Monday, 14 January 2013

Juvenile Liaison

George Ray might look like rather a nasty bully on the photographic evidence presented above, but, in a way, bullying is his job: he's a Sergeant in Blackburn's Juvenile Liaison team. George will do anything in his power to stop naughty kids becoming naughty grown ups, and this includes shouting, hair pulling, threats of imprisonment and lots of mind games. His aim is to get an apology, a few tears, a feeling of regret and to administer a short, sharp shock that will jolt the young miscreant back on to the right track - easier said than done, given some of the environments the children come from.

When he's not making infants cry, George is an affable and rather philosophical character. He used to have 'Left-ist' views, but a spell in the Navy and some life experience taught him otherwise. He works for the Establishment because, although he recognises it isn't perfect, he prefers the status quo to what he sees as the alternatives: anarchy, or a totalitarian state where people are shot or 'dropped into baths of acid'. 

The young offenders are a mixed bunch, often from families with what they now call 'multiple problems'. This manifests itself in houses that are cluttered and chaotic, full to capacity with duffel coat clad kids and Aunties, so much so that the parents seem to have lost control and even lost count of their own offspring. You wonder where they all sleep, and what they have for tea. You worry for them. No wonder some go off the rails: their homes are like madhouses.

Some of the pint sized crooks are cocky, even defiant to start with - but they all crumble in the end (well, almost all, but we'll get to that), the Juvenile Liason team expertly probing for the button that turns on the waterworks. Their 'crimes' run from the spectacularly trivial (stealing fruit from a school mate's bag) to the more sinister (physical violence; extortion). There's plenty of truanting, and a fair bit of shop lifting (Woolworths is under constant attack). Standard bad behaviour, I suppose, but misdemeanours that George and his team take very seriously indeed, seeing these petty infractions as symptoms of criminal rot setting in.  






People used to wear glasses like this.

And house coats and head scarves. Incredible, isn't it?

An elder brother who doesn't like the Police. We had wooden walls like that.

Interesting decor, terrifying inhabitant.

Op Art Wallpaper. In this case, the Op is short for Optrex. 

The parents and guardians are all horrified at their children's behaviour, of course, and 'beltings' usually feature as a deterrent. In one case, the father is in hospital, so George volunteers to take over the corporal punishment duties in his absence - a simple but effective threat that has immediate results. George is occasionally far more 'hands on' than we would expect today's Policemen to be, of course, but he saves this for those accused of being physically threatening - a free lesson in the politics of violence: there's always someone bigger and nastier than you. These scenes shocked audiences (they're uncomfortable viewing), and the film was withdrawn for many years as a result.

Beneath it all, however, George is not an unkindly man, he is just following the contemporary credo that wilful children must be broken, and if this means a clip around the ear, threats of bringing in 'the CID' to investigate the appropriation of a toy gun, or a visit to the cells, then so be it. He'd rather reduce them to jelly now than have to lock them up for real in a few years time, although, in some cases, he'll probably end up doing both.   

She's not helping.

Here's a lesson, Glen - learn it.

My favourite bit in the programme is courtesy of Rashida, an eleven year old 'immigrant' (her parents are from Pakistan, but have lived in the UK for 40 years). Rashida is accused is stealing pens, an apple, and eight and a half new pence from her school friends. George counts out the pens as he questions her, and gesticulates with her little purse. Rashida, however, in contrast to most of the children we've met, isn't sullen and tearful and struck mute with fear - instead, she talks and talks and talks - fluently, articulately - and she has an answer for everything. After about five minutes, George sends her out of the room, lights up a fag and says 'well, I can't break her'. Unable to force a confession, he sets a trap - puting green dye into a bag and nabbing Rashida when she's seen with it all over her hands. Rashida doesn't give a shit. 

The offending felt tips.

Rashida, mid flow.

Sgt Ray would make a good Vic Reeves character.

Directed by Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill, 'Juvenile Liaison' is a classic in the 'find an interesting character doing an interesting job and just follow him around' documentary style. In fashion terms, 1975 was the mid-way point between Glam and Disco, but you won't find a sequin or a bit of sparkle here - just dirty kids, frightening wallpaper, tiny tellies and the grim grey, mustard and green of working class life in the industrial North. It's a real eye opener.

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