Donal MacIntyre's Underworld Review

One must admire Donal MacIntyre. Not, you understand, for his bravery in facing such gangland legends as Paul Ferris, Mark Clinton, Paul Grimes and Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair but for sitting through their long-winded, self-aggrandising tales of their exploits in otherwise run down parts of sprawling British cities. As sure as there's docks, imports and labourers, the likes of Ferris, Clinton and Grimes are swift in setting up security firms to aid and abet the dealing of drugs, the laundering of cash payments and the handing out of punishment beatings. And after their glory days are over, they have Donal MacIntyre to buy them teas, buttered scones and endless cartons of cigarettes in exchange of their life stories. Fond of talking in the third person, of baring their chests to reveal their battle scars and to talk about the good ol' days, MacIntyre sits quietly with them, nodding in all the right places and feigning interest. And not to laugh when Mad Dog, as MacIntyre points out, talks about himself, in a fashion similar to the Queen and Margaret Thatcher, in the third person.

Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair. Or as he was more popularly known in the days after being run out of Belfast by his former partners in the UDA and UFF, Sad Dog. He features in one of the episodes in this two-disc set, talking about his days leading C Company and selecting, monitoring and, as he, with not much grasp of the English language, puts it, targeting targets. Like a Billy Bunter whose addiction to steroids just about hides his belly, Adair is a short, tubby little man who strutted his stuff about the Shankill and made a professional life out of killing those of the wrong religion who just happened to be in the wrong place. The targets that he describes were taxi drivers, labourers and, in events that would see him ousted, his one-time partners in crime. Oh, and he had a byline in drug dealing, prostitution and extortion. Now, he just ambles around Troon, his new home but with the aid of MacIntyre, he makes a return trip to Belfast under cover of darkness. In spite of expressing his happiness at getting out alive, a self-publicist like Adair can't have been content to note that nobody recognised him, not even the police who stop his car at a checkpoint. Meanwhile, he's barely even a footnote in the story of Northern Ireland. Life has moved on but Adair has not.

That's the story of each of the ex-gangsters featured here, be it Liverpool's Paul Grimes, Glasgow's Paul Ferris or Newcastle's Paddy Conroy. As with the likes of 'Mad' Frankie Fraser, who made a living of sorts touring television studios to talk about his days in sixties gangland London - friend to the Krays, good to his mother and entertaining Alan Titchmarsh with tales of shootings underneath the Westway - these ex-gangsters revel in the notoriety that their past exploits have brought them. In Supergrass, MacIntyre catches up with Paul Grimes, who turned informer against drug dealers Curtis Warren and John Haase after his own son died of a heroin overdose. Now with graffiti in the city threatening him, a bounty of £100,000 on his head (his words) and with Warren and Haase release on the horizon, Grimes is preparing to leave Liverpool and enter the Witness Protection Programme. Taking in low lives and high politics, Supergrass is one of the more interesting stories here, particularly its showing of how Michael Howard, having promised to be tough on criminals at the Conservative Party conference, then gifted Haase a royal pardon only, five years later, to be convicted of gun running and dealing in drugs.

Other stories, such as those of hitman and drug dealer Paul Ferris follow in Vendetta. Ferris talks of his troubled childhood, his visits to his father in prison and his scalping of a teenage bully but other than the stories from within Glasgow's underworld, Ferris never really opens up to MacIntyre. Mark Clinton does more, talking about the attempts on his life from a setting within an abandoned warehouse and about those times he came close to murdering others. Cocaine And Coconuts tells of those arrested, Andrew Pritchard in particular, in the seizure of 500kg of cocaine en route to London in a container full of coconuts. Without ever actually meeting Pritchard, MacIntyre tells the story through Pritchard's girlfriend Amber who, you'll be surprised to learn, claims her boyfriend to be entirely innocent. The amount of evidence compiled by Customs & Excise tends to point to his guilt.

The last two stories are those of Newcastle's Paddy Conroy (Get Conroy) and Brian 'The Taxman' Cockerill (Taxman). Conroy, released after a 12-year stay in prison, tells MacIntyre of his gangland exploits, including, in a spot of amateur dentistry, pulling out a rival's teeth with a pair of pliers. Out on parole, Conroy's enemies are now taunting him about a £100,000 price on his head and for one used to settling disagreements with force, it's hard for Conroy to hold back. Cockerill is also a man well-used to violence. Putting up his dukes, he even spars with MacIntyre, who looks more confused by the turn of events than frightened. But his story is one of extorting cash from drug dealers, which is how he got his name of The Taxman but lest you think this is his part in clearing dealers from the streets, this 'tax' is what allows them to continue operating on Teeside.

These are predictable gangland figures. The steroid-addict look is the most popular, with Conroy, Cockerill, Adair and Grimes all favouring the shaven head, the swollen gut and the hard man strut. Walk through any inner-city estate and you'll bump into a dozen or so men just like these four. When Adair left Belfast, there were plenty of wannabes all too ready to step into his shoes. With some confidence, one can say the same about Conroy, Cockerill and Grimes on their particular patches. The only exceptions to this are Andrew Pritchard, who appears to have lost his way and wandered off the set of Season 2 of Miami Vice and into gangland London, and Paul Ferris, who, were it not for the scar on his chin, would be more accountant than hitman.

MacIntyre learns little from his interviewing these gangland figures and while it's presented as though he's flirting with danger, not even 'Mad Dog' Adair, who killed Northern Irish Catholics in between drug dealing, extortion and pimping, lets the Souther Irish Catholic MacIntyre off without so much as a clip around the ear. I suspect that they're all rather enjoying the publicity, with the likes of Ferris, Adair and Cockerill making as much off their true-crime books, personal appearances and gangland celebrity as they ever did out of killing, terrorism and extortion. Crime may not pay but living off a criminal reputation most certainly does.



Transfer

Produced for television and presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, MacIntyre's Underworld is just about acceptable throughout. There isn't very much background detail, the foreground is lit rather too harshly and far too much offscreen violence is suggested by wobbly camcorder footage but the DVD looks much as MacIntyre's Underworld did when it was shown on television. The DVD presentation hasn't added or taken anything away from the show and while it's not the most attractive of shows to watch, that's probably the point. And, anyway, it's not portraying the most attractive of people.

There isn't any choice of audio track, coming with a DD2.0 stereo track and nothing else. Then again, given that MacIntyre's Underworld doesn't feature anything more than interviews with various criminals, a surround soundtrack would be rather wasted on this show but there is some stereo separation and the dialogue, if not a great deal more than regional variations on, "You're fackin' dead, you fat fackin' cant!", is generally fairly clear throughout.



Extras

There are no extras on this DVD.

Film
4 out of 10
Video
4 out of 10
Audio
5 out of 10
Extras
0 out of 10
Overall

3

out of 10

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