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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 17:24 GMT
Theroux hits gold with Hamiltons
Neil and Christine Hamilton with Louis Theroux
Theroux (centre) with the Hamiltons: Riveting TV
By BBC News Online's Alex Webb

If half of good journalism is simply being in the right place at the right time, Louis Theroux could hardly fail with Neil and Christine Hamilton.

The Hamiltons always make good copy - they can't help it.

But soon after Theroux began filming with the couple they were arrested for indecent assault, and a leisurely piece of eavesdropping TV suddenly turned into a riveting, fly-on-the-wall documentary.

The programme starts predictably enough, with Theroux in his usual faux-naf mode - though, as usual, it proves to be an effective way of drawing admissions out of his subjects.

Double-entendre

When he asks if they are a "saucy couple", Christine Hamilton answers: "What's wrong with being saucy?"

Neil and Christine Hamilton
The Hamiltons: Any publicity is good publicity?
It is Christine who answers most of the questions, Neil being happy with the occasional lame double-entendre.

Always immaculately turned-out, unlike her husband whose first appearance is in running shorts, she is the power in the relationship and a magnet for the camera.

And if Theroux cultivates Christine more than Neil, it may be because, opinionated and pugnacious as she is, she makes more rewarding TV.

Apparently motivated by the old nostrum that any publicity is good publicity, the couple show Theroux their TV cookery pilot - Posh Nosh.

They introduce him to friends like Gyles Brandreth MP, while still protesting their innocence of the cash-for-questions allegations that first projected them onto the nation's front pages.

Gruelling

But events suddenly take a darker turn. On a visit to their solicitor Michael Coleman, Theroux learns that the couple are about to be arrested, by prior arrangement, on new allegations of rape and indecent assault.

Louis Theroux
Theroux cultivates a naive inquisitiveness
Under the merciless gaze of the camera, the Hamiltons are seen emerging from a gruelling day at Barkingside police station and enduring a press pack welcome.

Then, in a fascinating glimpse of a press scandal from the inside, we see the Hamiltons and their solicitor discussing the events of the day on the way home in the car.

The stress and sense of pain is tangible - and it is hard not to feel some sympathy for the pair in the face of such bizarre and hurtful allegations.

Theroux even claims that the stress of events is making him start biting his nails again - though the sceptical viewer might wonder if this was all part of the elaborately awkward persona he cultivates for these documentaries.

Siege

"I'm not a journalist, I'm a friend," he volunteers at one point - which, remarkably, goes unchallenged.

In any case, it is fascinating TV - and the show is likely to be seen as one of Theroux's best.

As the crisis over the sex allegations deepens, Theroux follows the couple to their Cheshire home, which is under siege from the press.

Over numerous glasses of wine, Theroux probes the couple for the secret of their fascination - in quite personal ways.

"Are you sexually normal?" he asks at one point.

"100% normal" answers, Christine Hamilton, though her flagrant flirtation with Theroux might suggest otherwise.

Tears

But the pressure on the couple is palpable. When Christine is not flirting with Theroux she is assembling shopping receipts to prove her whereabouts on the day of the allegations.

Neil and Christine Hamilton
The pressure on the couple is palpable
And despite the tears and recriminations, there is no doubt of her strength, which on the evidence of this programme has been inherited from her mother - who appears impervious to Theroux's charms and strongly suggests getting rid of him.

But the Hamiltons - somewhat to the viewer's surprise - seem content to keep Theroux on board.

There is a kind of happy ending to the programme - or what probably has to pass for a happy ending, in such complicated lives.

Two weeks after the allegations are made, the police drop their investigation and Theroux toasts the couple with champagne.

He might be toasting his own good fortune in walking into such a ready-made TV drama.

And it may not be over.

The Hamiltons are now suing the police for wrongful arrest, and the woman who made the allegations for libel.

This saga, one senses, will run and run - but will Theroux get another chance to make a programme with the Hamitons?

One can't help hoping so.

See also:

11 Dec 01 | Reviews
Louis Theroux: Your views
06 Dec 01 | TV and Radio
This week's TV: Good and Theroux
13 Aug 01 | TV and Radio
The weird world of Louis Theroux
10 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Profile: Neil Hamilton
29 Aug 01 | UK
Have-a-go Hamilton, Part II
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