the chaplain in the middle of whose sermon the riot kicked off. Sounds perfectly simple doesn't it, and certainly doesn't sound powerful.

But it's the juxtaposition of the different interviews which is what makes it powerful. Seriously this is some powerful documentary making. What I mean by this is the way you see the screws saying there was no abuse of the prisoners going on. You then immediately see several different prisoners describing clear abuse of the prisoners. And not even just that. You then see the then new reforming governor also describing clear misconduct such as officers wearing racist badges and going out drinking in the officers' club at midday and then going back to work. He describes clearly that the officers did not behave as they should.

This technique literally pulls no punches and particularly distressing parts are where they describe having the keys to the whole prison (What is wrong with this picture? Even as psychiatric nurse I know that nobody should have the keys to the entire place just in case you lose some of them for whatever reason) and describing them administering traditional prison punishment to the 'not of normal criminal element' prisoners.

There are three other techniques used: one of the recordings from relatives to the rioters to inmates begging them to give up, which is of course very powerful in itself. Another is that some footage is used from previous documentaries about Strangeways, because the cameras had been in repeatedly in the previous decade and we see clear predictions that this was going to happen. Finally, a minor element is use of the TV news footage from the time, which of course was necessarily based from outside when nobody knew what was necessarily going on inside and so we see the familiar scenes of the prisoners on the roof communicating to the press with megaphones and banners. I think the mixture of techniques here is absolutely perfect and this documentary is absolutely stunning and an emotional roller coaster in places.

For me personally what comes across loud and clear from this documentary is the culture of the prison. One of the officers actually commented that in 1990 they would be officers who had been trained by officers trained after World War 2, trained by those trained after World War 1, and right back to the Boer war. The culture of the prison actually hadn't changed, and it is abundantly clear to me that the officers didn't have any idea of how to treat the prisoners. For example the screws were shouting death threats at the ones remaining on the roof at one point and how they were critical of a negotiation process which started. If you run a prison and the officers' only strategy is to escalate things and they have no conception of de-escalation you deserve everything you get.

I don't have any criticism of this documentary: it's like a hammer blow and I can't think of how it could have been improved. When Manchester prison was re-opened in 1994 a prisoner told visiting journalists that the improved conditions were result of the riot and the prison service would otherwise have done nothing.

The most striking and telling moment in the documentary is where one of the officers is talking about the governor at the time and saying that if a prisoner wanted to talk to him he would just stop and talk to the prisoner. He thought that was strange.

And that just about tells you all you need to know, doesn't it?

Finally if you don't want to see documentaries there's also a new soap opera to watch:

The present government of Britain is a corrupt, unelected regime buttressed by a client media, which has caused the deaths of 300,000 people and is fomenting hatred against migrants.

Proud to be a member of the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati and the anti-growth coalition. - - - - -

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  1. Chicago Calling (Dateline - the day after the USA midterm elections):
    From the Land of Almighty Gridlock!
    It's going to be about a month (give or take a week) before all the seats get settled.
    As things look now, the Republicans (the guys on the Right) may take the House of Representatives ( our version of Commons) by the slimmest of pluralities (Majorityis definitely the wrong word here, but the players insist on using it).
    Meanwhile, the Senate (our "upper house") may likely wind up as an even split between the Dems and the GOP (that stands for "Grand Old Party", which the Repubs haven't been in some time ... but that's another story) ... which is the exact situation as now.
    The "Debate" is going to be the usual name-calling, finger-pointing, general personal nastiness, and all the other stuff that I was hoping you over there were only reading and hearing about (as opposed to having to live through it).
    One major difference: your Guy With Funny Hair stepped down without a fight, while our Guy With Funny Hair won't go away quietly ... or at all.
    The Dallas sendup was interesting , although I probably would have enjoyed it more if I'd recognized the faces; if somebody Stateside does a like piece about our Government-To-Be (?), you'll need a Who's-Who as well.
    Anyway, all the best from the Great Midwest, and maybe soon we can get back to the Fun Stuff (here's hoping ...).

    1. Aaargh nobody understands the US electoral system!
      I'm reading signs that even the GOP is starting to turn on Trump for messing up their red wave, and I hope they do. It's difficult to tell what's happening because both states have totally biased media. For example it just isn't true that Johnson went without a fight and Sunak was his chancellor so nothing has changed really.
      What's really happening is that the Tory Party is in its dying days and too unstable to govern, so this soap opera is nowhere near over.
      Hopefully there'll be some life sentences handed out for misconduct in public office and really our whole system needs overhauling, as does yours!

    2. Chicago ReCalling: Message received and contents noted.
      I'll let you in on a little secret that even our political pundits aren't aware of.
      BOTH of our "major political parties" are falling apart from within - and that disintegration has been happening for as long as I can remember (and at age 72, I can remember a whole hell of a lot).
      "Nobody understands the US electoral system!"
      I've long suspected that we're not supposed to understand it - simply accept what "our betters" selected for us all those years ago.
      You know, John, I had a whole gang of things that I was going to unload on you here - but why bother?
      The one thing I know is that we in the USA are never going to be rid of Donald Trump, short of his own passing/ disappearing into a cornfield/ anomaly of your choice.
      I'm guessing that your feelings are pretty much the same, only different ...

      Looking forward to whatever whackdoodle entertainment you write up here next!

    3. Yes. It's the fate of a two party system because there is no (other) alternative so efforts end up going into maintaining the two parties rather than sorting it.
      Obviously I'm seeing this as an outsider but I do see the quandary for Garland in dealing with Trump. The case needs to be perfect but indicting Trump creates a victim. Executing him creates a martyr and then like you say, he never goes away.
      My gut feeling would be that the best outcome is Trump gets tried and convicted of multiple crimes. If he's sentenced to the death sentence I guess Garland would be hoping he'll die during the inevitable lengthy appeals but both Trump's parents lived to late eighties/nineties so despite his unhealthy life he's not likely to die soon.
      What will happen here is the instability in the government will continue. Solid boring commentators are giving Sunak six months at the most because he's terminally compromised and his own party hate him.
      Frankly no whackdoodle entertainment can compare at the moment can it?

  2. Chicago Calling Back with a Query:
    Where did you hear that Mr. Trump would be facing the death penalty for his misdeeds?
    The word 'treason' can be legally interpreted any number of ways, most of them well short of capital offense.
    More likely, Trump (and his minions) would face possible lengthy imprisonment - albeit in a less-than-foreboding facility of the type that we in the States call "Club Fed".
    Given Trump's ever-metastasizing ego, the worst punishment he's likely to face is the Humiliation of Losing; at the very worst, he'd lose a million-dollar book deal.
    ... or even worse than that: He'd get the book deal - and when the book hit the stores, nobody would buy it.
    But not to worry (?): there'll atways be right-wing media to give the Big Orange Guy a place to vent his rages - and we in the More-or-Less Real World will be fully free to ignore him ...
    Gee - I never thought I'd ever miss Richard Nixon ...

    1. He better had be humiliated by losing, I've got more popcorn in.
      I read it on the always unreliable Twitter, albeit from one of the better political commentators who said that apparently there has been an increase of US spies and informants being executed since Trump walked out with the intel hidden in his suitcase and if these deaths could be connected to his doing espionage then that would carry the federal death penalty.

      Personally I wish our countries would stop competing to have the most embarrassing politicians.


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