In the Media

TV review: Secrets of the Shoplifters | Richard Wilson on Hold

PUBLISHED January 16, 2012

It's not just celebrity chefs who are shoplifting. The whole nation's at it

There was no mention in Secrets of the Shoplifters (Channel 4) of a certain celebrity chef and his every-little-helps-himself-to-wine-and-cheese moment, unless they added something late that wasn't in my review copy. Still, AWT can't have done the show any harm, putting the issues so spectacularly in the public eye just days before transmission.

Tesco does feature though. Food theft is becoming more and more common. It's even being stolen to order. Home delivery basically, only cheaper; there should be a website ? Tesco dot con maybe. Anyway, in this store in Brighton a man has just walked out with a whole basketful of meat.

Steve and Dan are on the scene within minutes. They are pretty much Brighton's Batman and Robin but without the capes, crusaders fighting the battle against shoplifting. So dedicated are they that they actually patrol the streets for free on their days off.

They visit the crime scene to search for evidence. And they find it: meat shelves, empty of meat. "I bet you any money we go up Windsor Street and find the basket," says Dan. They do just that, go up Windsor Street, there's no sign of the basket. And, more importantly, no sign of the meat thief, who remains at large. I'm looking at the CCTV pictures, and thinking ... no, it's not, is it ... Heston?

It's no laughing matter though. Shoplifting is on the increase, up 12% in a year. This country is now the shoplifting capital of Europe. And it's not just our celebrity chefs doing it ? everyone is. Well, a third of us admit to having done it at some time in our lives. And most of the others are probably lying. The odds are stacking up against Steve and Dan.

They do manage to catch one criminal ? a small, middle-aged woman with glasses. She's walked out of M&S without paying for three bottles of wine. Less bold than AWT ? they're miniature bottles ? but it's almost certainly a copycat crime. No cheese, but she has taken a Maris Piper potato too. Steve takes a photo of her, for the record. And she gets banned from every M&S in the country (that must be a hard one to enforce).

"I'm not a shoplifter, for Christ's sake," she wails, which is a bit rich, given that Steve and Dan have just caught her shoplifting. Unless of course she's Nigella or Delia, in disguise.

Baking potatoes, and Tesco, make an appearance in Richard Wilson on Hold (Channel 4). Is the actor another one? Yeah, it wouldn't surprise me ... Oh, no, he's paying for his potato. Well he's trying to, but he's having some problems with the automated till. Is the weighing machine working or not, he wants to know. Well, you've got to put the potato on there, Richard, otherwise it's not going to weigh anything. And will the machine know about the three-for-two soup offer? He calls over an actual human being to help. Unexpected befuddlement in the bagging area.

Richard is investigating how people are being replaced by machines in certain areas of the service industry ? in shops, and on the other end of phone lines. It's ringing a bell ? yes, just last year he was on a Dispatches programme about train journeys from hell, doing battle with the automated train tracker at National Rail enquiries. He wanted to go to Harrogate, the robot tried to send him to Kyle of Lochalsh in the Highlands, and charge him more than ?500 for the privilege. It was hilarious, and that's probably where the idea for this programme came from.

It seems that they then realised that Richard Wilson v automation, while very amusing, isn't in itself enough to fill an hour of television ? so the film meanders off into how web browsers collect information and build up profiles of us. Yeah, cookies and all that. It's very interesting, and important, but it seems to be a whole different area.

The parts where Richard does battle with machines are lovely.

"The Adventures of Tintin," he says down the phone.

"The Three Musketeers, certificate 12A," says the machine.

"The Adventures of Tintin."

"We Need to Talk About Kevin.'

"No we don't."

Hey, Richard, I heard they were making some changes for the next series of Merlin, to save some money. BBC cuts and all that. And Gaius is going to be played by ... a machine. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds