Proper Gander: Hidden Cameraderie

Traditionally, if you were the victim of a hidden camera show, then you’d find out when you heard ‘smile, you’re on Candid Camera’ or realised the officious bearded idiot who’s just crushed your car is Jeremy Beadle. But if you’re caught by Channel 4’s Eye Spy, you’ll be confronted by a film crew scrutinising the ethics of your behaviour. The programme tries to distance itself from the schadenfreude of Candid Camera and Beadle’s About by using the hidden camera format to attempt to gauge the nation’s moral fibre. Eye Spy uses set-up situations to test how the people stumbling into them will react.

Presenter Stephen Fry asks what you would do if you found money lying around, whether it’s stacked up in bundles in a holdall, or a tenner in a dropped wallet with a return address inside. Would you help a lad using a wheelchair get up a long flight of steps, or an elderly shopper in a supermarket, even if they became a bit too demanding? The answer seems to be that we’ll usually go out of our way for someone else, but we’re less likely to if we can’t relate to the person behind the need. Only the discarded wallets which contained a photo were returned, for example.

Another set-up involves a restaurant being hired by the programme, and an actor playing an obnoxiously bigoted waiter. A volunteer couple, either gay or of different ethnicities, then sit through the waiter revealing his prejudices within earshot of the other diners. Will anyone else rally round to challenge the waiter? Many of us would, although apparently we’re less quick to do so outside London.

The show generally doesn’t try to be scientific by running the tests on a large scale. This is a pity, as some of the scenarios could give us interesting conclusions about social norms and peer pressure, if we excuse the duplicity involved. Society wouldn’t function if people weren’t basically co-operative and helpful, and how this is expressed depends on society’s principles. But instead of this kind of analysis, we just get Stephen Fry making the occasional patronising remark from the back of a taxi, presumably on his way to film QI.

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