Friday, January 25, 2008

I'm just working my way through Q6, Q7 and Q8, Spike Milligan's BBC2 shows from the second half of the 1970s. A gangling presence in many of them is Chris Langham. His recent conviction makes no difference to my ability to enjoy his work as a comic performer. Judge the work, not the man - if the reverse were applied consistently, the world's art galleries would be empty.

Langham's encounter with Dr Pamela Connolly on More4's 'Shrink Wrap' made infinitely more uncomfortable viewing than any of Langham's comedy. Whatever the erstwhile Ms Stephenson's qualifications, the whole programme seemed a nasty, cynical exercise - tabloid prurience hiding behind a skimpy veil of serious, scientific enquiry. Nonetheless, I'm glad that Langham was allowed to discuss his situation at length. On many Internet forums, the prevailing view seemed to be 'no platform for nonces', with anyone arguing otherwise being painted as either an apologist for child abuse or a potential abuser themselves.

My problem with the knee-jerk reaction is two-fold. Firstly, we stand even less chance of understanding and preventing child abuse if we don't listen to its practitioners, however distasteful we find what they say. Secondly, I don't think that Langham is a paedophile. While there is obviously considerable room to doubt his 'research' mitigation, gratification is not the sole motivation for looking at any unpleasant images. I looked at the Ken Bigley beheading video when it was on Ogrish. Does that make me a terrorist or a decapitation fanatic? Or just someone trying to understand the unpleasant world he lives in a little bit more?

There is no doubt that Langham was wrong to access the material that he saw. There is also no doubt that a legal redress of some kind was appropriate, although I believe that an especially heavy sentence was doled out, as this was a high-profile case and a perfect opportunity to present a deterrent example to others. However, to state unequivocally that Langham has to be a paedophile is not something that any of us outside the psychiatric team that evaluated him, post-trial, is in a position to do. I can only speak in terms of my perceptions, thoughts and beliefs with regard to the matter, and I am careful to do so. The most I can do to support my view is to suggest that Langham being allowed to return to his wife and young family - one of 11, one of 13 - indicates that the assessors concluded that while he is undoubtedly many things, he is not a risk to children.

I respect the right of others to doubt Langham's sincerity, but I condemn their tendency to present their own ill-informed surmises as unassailable fact.