A little while ago an American friend asked me what I thought of the quality of police based tv shows. He also mentione dthe drama based on the Special Air Service Regiment, "Ultimate Force" which
starred the actor Ross Kemp who made his name in a long running tv drama
"Eastenders". My friend said that `Ultimate Force` was similar to the US
programme `The Unit`. He was pretty unimpressed by the firearms handling as portrayed on British TV dramas and sought a view. I don't watch these things much for a couple of reasons;
one is that when I was a serving police officer I had little interest in these stories
because I found the real thing rather trying and wanted to get away from it, to
the point I'd even change into/out of my uniform at work, hoping to shut the
job out a little as I closed the locker door. As a Londoner and an `Eastender`
at that, I didn't take to Eastenders either, despite the assortment of acting
talent, but thats another genre.
As good as the acting may seem
to the casual viewer, for me they never get it right when portraying police
officers of any rank, especially the tactical firearms units, of which I was a
member for many years (and at several ranks). The
weapon handling is always a giveaway. The actors learn their lines fine, look
dramatic, take on their version of what `rough and tough` looks like and try to
bring to their chartacters all the other emotions the drama school and their
own life experiences have given them. But for those who have been there for
real, you can see right through it and it can really irk. They just can't
devote the same amount of time to weapon drills as they can to their lines or
moves (and often the moves are dire - room entries, getting framed in a
doorway, gun barrels appearing around door frames... grrrrr... Though I am glad they don't give all our secrets away. (I'd hate to come up against someone like
me who had gone bad).
Drills need drilling but once mastered it's there to the point you could
do it semi conscious (precisely when you might need to, worse case). Eg. After
more than 35 years had passed since I was trained, I took up a job involving
small arms. The organisation was making short video clips to market what we did
and it was suggested we showed someone stripping a pistol. I volunteered and we
did a first take. I field stripped a 9mm Browning Hi Power in about 3 seconds.
The camera guy said he didn't see it so I re-assembled it in about 5. Did the
same thing, only a touch quicker, with a Walther PP. Camera man was a bit
gobsmacked so I did it much slower for him but my point, was that any one of my team of 40 guys could have done the same. My American friend asked
if I thought the bad handling by actors was because we don't have the same
culture/number of gun owners in the UK. I don't think so. We certainly have a
population with far less gun familiarity and perhaps TV producers rely on that
fact to let poor handling slip. If I were an adviser on those tv shows I
couldn't let a sloppy drill pass, but then I don't think the tv people worry.
What I will say is that just because the US has millions of gun owners it
probably doesn't automatically equate to better handling! You need to take it
seriously and practice and study and train; I'm sure responsible owners do and from what I've read many responsible American gun owners do precisely that, but on
the other hand if anyone can buy firearms in any High Street....plus I have seen some diabolical shooters out `rough shooting` in our countryside who think they are good.
As for the characters portrayed in these dramas, there
is enough people out there with weapons experience for producers to ask, if
they have the time or budget or make the effort and many do, with results
commensurate to their attention to detail. A good eg. for me was in `Skyfall`.
I have seen it just the once, so far, and there was a mere few seconds in a
scene where 007 goes for some refesher pistol training. I noticed that one of
his first shots was awful. My immediate thoughts were, `Duh, prick snatched it,
that'll be low left by a mile` and was about to annoy Mrs HD by telling her (I'm
getting much better and don't annoy her nearly as much these days) when, Lo! 007
is mildly rebuked for a lousy first shot. Yes, it was intentional! 99% of
viewers wouldn't have seen that bum trigger action, but I did and I'm sure
other keen pistol shots would have too, if they took their eyes off Mr Craig's other features
long enough. Kudos to the producers and to Craig for replicating a
snatched trigger. But that famous James Bond sequence looking down the barrel - he doesn't check before firing, its turn-bang in one movement. One always checks - but now I'm totally anal.
"Ultimate Force"? I have watched about 10
minutes in total and that was enough. I never tuned in again. Too many `tough
guy stares` and actors posturing in a manner they think SF soldiers posture -
bollocks! I should point out, though, that I really rate Ross Kemp who has gone
on to produce documentaries in some horrendously dangerous places and worked
alongside our forces in Afghanistan, to the point where bullets and RPG's were
zapping over his head and guys were getting shot around him. [But then Ross's
dad was a British policeman ;) ] Many of my TFU colleagues were former Special
Forces or from elite British regiments like the Paras and Royal Greenjackets.
My own tactical firearms instructors were former SF. They were not like anyone
I saw in that programme or on the tv shows. I was grateful for the closeness
with which our job worked with the British Army and I spent many weeks on
courses with them, CQB, FIBUA, COIN, CT Search.
The toughest, bravest, most capable men I served with
on that unit were small wiry guys, big gentle giants or just plain average
looking men. They spoke softly, loudly and some hardly at all. With the
exception of the gentle giants, most of them would simply disappear in a crowd.
I have had several officers I worked with over the years shot in the line of duty, mercifully
none killed although my best friend was murdered on duty in Oxford Street. I
have one friend who has shot a criminal (kidnapper) but didn't kill him, just
shattered his upper arm [ .38spl +P jacketed semi
wadcutter delivered by a S&W Mod 19 for the techhies out there) I have
one professional acquaintence who has killed 3 criminals (armed robberies) and one who
killed a deranged man pointing a gun at a tac team that was moving into
position (seige). The guy with 3 fatal shootings is quite exceptional even, I suspect,
by US Law enforcementf statistics but in the UK less than 3% of police are trained to
tactical/hostage rescue level and armed response vehicles in any force are
measured in single figures, so as a consequence we were always the ones going
out against armed crims so our odds were much greater. All my aforementioned friends reacted very
differently. One guy never talked about it to us, other than as a technical
de-brief or for training purposes. His wife was very `off` with him and I think
religion played a part there. The other one was happy to chat. What got him
over the shock was being amongst his mates and knowing that he had no choice
but to do what he did. The third guy was berated so much by his wife about him doing
what he had to do that she actually packed her bags and divorced him. He
remained an instructor.
Regarding the units I worked on, I can say that
I loved those men. Some of them were not the nicest of characters in their
private lives and others I would not choose as personal friends outside the job, but in all the tasks we trained for, I loved those guys. I never
made that connection with screen characters unless they were the real deal but
then in that recent film with the real SEAL's you could see they were the real
deal because they weren't as good at acting, so it sort of cancelled it out for
me. I have never served in the military so my comments herein are based purely on the professional contacts made during my police career and their training and tasking is very different and mainly for high intensity warfare. I guess that's why I don't watch this sort of stuff on tv.