Songbirds (C4)

Prehistoric Sea Cow: Great Ocean Adventure (five)

THE camera panned along women standing outside their prison cells. They spoke in turn: "Three years, five years, five years, five years, five years nine months..." And so it went on as they revealed their sentences. Clearly, Songbirds wasn't going to be anything like women-behind-bars drama Bad Girls. This was the real thing, but not the usual true confessions-style documentary. The prisoners' stories were as horrifying as anything you've heard before, but this was also a musical with the women performing songs relating their stories as poet Simon Armitage and composer Simon Boswell brought the same formula to Songbirds, set in Downview Women's Prison, as they did to the award-winning Feltham Sings.

Songbirds proved an effective dossier on the social ills that drive women to crime, with the songs adding that extra something to the mix, although the most terrible tale - told by Tess - had no song to accompany the interview.

This was a truly awful story about a women driven over the edge by noisy neighbours. Tess ended up stabbing to death a mother whose family were driving her mad with loud music day and night.

"I don't even like hurting people's feelings," she said, explaining how she'd picked up a knife on her way to confront the mother and daughter at the front door.

She still finds it difficult to comprehend that she drove the knife through the women's heart. Her remorse is total. "I have cried more for her family than I have for mine. I can go home to mine, she can't to hers," said Tess.

We saw her leave prison after serving a three-and-a-half year sentence for manslaughter. But, as she said, she may be free of physical barriers but psychologically, she'll be in prison for the rest of her life.

Other stories were equally heart-rending, mainly because of the hopelessness of these women's lives, causing some to go out and commit fresh crimes in order to be sent back inside. Tales of parental and marital abuse, drug-taking and drinking were offered.

Mary was first locked up at 15, after her mother reported her to the police for having drugs. She's spent most of the past 20 years behind bars, partly through her own choice. She can't cope with life outside. "I didn't like it. It was so dangerous I thought I'd die or kill someone," she said.

Marine biologist Monty Halls does like what he sees in the outside world and, in Great Ocean Adventure, wanted to swim with manatees in Florida. These enormous herbivores munch their way through 100 kilograms of greens a day - an object lesson to children who refuse to eat vegetables.

Halls also ate the local wildlife. After swimming with catfish, he challenged champion catfish eater Greg Spafford to a competition - or catfish dogfight, as he put it. Amazingly, Halls won. I'm surprised he didn't sink straight to the bottom of the river after eating all that greasy food.