Ross Kemp: The Fight Against Isis

He may have been hired for his hardman image but, over the past 12 years, Ross Kemp has proved himself a first-rate (and BAFTA-winning) investigative reporter to put most journalists – those who watch telly for a living, for example – to shame.

This week saw our correspondent donning his tin hat to join the makeshift Kurdish army which, with the help of Allied air strikes, is slowly liberating Iraqi and Syrian towns and villages from the grip of ISIS’s genocidal fanatics.

In the Iraqi town of Sinjar, he saw evidence of a horrifying campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Kurdish Yazidi people. Mahar, who had spent a year in captivity, told him how, as punishment for an escape attempt, ISIS had poisoned three of her children – including her baby – and taken photos of their dead bodies to serve as a warning to others. She still had the pictures on her iPhone. Nearby, piles of bones lay in the dirt, some still with wristwatches and worry beads attached.

In a police station, Kemp asked a captured ISIS fighter why he’d joined up. ‘The ideology,’ he said. ‘Beating non-believers. And 70 US dollars a month.’ Was it worth it? ‘It would appear not,’ said the handcuffed man, quietly.

And then, lest anyone think this assignment too cushy, Kemp crossed into Syria to join the battle on the western frontline at Rojava. Before long, he was running across open ground, dodging mortar fire, bits of building exploding behind his head.

A Kurdish Muslim commander showed him the scars of his 11 gunshot wounds. ‘To tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘ISIS have put me right off Islam.’ It was almost funny. He also met members of the YPJ, a 7,000-strong army of female fighters – average age 20, some clearly younger; an incongruous mix of acne and assault rifles.

As they drive ISIS out, the Kurds are establishing fledgling democracies, with equal rights for all races and creeds, and women sitting at the top tables. But Kemp was not naive about the geopolitical reality: when this war is over, Turkey – Britain’s chief ally in the region – will surely not allow this Kurdish power base to stand. And so the cycle of violence will go on.


TV extra:

The Secret Agent

Though published in 1907 and set a couple of decades earlier, Joseph Conrad’s novel about a terrorist atrocity could scarcely be more grimly topical. In this intense adaptation by Tony Marchant, Toby Jones plays Verloc, an agent provocateur (nothing to do with naughty undies, though he does own a sex shop) recruited to carry out a false flag attack in order to provoke a crackdown on anarchists.

It’s quality stuff, led by the fabulous pairing of Jones and Vicky McClure, making her costume drama debut. But don’t expect many laughs.


The Rebel

The premise for Andrew Birch’s sitcom – starring Simon Callow as a sort of postmillennial Victor Meldrew, permanently at war with the hipsters, skaters and baristas of his native Brighton – has great potential. And Callow is typically fab as a man who wants to give the world one last kick up the arse, if only his hips were still up to it. But he’s let down by a flabby script that takes potshots at Coldplay (ooh, edgy) and, in 2016, dares to get away with exchanges like: ‘Got any Small Faces?’ ‘The who?’ ‘They’ll do.’

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 21, 2016

(c) Waitrose Weekend