Famous and Fighting Crime, review: Penny Lancaster stole the show in this arresting reality series

Michael Hogan
Penny Lancaster and Sgt Rory Thompson - ©RYAN MCNAMARA 2018 (Channel 4 images must not be altered or manipulated in any way) CHANNEL 4 P

Hello, hello, hello, what’s all this then? Not another entry in the “celebrities trying out jobs” genre is it, sonny? Fortunately, Famous and Fighting Crime (Channel 4) was more arresting and less formulaic than it sounded.

As crime figures rise and budgets tighten, police forces nationwide rely on 12,000 Special Constables – part-time volunteers with all the powers of a warranted officer. This series saw five famous (well, ish) faces reporting for duty.

Campaigner Katie Piper, model-turned-Loose Women panellist Penny Lancaster, Made in Chelsea’s Jamie Laing, former Gogglebox star Sandi Bogle and comedian Marcus Brigstocke joined the ranks at Cambridge Constabulary. Which was awkward, since two of them had criminal records there – although only for speeding (boy racer Brigstocke) and talking too loudly in a train’s quiet carriage (braying Laing). 

Yet Laing proved good value as he brought down a potentially dangerous suspect and pronounced himself “chuffed”. The heir to the McVitie’s fortune was baffled by the concept of payday, asking if it was like a bank holiday. (It was a reality TV version of Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess imperiously inquiring, “What’s a weekend?”) 

It was Lancaster, however, who was the star of the show. During her intensive first-day training, she was forced to tearfully confront the lingering trauma from being attacked by a stranger when she was walking home from school. It was all the braver, then, when she struck out on her own in pursuit of a shoplifter who threatened to stab her with a dirty syringe. Lancaster responded to the trauma by comfort-eating: demanding a sugary tea and a brownie, before gleefully tucking into her first ever KFC. Her husband, Rod Stewart, later video called her, which caused quite a stir at the station. 

Though this might not have been TV to break any moulds, it was absorbing, full of warm camaraderie and made for a fascinating insight into the realities of modern policing.