The monster at the end of the table is Uncle Reg in a party hat: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV
Digging for Britain
Of all the images in Rillington Place (BBC1) that sent a chill through the marrow, and there were many, it was the sight of serial killer John Reginald Christie in an orange paper party hat that was the most ghastly.
Christie — known as Reg — was at the head of the table in his neighbours’ house, watching mournfully as the roast potatoes were passed round and the turkey arrived.
Later, still in his tissue paper crown, he sat alone in the dark at his kitchen table with his back to the camera.
Tim Roth portrays serial killer John Reginald Christie in Rillington Place on BBC1
The two moments were juxtaposed to show us how far his tawdry, murderous life had drifted from the ordinary world.
But it made the blood curdle, to imagine that banal monster pulling a cracker with the children and nibbling at his roast dinner.
The youngsters probably had to call him Uncle Reg. Every friend of the family was ‘uncle’ or ‘auntie’ in the Fifties.
Nowadays, parents are so petrified of child-snatchers that if a neighbour spoke to their little ones unexpectedly, they’d call the police.
But back then no one could ever imagine the people in their street capable of hideous crimes.
Throughout the three-part series Tim Roth has portrayed the way Christie could switch from creep to charmer, as easily as shrugging on his overcoat.
When testifying against Timothy Evans, he won the court’s sympathy so completely that the judge offered him a seat during his cross-examination.
SUGAR RUSH OF THE NIGHT
Do Americans have a higher tolerance for saccharine sweetness than the Brits? This Is Us (C4) is made unwatchable by treacly dollops of sentimentality and emotional goo. Some of the writing may be clever, but it’s as sick-making as icing on honey.
And he showed us how carefully Christie put his safeguards into place against discovery, befriending local coppers and emphasising to his GP that he was suffering from blackouts when he wasn’t aware of his actions.
He thought he had an answer for everything.
‘Without cognisance there can be no culpability,’ he told the inspector smugly after his arrest.
‘You can’t hang a man who is not in charge of his faculties.’
What this drama failed to answer was the question of ‘Why’: what compelled Christie to kill so many women?
All we knew of his past was that he claimed to be a World War I veteran who survived a gas attack.
What of his mother, his siblings, his schoolfriends — is there nothing to explain what he became?
Rillington Place: Christopher Stevens felt the drama failed to answer the question of why Christie committed his murders
We understood him so little that it came as a shock when, after sitting and sadly contemplating his sleeping wife’s face, he suddenly tied a stocking round her neck and throttled her — then calmly felt for a pulse, like a doctor checking a patient.
Why did Ethel have to die that morning?
Was it because she was nagging him to leave London, or because she knew he had committed the crime for which Evans had been hanged?
Or was it because she had seen his humiliation, when the new West Indian tenant upstairs laughed at him?
The only definitive answer came from Roth himself, on the subject of Christie’s whisper.
It sounded like a wet Tuesday in Leeds, or more precisely like Alan Bennett, and the actor admits that’s exactly whose accent he copied.
I doubt the playwright will take that insult lightly.
Expect something very unpleasant to happen in his next work to a character named Roth.
While bodies were being discovered under the floorboards and behind the wainscoting all over 10 Rillington Place, there were more corpses unearthed on Digging For Britain (BBC4).
Digging for Britain: Christopher Stevens felt that Alice Roberts kept the series 'moving at such a pace'
One had its feet on back-to-front, while another was bundled up with antlers and whalebones.
Archaeologists never suspect foul play when they find a skeleton. Perhaps they should.
In one Saxon cemetery they saw evidence of a toddler who died from hydrocephaly, a teenager who had rickets, and an old man with a peg leg — all ordinary ailments. And there’s nothing more ordinary than murder.
The discoveries pile up on this show, because presenter Alice Roberts keeps it moving at such a pace.
A man with a metal detector found a pair of bronze tweezers — two minutes later, the time team had uncovered a monastery.
Which led to the most surprising detail of the night.
Why would a monk need tweezers?
Not for his nose hair . . . but to turn the pages of his manuscript, apparently.
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