Dan Nichols reviews 'Bad Lads Army', Thursday nights ITV1
'Bad Lads Army' is the follow-up to 'Lads Army', a 2002 programme which put a group of young men through 1950s-style National Service training.
This time, the 'lads' all have a criminal past of one sort or another.
The left's attitude to conscription has always been ambivalent. On the one hand we abhor the idea of young men and women being forced to go off and fight imperialist wars. On the other hand we feel a non-mercenary army would, perhaps, be less willing to be used for internal repression. Taking a longer view, come the revolution, it might not be a bad idea if more workers had some military training!
However, if we ever did have conscription and us lefties had to face the sort of treatment these 'recruits' have to face in this programme, I'm sure an anti-conscription campaign would be launched very quickly!
The methods used to motivate the lads are a strange mix of bullying and touchy-feely psychology. One minute one of the corporals will be yelling at a recruit and putting him through all manner of humiliating punishments, the next he will be talking quietly to him, telling him that he could be a good soldier and boosting his morale.
There's a high dropout/expulsion rate for the conscripts so far (two weeks into the programme), but most seem to be doing well. It seems to be the really violent characters who have either left or been kicked out - which puts a question mark over the idea that military service might reduce serious criminality.
There is a lot of 'schadenfreude' involved in watching shows such as this. Certainly people who have had to deal with unruly youths on buses or in the classroom will enjoy seeing them 'beasted' on national TV. However, if the point of an army is to fight wars, putting people through a few weeks of basic training can never accurately simulate the National Service experience. To do that the lads would have to go and risk their lives in somewhere like Iraq or East Timor. So while the programme may make entertaining viewing, it is of no real value as a 'social experiment'.
Of course, the army is an extreme expression of Britain's class society. Being bullied into submitting to the will of the officer class is supposed to be as much a lesson for the shop floor as it is for the drill square. When you think about this, you should certainly question the motives of those who scream for the return of conscription at every available opportunity, and maybe those of the programme makers.