Clarkson on: CCTV
This article was first published in August 1995.
It seems to me that the closed circuit cameras which are sprouting out of every town centre vantage point these days are pretty much useless.
Everyone I've ever seen on a still from a security camera looks like Cyrano De Bergerac. And he always appears to be standing at the counter in a bank, brandishing a banana. This, I'm fairly sure, is not a crime.
Either that or the supposed criminal has had the foresight to wear a parka with a hood - so we can only see his preposterous nose. And the fruit.
I mean, if you were out robbing, you would be fairly sure that some kind of video recording was being made, so you'd wear a crash helmet or a trilby or anything which would thwart subsequent police enquiries. And if they did come round to your house with some difficult questions, you'd only need say that you were elsewhere at the time but you had seen Gerard Depardieu in town that afternoon, looking a bit shifty.
Sure, there are some cameras, way up high, overlooking the most un-likely spots, but the footage from one of these was played the other day on one of the countless new crime programmes and the thieves looked like small mice with enormous conks.
It was all very dramatic, as they ram-raided their way out of a car park with policemen trying to kick in the windows, but the viewer hadn't a hope of identifying the baddies. And that makes the cameras pointless.
Now I'm not one of these weird beard lefties who thinks that Sony is a Luciferian code for some kind of Orwellian police state. If you're just walking along, picking your nose a bit and scratching your backside, who cares if it's all caught on Beta?
The cameras are only there to nail people from the sewers - thieves, murderers and blackguards. But they won't work unless we take a leaf out of Monaco's book.
"Everyone I’ve ever seen on a still from a security camera looks like Cyrano De Bergerac"
This tiny principality, just two miles long by as little as 300 yards wide, is watched over by 160 security cameras, not counting the privately run video monitors in car parks and entrance halls.
Coming out of my hotel every morning, there were two which could watch me all the way to the door of the car park and, once inside, there were cameras on every floor and in each of the three lifts. As AA Gill wrote in Tatler last month, you don't need a holiday camera in Monte Carlo; just stop off at the border on your way out and ask for edited highlights of your visit.
But onanists beware! If they go to the trouble of fitting cameras in car park lifts, you can be sure your nocturnal habits are being monitored too.
Now, there is no crime in Monaco. Half the residents may have made their millions through some sort of rule-bending exercise, but there is no petty theft. One lady regularly walks home alone from the casino after nightfall wearing jewellery worth $3 million. And she's never been touched.
People say that this is because of the cameras, but that's nonsense. And neither is it because there's one policeman for every 40 residents. Sure, with hardly any crime to solve, they have nothing to do all day except enforce a dress code.
Try walking through Monaco with the hood on your parka pulled up and see how far you get. I'll give you a tenner for every yard you manage before Clouseau interferes. These guys won't even let you shuffle along head down, with your collar tuned up. They're like stage managers, making sure you look good for the cameras. And if you refuse to look up, they will escort you politely back to France, where you can convalesce.
Every night, we watched them salute drivers of Porsches and Ferraris and hassle anyone in a dodgy looking van. Hitch-hiking is banned. If you don't look right you don't get in.
And now we're getting nearer the real reason why there is no crime in Monaco - no riff raff. Before you go and live there, you have to produce a letter from your bank explaining that you have enough money to live on for the rest of your life. And, let's face it, people with £20 million in the bank are not big on mugging.
Couple that to the police with their anti-shabby laws and the cameras and then you get a crime-free state. Lovely. And so simple.
Except for one small thing. Monaco is a lavatory and if I could find the chain... I'd pull it.