Normally, a young reporter’s first steps into the media world might be a stint of work experience; the dramatic peak might be an exciting court case.
Not so for Russell Sharp: his first job in the media was to enlist in the British Army and go undercover for six months, to report on the bullying, for a BBC documentary.
It made remarkable viewing last night. The film showed Sharp’s fear at being discovered by his fellow recruits and superiors as he secretly filmed them during training.
The racism and bullying he witnessed was shocking – it’s been documented here at the BBC website. As numerous papers reported, five suspensions of army instructors have since been made – it is unclear how many are a direct result of allegations made by the BBC.
Yet BBC1’s unusual documentary ‘Undercover Soldier’ got the worst broadcast figures for the slot since June 2006 despite its controversial subject matter. It started with 2.6m (10.1%) watching, and then slowly declined to 2.3m. Even Ann Widdecombe and the girl gangs, over on ITV did better than that.
Why the low ratings? Was it because they didn’t send out preview copies, or that it was a last minute addition to the broadcast schedule? Or was the viewing public just not interested?