Web Issue 2563 May 22 2006   
Da Vinci broken by the code

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The Da Vinci detective, Channel 4, 7pm (Saturday) The booze cruise III: the scattering, ITV1, 9pm Panorama, BBC1, 10.15pm

Jiggery-Pokery. It's everywhere, I tells ya. Even in programmes that profess to be questing for the truth. Take The Da Vinci Detective. The documentary's makers evidently gave it a late name-change so as to lure in the unthinking herds - not you or me, naturally - who've hoovered up Dan Brown's laboured pile of tosh, The Da Vinci Code.
Originally, you see, Saturday's show was less marketably entitled The Leonardo Detective. There was some justification for the name-change, I admit, as the programme's central figure - an Italian forensic scientist and art historian called Maurizio Seracini - apparently earns a mention in Dan Brown's specious tripe (not that I spotted Maurizio's name there myself, of course, having only managed to read two pages of it before I became blinded by the tears I was weeping for the written word's future).
But I digress. The Da Vinci Detective began its study of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings in instructive and thought-provoking fashion, revealing that the Renaissance giant's reputation rests on just 15 extant works. In Leonardo's lifetime, his most famous painting, The Mona Lisa, was probably viewed merely as just another bread-and-butter portrait commission. Instead, his big set-piece canvases depicting religious spectacle and contemporary martial gore were the medieval box-office smashes that had the Florentine punters agog all those centuries ago.
Seeking further instances of Leonardo's genius, Seracini chose to focus such techniques as thermal imaging on two other works: a partially lost mural depicting The Battle of Anghiari, and his unfinished Adoration of the Magi. "In the process," a voiceover doomily assured us, "Maurizio had to put his reputation on the line. If he got it wrong, his career as an art detective could be finished."
Unexpectedly, things then took a dangerous - nay, murderous - turn, via grainy footage depicting the police investigation into the real-life doings of the Monster, a serial killer who plagued Florence and its environs 20 years ago. Pizzo del Diavolo! Had the Monster been slaying art historians for interpreting Leonardo's brushwork? No, The Da Vinci Detective was merely trumpeting the fact that Seracini had been a forensic investigator during the Monster case -and he'd be using the same rigorous science to look at Leonardo's work. It was at this point that I began shouting at my telly, crying: "Phooey! You've over-egged your pudding, you dissembling art historians!" So I turned it off.
Dash it if the same thing didn't happen last night too as I tried watching The Booze Cruise III. How could a comedy drama make you dislike some of the most likeable faces on the telly, especially that of ubiquitous two-ton fun-boy Mark Benton, a performer who even manages to make funny TV adverts ("New customers only!") for banks? But I guess that's what happens when you use old gags, cliches and stereotypes for dialogue, plot and characters.
Thank goodness, then, for last night's Panorama, the culmination of a painstaking six-year investigation by BBC Scotland's Shelley Jofre, for its cogent summary of the shenanigans surrounding the long-running Shirley McKie fingerprint case. Timely, too, as Ms McKie will be giving evidence to the Scottish parliamentary inquiry into the whole sorry affair on Wednesday.
That will solely concern the fingerprint that the Scottish Criminal Records Office misidentified as hers. However, as Panorama made clear, there was another SCRO misidentification - of the print that led to David Asbury's conviction for murder.
As Panorama asked: what are the chances that the same four experts working on the same murder inquiry made not one but two "honest mistakes"?