Where others look at conflict in terms of derring-do and massive blunders, strokes of luck or strokes of jaw-dropping human wickedness, Mr Macintyre gets to plunder the war records in search of the wacky.
His latest, SAS: Rogue Warriors (BBC2) brings a welcome touch of the bizarre to a group who’d probably prefer it forgotten.
Indeed, the history of the Special Air Service was forgotten for 75 years until Ben Macintyre got at it, revealing an original story like no other.
The founder of the SAS, one David Archibald Stirling, was described by colleagues as a giant sloth.
A drifter and a dreamer, with plans both of climbing Everest and becoming a painter, Stirling, like so many of his generation, discovered his inner depths in the mayhem of war.
The first episode of SAS: Rouge Warriors explores the origins of the SAS
Writer and broadcaster Ben Macintyre reveals a history like no other
It was 1941 and Rommel was winning the war for North Africa, when Stirling hit upon the idea of targeting German planes on the ground, miles behind enemy lines, by parachuting in commandos with bombs in their knapsacks.
It turned out that this was a terrible idea, or at least, a terribly executed one, resulting in the deaths of thirty-four out of the fifty-five men on the first mission.
By then, though, the SAS existed. More accurately, it had a name, given by a shadowy misinformation unit quartered in the basement of a Cairo brothel, with the aim of convincing the Germans that the Brits were far more organised than they really were.
Founder David Archibald Stirling came up with the idea of parachuting in commandos with bombs
The Cairo brothel was the sort of detail Macintyre’s kind of history excels in and it looked dull in comparison to some of the men who served as Stirling’s first recruits.
Pick of the bunch was former Irish rugby legend Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne who, according to some accounts, was hired for the SAS while in jail for knocking out his commanding officer.
On a later mission, Mayne shot some 30 Germans at point blank range while sabotaging an airfield. ‘I was obliged to rebuke him,’ noted Stirling in his records.
Wars are never won honourably, of course, and in the case of Britain, never without a touch of madness.
The best TV for 2017
Fri, December 9, 2016
Peaky Blinders, Broadchurch, Homeland, The Voice UK and more. Here's the best TV coming your way in 2017.
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The Best TV to watch out for in 2017 including Peaky Blinders, Broadchurch, Homeland & The Voice UK
The Accused (Channel 5) followed a young woman in the harrowing months prior to her trial, on charges of child cruelty and failing to protect her baby from a violent assault by her partner.
We saw the case from many angles, hers, the barrister’s, the solicitor’s, even her bewildered mum’s.
Yet while we didn’t face the thousands of pages of transcripted phone calls, text messages, police interviews and medical opinion, we got some flavour of the work that goes into a major court case.
Rightly so, too, since the young woman in question, 22 at the time of filming, was facing a long jail sentence for charges she denied.
The Accused follows a woman in the months before her trial
As every legal drama reminds us, (and far less well than this landmark documentary film did) ‘Justice’ and ‘justice’ are not quite the same thing.
The more we learned about the case, the more obvious it seemed that this eloquent, intelligent young mother was being offered a way out.
Since that involved a ‘cut-throat defence’ against her former partner, though, she just wouldn’t take it.
At the root of her decision, it seemed, wasn’t some pitiful loyalty to a boyfriend but a sense that it just wasn’t right to say what she couldn’t know to be true. Commendable, everywhere except the courtroom.