Her Majesty's Prison: Aylesbury; Black Mirror – TV review

This is very disturbing viewing – but we should know what it's like in prison

A friend wants to know if I'll be watching Her Majesty's Prison: Aylesbury (ITV). I say friend, but we've never actually met; we know each other on Twitter. A modern friend, then. I will be – am – watching. My modern friend wants to know because his son is currently there, at HMP Aylesbury.

Jesus, I said to my girlfriend, it would be good if our boy never ends up at Aylesbury. It's not the sort of place the parent of a resident would feel entirely relaxed about. For example, he might end up with Devon as a cellmate. Devon loves it when things kick off; it makes the day go quicker. "When you're in the moment and you're fighting brov, you're fighting to survive, so you don't get wiped out," he says. (No self-respecting inmate wants to go the way of the dodo.) "So they ain't going to come and smack you up, so you gotta smack them down before they put you down, innit. I gotta put in the work on you, if you die, you die innit, that's how it goes innit. That's how it goes." Put in the work – it sounds almost like a job, or a duty, or dentistry. Maybe it is dentistry. God, I hope my friend's son doesn't share with Devon. I hope my friend's son isn't Devon. Don't think so: different last names.

Stephen, another resident, has got used to the fighting: "I've been brought up with a lot of violence, innit. But I didn't used to like it. You see a lot of it, so you just get used to it. Then after that, you just start to like it."

Brilliant – so people are learning to be desensitised to violence inside, and then to enjoy it. I'm not sure that's what was intended by the programmes for education and learning new skills in prisons, was it?

There's a casual indifference to the violence among the staff, too; they are used to it. A fight breaks out. Two lads were throwing blows, stamping on each other's heads, explains a female officer who helped separate them. "Saying hello to each other," laughs another female officer. What about the first officer, is she OK? "Yeah, fine. Punch to the boob but I'm all right," she says, cheerfully. "I think it was, anyway; it was probably his elbow," she adds pointing to a male colleague. And they all have a good laugh about it. Punch to the boob, hahaha. Saying hello, the stampy-head way, hahaha.

Another situation develops during filming. One prisoner is taken hostage by three others. They barricade themselves into a cell, strip him, threaten to rape him; he passes out. He is released eventually; the hostage-takers are given a few extra days to their sentences. The problem was a geographical one: someone was from the north of England, someone else wasn't.

It's very disturbing television – not just the violence but the noise, too, a hellish cacophony of metallic banging, clanking and shouting. It's also brave and admirable television, too. Prisons in this country haven't been open to much filming before; I imagine this involved an awful lot of negotiation between TV people and governors and justice departments. It's the right thing to do, though; people should know what it's like in prison.

Of course, we're seeing just highlights – or rather lowlights – not the hours of banged-up boredom, which wouldn't make very good TV. But there isn't much ammunition here for the people who say prison is like a hotel, that inmates just sit about watching Sky Sports. It comes over as seriously tough. A deterrent, even – I've recorded it to show my son, when he's a bit older (than 11 months).

Turns out my friend's son arrived after filming, so he's not in it. He hasn't had any grief there, thank heaven. Maybe it is too soft. Innit.

Ha, Black Mirror (Channel 4)! Like The Hunger Games plus The Truman Show plus The Gadget Show plus Jeremy Kyle plus Big Brother plus Dawn of the Dead plus Sean of the Dead plus Groundhog Day plus a lot of morons with phones, all snorted into Charlie Brooker's head where it can fester and go off a bit and gather darkness ... before getting vomited out – projectile vomited – on to the screen.

I actually preferred the first one. It was more human, and felt more of an individual drama in its own right. This is more brutal and bleaker. Nastier. And still probably about the most imaginative television around right now. A big blinding flash of futuresplat.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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