“Taking the Flak”: The Independent reviews the show

First really extensive review: The Independent on “Taking the Flak”, revealing some details about the character Damian plays.


Taking the Flak: Damian O'Hare as BBC cameraman Rory Wallace


The alternative title mooted was “The Calais Rules”, the supposed understanding among foreign correspondents that “after you cross the English Channel what goes on tour stays on tour”. This is explained to the hapless reporter, Margaret Hollis, by the producer, Jane Thomason (Smack the Pony’s Doon Mackichan), who is herself bonking the cameraman, Rory Wallace. She has had a recent fling with the roving chief foreign editor, David Bradburn (Martin Jarvis), who has a roving eye and abides by the tried-and-tested BBC “frisk meter” in sampling local totty. The local stringer, Harry Chambers, meanwhile, is having an affair with a hotel receptionist in an attempt to “build up contacts.”

Taking The Flak is, of course, a comedy. But just how close is it to real life? The characters are certainly recognisable as those you tend to meet in such places – the battle hardened, sardonic cameraman played by Damian O’Hare; Bruce Mackinnon’s stringer distraught at being “big-footed” (sidelined by the arrival of a senior correspondent); the local “fixers” observing the antics of the foreign journalists with wry detachment and the wonderfully vapid Sloane Ranger, Samantha Cunningham Fleming, engaged in aid work with child soldiers (“When they qualify they will run market stalls, just like in Camden” ), adorned with local jewellery and speaking pidgin Swahili: “Unless you tell me where my journalists are I’ll break every bead in your body,” says producer Jane to her at one point. Behind the wisecracks, it does give a glimpse of just how unpredictable and dangerous child soldiers can be, as some of us found to our cost in Sierra Leone and Somalia. One almost feels sorry for Bradburn when he is taken hostage by them.

There are questions in the programme about the nature of journalism in an age of trivialisation. A report about the crisis in Karibu is cut short to take in Nicholas Witchell at Boujis nightclub in Mayfair. The script also touches on the limitations journalists have in changing the narrative in a place of strife. One teenage child soldier wants to go back home to the family lost to him and whom he misses desperately. He asks Bradburn and the cameraman Wallace if they could help him go home. “But that is not what we do, you see,” says Bradburn uneasily. “But I know our coverage, the publicity, will help chaps like you.” “Yes,” says Wallace who has seen through the bullshit a long time ago, “eventually”.

The review of The Independent is, all in all, favourable, and answers the question “…is it funny?”

The main thing is that it is, mostly, very funny.

Judge for yourself – next Wednesday, 8 July, 9pm, on BBC2. Find all other dates and airing times on the Taking the Flak page on the website and related news here on the blog filed under the Taking the Flak tag.

Edit: It’s not Rory Wallace who makes the statement above, but Jack. The Independent mixed up the cameramen.

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