BBC drama offensive to British troops, says Army head

Image caption,
Mackenzie Crook (centre) plays a bullying lance-corporal in the drama

The head of the British army has complained to the BBC about a drama showing bullying among troops in Afghanistan, calling it "deeply offensive to all those serving".

General Sir Peter Wall has written to BBC director general Mark Thompson about the programme, Accused.

The episode features a corporal who bullies two friends who join the Army, one of whom goes on to commit suicide.

Actor Mackenzie Crook, who stars in the drama, said: "This is all fiction."

"I knew it was an emotive piece but it's a piece of fiction, not a documentary," he told BBC Breakfast.

"I have immense respect for UK soldiers and more so after this," he added.

The BBC said it was in no way an attempt to denigrate the Army.

And the writer of the series, Bafta-winning TV dramatist Jimmy McGovern, has said that Accused is a work of fiction and that he had the greatest respect for British soldiers.

McGovern, who also created Cracker and The Street, said: "As a dramatist, I was interested in exploring how soldiers have to be at a certain mindset to kill.

"It is not my intention to slur British soldiers, for whom I have the greatest respect. At the heart of the drama is my belief in the sanctity of life."

The episode is one of a six-part series following different people accused of crimes as they await the verdict of their trials. It stars Crook as a bullying corporal.

The Ministry of Defence said Sir Peter, the Chief of the General Staff, believed the episode was offensive to both troops and their families.

A spokesman said: "There are fears that those watching it will believe this is what is really happening to their loved ones.

"We have asked the BBC to make it clear that this is a fictitious programme, is not accurate and that the Army has nothing to do with making it."

A BBC spokeswoman confirmed that Mr Thompson had received a critical letter from Sir Peter and had responded, but would not release the director general's reply.

She said: "In the promotion of this new drama series... it has been made clear that Accused is a work of fiction.

"It is in no way an attempt to denigrate the servicemen and women of the British Army."

Last week prominent 2003 Iraq war veteran Colonel Tim Collins said the drama "fails the soldiers on the front line" and "abjectly fails the responsibility test".

Image caption,
Col Tim Collins (L) said McGovern (R) had "stabbed [the Army] in the back"

Col Collins gained worldwide recognition for the eve-of-battle speech he gave his men in the Royal Irish Regiment in March 2003.

The decorated soldier, who retired from the Army in 2004, attacked the episode for its "gratuitous violence" and use of "foul and abusive language".

"There is no point to Accused except to try to shock," he told the Radio Times.

Crook told the BBC that real soldiers were in the supporting cast who "advised us about whether we'd got it right. They were all very complimentary."

He added that they had a military advisor on the set.

Best known as the creator of crime drama Cracker, McGovern has also written dramas about the 1989 Hillsborough disaster and the Bloody Sunday shootings of 1972.

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