The Papers

9pm, BBC One

Imagine you ran a single newsroom that played home to three very different newspapers, all hustling to make deadlines, seven days a week. Further imagine that, faced with declining traditional revenue streams, and trying to work out how best to cater for readers and advertisers now seeking online alternatives, the place had gone through several rounds of restructuring.

Imagine that, as part of this, you had just dropped a Sunday paper that had run for 19 years, and were now planning to launch two new Sundays to take its place, even though they would inevitably be rivals, competing for the same readership. Lastly, just for laughs, imagine that, while all this was going on, you were trying to cover the biggest, most important, most incomprehensible news story in a generation.

Now, here’s a question: in this hectic hypothetical nightmare scenario, what is the most obvious thing to do? Why, of course: invite a TV documentary team in to film it all happening.

This is the situation in The Papers, an absorbing, eye-opening two-part film by Sarah Howitt, who was given extended access to the Glasgow office of the Herald & Times group of newspapers – the Evening Times, The Herald, The National and the Sunday editions of the latter two – to record the often remarkably intelligent and good-looking things that go on behind the scenes.

A declaration of interest is in order: the chances are you are reading this preview in one of those papers. But for anyone interested in journalism in Scotland, and in general, Howitt’s series is vital, capturing a crucial moment in the long struggle for newspapers to work out what they will be in the algorithmic tomorrow.

The statistics are stark. During the 1990s, The Herald sold 130,000 copies daily; now it’s around 22,000. The battle to increase print sales is already lost – though many readers of the print product would disagree. All there is left to do is “manage the decline” while catering for a growing online audience – a new reality that now sees record numbers engage with the brands.

The question is how to stay relevant: how to match the speed of Twitter and the echoing alternative facts of social media, while maintaining the principles that getting it right is better than getting it first, and that finding the story is better than generating another clickbait headline. How to do all this when resources are tight. Now a combined staff of 100 work to produce the stable’s three titles and their websites.

“It’s an extraordinary achievement these publications come out at all,” says veteran writer Iain Macwhirter.

Focusing on the Glasgow-based papers lends Howitt’s series a particular character, due to relationship between The Herald, the world’s longest-surviving English-language daily, and the newly arrived The National.

The differences go beyond political stance (The National’s loudly pro-independence nature, The Herald’s neutral view) to contrasting ideas about what news is and how to present it.

Yet, rubbing elbows in the same office, there is as much camaraderie as competition: they are like conjoined twins born decades apart, the greyer, older sibling wincing slightly as the youngster jumps up and down, but experiencing the odd jealous pang.

Herald On Sunday assistant editor Andy Clark, a thirty-year veteran of the industry, pauses from juggling the jobs of 10, to reflect on watching the number of empty desks grow around him.

“The Herald could…never do that,” Clark muses while considering one of The National’s famously eyeball-bursting cover graphics.

The series, which started filming in September 2018, shows their different characters in action against the backdrop of covering Brexit as it entered its craziest stage. It’s fascinating stuff, although, as deadlines loom, and systems crash, you might have a mild nervous breakdown watching it.

But watch it. And #BuyAPaper.



Cyprus Avenue

10pm, BBC Four

The great Stephen Rea revives the extraordinary performance he originated on stage in this new adaptation of writer David Ireland’s viciously absurdist play, about sectarianism and identity in Northern Ireland. Rea plays Eric, an Ulster unionist in the grip of an existential crisis: throughout the long traumas of the Troubles, he built his life around his sense of being British; yet the British still view him as an Irishman. His angst fractures into a full on psychotic meltdown focused on his new granddaughter, as he comes to believe that this five-week-old girl is, in fact…Gerry Adams. Powered by Rea’s performance, Ireland’s play is wildly, darkly funny, but harsh, and moving toward tragedy. Directed by Vicky Featherstone, this version mixes live footage from the stage performance with location footage shot in Belfast.


