I’m not quite sure why the first episode of this series set during the Aden Emergency mentioned George Best but failed to mention General Nasser. Oh well. The Suez Crisis is fairly well-known, but the Aden Emergency isn’t, so it was an interesting choice of setting for this new BBC drama. Incidentally, it’s a shame that none of the papers have picked up on this as a chance to encourage support for the Yemen Crisis Appeal. Sky News are doing a sterling job of publicising the appeal to help Rohingya refugees, which is great, but the situation in Yemen’s being completely overlooked. I appreciate that international governments won’t say anything because they’re terrified of narking Saudi Arabia, but there’s no reason why the media can’t call for humanitarian aid to be sent. Anyway, I’ve got completely off the point now.
So, we’ve got a regiment of the Royal Military Police, the Red Caps, stationed in Aden. Some of them are accompanied by wives and children. The programme’s trying to cover the political and military aspects of events and be a soap opera at the same time. That’s fair enough. Some of the best books and films of all time work like that. However, it hasn’t really explained the political background properly. All we’re getting is that there are local organisations trying to force the British to withdraw by launching terrorist attacks against the soldiers. It hasn’t been made clear that there are different pro-independence factions within Yemen, and it certainly hasn’t been made clear just how much Egypt is involved in it all.
Having said which, at least they’re trying to present a relatively balanced view of things. The BBC can be so anti-British these days that I was half-expecting them to show the Red Caps as the baddies, but it’s been made clear that these men are doing their job and, for the most part, trying to act with honour. However, there’ve also been scenes showing the use of torture. We’ve also seen that the “insurgents” want the occupiers out and their country back, but also that they’re prepared to kidnap and torture British troops and to launch terrorist attacks which murder people in cold blood. No-one’s in the right.
This is all blokes’ stuff. Well, it is the 1960s. When it comes to the human interest stuff, the women are much more involved. There’s the nice young wife played by Jessie Buckley, who’s been befriended by the tarty one played by her out of Call The Midwife. Jessie’s character’s husband’s got a big promotion, but the tarty one’s husband hasn’t, possibly because he’s seen as being too pro-Arab and possibly because she hangs her underwear out to dry in public. And has been having an affair with another soldier. Who got blown up. And there’s the one played by her who used to be the mad doctor in EastEnders, who’s got a little lad who swears a lot (why is he allowed to get away with this?!) and likes football (hence the George Best reference), and who nearly dies whilst giving birth to her second child. Her husband decided he had to stay with his men rather than rushing to her hospital bedside. There’s also a young lad (who was in Dunkirk), who sounds like he comes from somewhere round here. He fancies one of the local girls, and she helped him when he nearly got blown up, but presumably it’s all going to end in tears.
And there’s a club which looks like it belongs in Marbella. My idea of an army “club” is your British Raj type thing, with everyone sitting in a posh bar, but this one seems to involve a lot of swimming and sunbathing. It didn’t sit very well with the military manoeuvres, but presumably that’s what it was like: people wouldn’t have been sat around inside all the time.
This is really, really not Gone With The Wind or War and Peace. Those probably aren’t very good comparisons, but I’m trying to think of something which combines war and soapiness. It’s not Downton Abbey, Poldark or Victoria either: it’s not going to be one of those series which everyone’s watching, everyone’s talking about at work on Monday morning, and newspapers are putting on their front pages. But it isn’t bad. And it’s always good to see a neglected part of the past (sorry, I cannot bring myself to talk about the 1960s as “history”) brought to people’s attention. Let’s see where it goes.