This post goes out to fellow blogger Helen Coakley who is in bed with a cold watching Girls right now. TV isn’t exactly a priority pastime for me but I’d thought I’d try my hand at writing about it – especially when programmes like The Hour are too good, too well cast and too cinematic to ignore.
Halfway through its second season on primetime BBC, The Hour follows the producers, journalists, politicians and interviewees on the weekly news programme of the same name in the late 50s. Here’s five reasons why you need to catch up with Season One stat and get involved before Season Two ends in three weeks time.
1. The glamour
Any pre-Facebook/ Daily Mail age will obviously be seen through rose-tinted technology-infused spectacles but there’s something about the 50s and 60s that really gets glamorous juices flowing. Hot on the heels of Mad Men’s stupendous success, Bel Rowley (played by Romola Garai) rocks some sassy, nipped in workwear while Marnie, the wife of Hector Madden (lead presenter of The Hour and played by Dominic West) plays it safe in prom dress skirts and pearls while she bakes at home. The Foreign desk editor Liz Storm, played by Anna Chancellor, even swans around in trousers. And the men look just as sharp – you can never go wrong with a waistcoat.
It’s not just the clothes that are sophisticated, it’s the smoking indoors, bottles of whiskey around the office, dark corners at parties and the use of telephones that are attached to desks. Somehow the makers of The Hour even manage to make the scruffy Notting Hill residence of maverick reporter Freddie Lyon look shabby chic.
2. The girl power
Season Two of The Hour might have showgirl prostitutes prancing around in seedy Soho bars but it also has Bel Rowley in charge of a current affairs programme with one of her two deputies a woman too. I’m not sure how much of a snapshot this is of TV journalism in the 50s – it sure doesn’t seem that balanced now – but it makes a change to all-male lead casts. Of the three main characters, it feels like The Hour belongs more to Bel than rogue reporter Freddie or charming drunk Hector.
The character of Bel is loosely based on the career of Grace Wyndham Goldie who was one of the only senior female producers at the BBC during her long twenty stint in the industry, working on programmes including Monitor, Tonight and Panorama, which she relaunched in 1955.
3. The cast (and the eye candy)
So I’ve already dropped a few names to illustrate the quality of The Hour’s cast – Ben Whishaw was last seen as a boyish, computer genius version of Q in Skyfall and Dominic West was in The Wire. Then there’s the new addition to Season Two in the form of Peter Capaldi – if you’ve seen and loved him as Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, you’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting a repeat performance. As the new Head of News, Randall Brown, he’s tough but fair, has a mysterious past with Lix and an adorable OCD habit.
Tom Burke is very cute as Bel’s love interest and I know this might be weird for anyone’s who’s watched it but Commander Stern’s (Peter Sullivan’s) voice is very sexy. I think it’s because he’s usually telling people off.
4. The style
It’s a little earnest at times but where we had a scruffy espionage theme in Season One, with lots of running down staircases and catching glimpses of suspects, in Season Two we have the flashing bulbs of photographers and murmurs of Soho crime bosses to keep us on our toes. The Hour is shot beautifully with alluring close-ups and extra delight when the camera lets us focus on the incredible sets.
5. The script
Whether it’s Freddie being a complete know-it-all or Hector flirting (“things are always so much more fun in the dark”), Abi Morgan might not get it right 100% of the time – she’s been criticised for giving Bel too much confidence for a working woman of the decade – but usually the script is seriously strong. It tackles themes like the criminalisation of homosexuality, racism, immigration, prostitution and international politics because the premise allows it too.
But unlike Mad Men, it never takes itself too seriously – Bel borrows some stockings from her colleague and wacks them on in the office after a solemn chat about an impending nuclear war. And that sums up The Hour really – completely British and fascinating for it. Or as my little sister put it, so good it should be Two Hours.
Watch The Hour on BBC iPlayer. Right now if you can manage it.