Was Channel 4’s Don’t Look Down documentary irresponsible?

Oh my GOD – did you watch Don’t Look Down last night on Channel 4? I don’t think I have ever said ‘Oh my God’ more times as I did during this documentary. The previous record for ‘Oh my God’ television was when Felix Baumgartner jumped out of his spaceship and fell to Earth, but this made that look like a little trip round your Granny’s. Felix had a parachute…

Urban free climber, twenty-three year old James Kingston seemed nice, if a little serious. Sitting in his bedroom, he explained his hobby to us with an unsmiling face and cold grey eyes. James spoke of enjoying a life outside of the comfort zone, but as he lived with his mum we weren’t initially convinced. All fine so far. However, James went on to explain how he had transitioned from a reclusive teenager, in his bedroom, at his mum’s, obsessed with gaming and being a bit dull, to a person who liked to climb up cranes and hang from them. HANG. From CRANES. Woah there James, I can barely climb the stairs. What are you talking about…?

In was then, during the montage of James’s crane escapades, that my hands truly started sweating. A head-cam showed James’s feet as he looked down at the city below and took some tentative steps along mind-bendingly narrow strips of steel. Cars whizzed and rivers flowed beneath him. This would be bad enough (my palms are sweating again now as I type – I hope this wears off later. Cheers James) but James then liked to do the unthinkable and allow himself to dangle into the void, holding on with his bare hands and then letting go with one, hanging by just a few fingers. ‘James!! Are you out of your mind?!’ we all shouted, as he smiled up at the camera. Who was filming that bit? Oh don’t think about it, it makes you too dizzy.

This went on for a while. James, climbing cranes. His friend driving him to building sites in the early morning and waiting for him to come back down. His poor mother, sweating in her kitchen as she waited anxiously for him to return home for his breakfast. It was a terrible melting-pot of sweating and cold steel for everyone involved and then after the adverts came the worst bit of all…Mustang Wanted…

Mustang Wanted is a Ukranian lunatic, infamous on YouTube for daring free climbing. Cranes? Pah! Mustang climbs cranes in his sleep. Mustang’s montage of free climbing was almost unwatchabley terrifying. James flew out to Ukraine to meet him and maybe discuss doing some climbing together. It was like watching exchange students, who’d spent the school term corresponding about their hobbies and families, finally meeting each other, but in a horrible, sweating nightmare gone wrong.

Using an interpreter, Mustang told James he wanted to hold his hand and dangle off the Moscow Bridge. Now, people have said this to me before and usually it’s the point where I tip my hat and bid them ‘Adieu’. Not James though. He was tentative at first, but Mustang convinced him and like two monkeys they shimmied 377ft up the bridge to perform the trick. With Moscow nauseously far below them, they held hands and swung off the bridge. Then James did a back flip. Classic James. When he showed his mum the footage later at home, she buried her head in her hands, but I think I detected a flicker of pride on her face. That’s my boy.

Following the programme, there has been some concern that Channel 4 broadcasting this programme may have irresponsibly invited copycats to follow in the dangerous footsteps of James and Mustang. All I can say to that is…. ‘umm don’t worry.’

First published by Cambridge News


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