Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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The Daily News
December 23 2006

'Tis the season for sympathy
by Gordon Brown

Merry Christmas everyone!

On Monday, may you all wake up and get exactly the present you wanted, or if you're a bloke and you're married, at least pretend to like what you do get.

Believe me, it makes the rest of the day (and your life) far more memorable.

In our family we find it easier to say what we want. That way there are no unpleasant surprises. Some of our friends reckon it takes all the fun out of it, but we know from painful experience it is the lesser of the two evils.

Mrs Brown is a woman of mature years, if not habits, and at this time of the year she puts a lot of thought into buying pressies for our grandchildren. She works on the premise that the gift that is capable of making the most noise is invariably the best.

She takes delight out of knowing that it is some sort of karma connected to the action, which means our sons and daughter get what they deserve.

Drums, trumpets, horns, balls with noises and other types of musical toys, capable of being played at a decibel level that would drown out a 747 jet passing overhead, are considered very good presents.

But, as we know, life so often imitates television and, during the summer months especially, you don't always get what you want.

One of the briefs I got when starting this column more than two years ago was to review notable documentaries. I observed that for much of the first three weeks, before finding there were generally more interesting things on the box. Not always, you understand, but most weeks.

Having a flick through this week's line-up, I couldn't help but notice the number of docos (what us regular viewers of the genre call them) that were on. On Monday night, TV One had three of them, one after another at prime time: 7.30, 8.30 and 9.30pm, give or take a few minutes here and there.

I know from feedback that some regular readers of this column are very intelligent, perceptive, even highbrow, types of people. Like Anne in the New World supermarket, who had the eminently good taste to say how much she enjoyed my modest weekly contribution. Clearly a woman of discerning taste.

Anyway, the first doco was a lightweight offering. It was the final of "the Excellent Adventures of. . ." in this case, Harry Enfield, the British comedian.

It is funny how often funny people aren't funny when they haven't got a script, or a team of writers coming up with brilliant one-liners. Harry was OK, but funny? Mildly.

The problem was the silly scenario he had. He and pal Charlie went on a re-enactment of Operation Barbarossa -- Hitler's ill-fated attempt to invade Russia. So the two chums set out to follow the same path as the German army in World War II.

Oh what a jolly jape it was for these two well-spoken upper-class chums. Oh what bloody silly television it was. Five countries and 1496 kilometres to get through.

On foot, and by jeep, with little stop-offs at Adolf's Wolf's Lair to pad out the hour. It was mildly interesting, if a somewhat strange mixture of Reality TV impersonating a documentary.

Next came the best programme on television I have seen for many an hour (Since Coro St last Thursday in fact!).

Investigation did a superb documentary on Dunblane: 10 Years On. Mrs Brown and I watched it with tears in our eyes as the story of the unhinged gunman, Thomas Hamilton, (a former scoutmaster) who shot and killed a teacher and 16 five or six-year-olds and wounded numerous others was retold. Not with any hysteria or emotional trauma, but in a simple, almost matter-of-fact manner, which is what gave the programme its power.

You couldn't help but feel for one father, who had lost his wife to cancer two years before the massacre, and then lost his only child, a five-year-old girl, who was callously gunned down by Hamilton.

He devoted much of the next 10 years to campaigning for more restrictions on handguns and won some hard-earned reforms. This was television at its best -- apart from showing the All Blacks winning the World Cup next year.

The role of the narrator was a real lesson to those who feel the need to intrude by injecting themselves into a programme where they clearly aren't needed. A bit like British rugby referees.

It may have been coincidental, but during the ad break, while Mrs Brown and I were composing ourselves and looking forward to a wee break from the emotions, what did we get? Ads for ChildFund, of course, showing those poor wretched African children looking close to death. Naturally the only thing between them and death was our wallets and, after 60 seconds of that, it took all my time to stop Mrs Compassionate sponsoring the whole village.

That was the end of the second doco. The third of the night was Sex and Lies in Cambodia, at 9.30pm. It was all about a former Kiwi copper, Graham Cleghorn, who was now living in (you've already guessed) Cambodia.

He'd previously been a monk, complete with the orange sheet wrap-around, but by now, in his fifties, he was happily living with a young Cambodian wife in the middle of nowhere.

To cut a long story short, he was found guilty of five charges of rape and was in jail. He was desperate to get out and his Kiwi lawyer, who was acting pro bono -- no relation to the U2 singer -- reckoned he was being fitted up by a corrupt system.

There was lots of for and against, and it was hard to know who was telling the truth, although a one-day trial without any cross-examination didn't seem all that fair.

The reality was our sympathy quota had already been exhausted. After Dunblane it was almost trivial, if not for poor old Cleggy. Be interesting to see the outcome. A Gibson Group production, the makers bent over backwards (that could get you arrested in Cambodia too) to be balanced and canvass all sides, without comment. It was well done, but inconclusive.

Just to show how inexhaustible Mrs B and I are, we even watched Band Aid: the Song that Rocked the World doco, on TV One at 8.30pm on Tuesday. It was excellent, with Boy George a bit of a scene-stealer. The song still sounds good, plenty of Africans are now getting fed, but there's so much more to do, of course.

Again the ChildFund ad came on; again I had to confiscate the phone. We care, but there is a limit to the financial support we can offer, you understand. Especially when one has to pay for replacement computers after one gets fried. But I promised not to mention that, so all that's left to say is Merry Christmas!

And watch out for next week's annual Brownie awards.