Crime And Punishment

9pm, Channel 4

Produced by Roger Graef, who made the BBC’s landmark 1982 documentary Police, this new series sets out to build an in-depth picture of the state of the criminal justice system, spotlighting the work of the police, probation, prison, prosecution and parole services as they attempt to handle difficult cases with limited resources. Tonight’s episode focuses on the Imprisonment For Public Protection sentence, a controversial scheme introduced by the Blair government, under which offenders could be sent to prison without a release date. The fates of thousands of such IPP prisoners still lie in the hands of the Parole Board, but the strain of living in such limbo can have damaging results, as exemplified by Aaron, a prisoner who has started self-harming as a protest. Ken Clarke has called the sentence “a stain on the Criminal Justice System” – but this harsh film offers no easy answers.


Defending The Guilty

10pm, BBC Two

Adapted from barrister Alex McBride’s tell-all book about his experiences of Britain’s criminal justice system, this new sitcom has enough strong points in its favour – from the premise to the cast to the way the whole thing looks – that it might be worth overlooking how underwhelming this pilot is and coming back next week to see if it gets better. Will Sharpe plays idealistic young pupil barrister Will, learning the ropes under the jaded eye of Caroline (Katherine Parkinson), who does her best to rid him of the naïve notion that their work has anything to do with justice. Their jobs tonight include defending a murder suspect who almost certainly did it. Sharpe’s puppyish attitude works well with Parkinson’s cynicism, but they’re let down by a script in which every punch line can be seen coming.


City On A Hill

9pm, Sky Atlantic

If you can shake the feeling that, any minute, Kevin Bacon is going to start advertising mobile phone networks, this new crime series is solid enough. The city in question is the Boston of the early 1990s. Bacon, behind a moustache as thick as his take on the local accent, plays Jackie Rohr, a greasy, cheerfully corrupt FBI veteran, who forms a reluctant partnership with the new Assistant District Attorney, Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge), who is an outsider three times over: he’s just arrived from New York; as an African-American, he stands out in Boston law enforcement’s all white boy’s club; and, most glaring of all, he’s idealistic and ethical. As they work to take down a gang behind a string of armoured car robberies, the series, produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, strives to make Boston a character in its own right.


The Cameron Years

9pm, BBC Two

Given that he managed to break the world, send everyone raging insane, and then ran away, you might be wondering how loveable scamp David Cameron has the nerve to raise his Kilroy Was Here head above the parapet again and show face. Well, he’s got a book coming out today. According to rumour, he’s been trying to postpone the publication until “after Brexit” since 2018, and had presumably hoped it would all be done and dusted by now. Imagine him misjudging that. To save you from reading it, the BBC has put together this handy two-part documentary, featuring DC himself. No previews were made available, but this first episode charts his first days in power, leading the coalition government, and explores why he made his fateful commitment to having a cheeky wee referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.




Confined entirely to a police interrogation facility, Netflix’s new crime anthology seeks the claustrophobic hothouse atmosphere of interview movies like The Offence, Garde a Vue and Under Suspicion, with a dash of Line Of Duty. Each self-contained episode is a psychological cat-and-mouse, as detectives grill suspects across the interview table. As an international hook, the 12-part series will later feature stories in France, Germany and Spain, but we begin with three episodes focusing on the UK team, led by Hobbs and Myerscough (the excellent Katherine Kelly and Lee Ingleby). As with any anthology, it’s a mixed bag. When the script works, as in the opener, featuring David Tennant on brilliant form as a polite, blank murder suspect, the focus on performance generates a real intensity. In other stories, though (episode two), I experienced flashbacks to the bare bones tedium of Crown Court.


Arena: Nomad – In The Footsteps Of Bruce Chatwin

9.45pm, BBC Two

Commissioned by the BBC, this is a significant new work by the visionary German filmmaker/ international maverick, Werner Herzog. The great director was a friend of Chatwin, the British adventurer and writer who died in 1989, and whose approach changed the form of travel writing: simultaneously a reportage of facts, an interior journey, a philosophical search for some secret knowledge – and an exercise in burnishing his own myth. Armed with the rucksack Chatwin gave him on his deathbed, Herzog replicates some of his most famous journeys, through South America, the Australian outback, and the brooding Welsh borders, the area he defines as “the landscape of Chatwin’s soul.” Less a profile of Chatwin than a meditation on shared obsessions, it’s a film to remind you of the strangeness of the world.