One of the headlines of the NTS Consumer Harm Report in particular caught my eye: a kitchen fraud operation worth millions brought to justice resulting in convictions and jail time for the main players. I knew there could be only one name involved – and looking through the detail I was not disappointed. My old sparring partner Vance Miller had once again been held up to account for his habit of leaving people with nothing on which to cook their tea, despite having taken thousands of pounds of their money.
I’ve had plenty of dealings with Vance over the years. In fact, at one point he was getting almost as much TV time as I was. In addition to our frequent confrontations (I’d turn up in an armoured personnel carrier; he’d read out a political statement against the licence fee, then jab me up the nose with a biro) he also starred in his own documentary, The Kitchen Gangster.
After a while, I decided to stop covering Vance. It became clear to me that not only was Vance enjoying our moments together, they were becoming part of his marketing strategy for his own personal brand. The Vance Miller legend was becoming the story, rather than the hundreds of homeowners who he’d let down, and the misery that brought.
He was, in the modern parlance of the Trump era, ‘doubling down’ on his terrible reputation to become a larger-than-life character, the sort of person that gets thrown into the Big Brother house or the jungle to ‘stir things up a bit’. Modern media loves these disruptive characters and, as an audience, we are prepared to allow them all sorts of moral leeway because, however much distress they’re causing, their story is entertaining and consistently simple: for whatever reason, they are who they are, and make no apologies for being so.
He was using our interviews to build his myth – boasting about how many people he employed locally, how he traded with China, and how he worked twice as many hours in the day as the people who were trying to stop him. Having met those who had lost out to him, I didn’t really want to be a part of that.
Vance was a tricky proposition. Clearly his spinning wheel of business names meant that the harm caused by his companies wasn’t going to stop, and yet by covering him I felt I was serving to build his brand. I decided to step away from Vance so that he didn’t have the oxygen to build his reputation any further – but I was aware that by doing so there were always going to be viewers who didn’t know about the latest (there have been so many) incarnation of his shonky kitchen outfit, and who would shell out money as a result.
I still don’t know if that was the right thing to do. In fact, I don’t know exactly how we deal with Rogues who embrace that identity wholeheartedly with the risk of prison and the publicity that comes with it, casting us in the role of dogooders and stale voices of authority. Yes, we need to prosecute, but we also need to have wider public support for what we do, don’t we?
Characters like Vance challenge that support, which underpins everything. I’d love to know what you think. Tweet us @jts_editorial @Mattallwright using #Allwright_on_Notoriety
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