Give The Hour more time to prove itself

Why do British TV series such as Abi Morgan's 1950s drama never allow characters any breathing space? By Ben Walsh

There has been a daft amount of grumbling and sniping about the six-part BBC2 series The Hour. Abi Morgan's 1950s drama, set in a bustling BBC television newsroom, was touted as Britain's answer to Mad Men but as its murder-mystery/conspiracy theory plot unfurled, that tired comparison seemed wide of the mark. There are similarities between The Hour and Mad Men – essentially the copious smoking, the period costume (although it's a tad drabber in London than in late-1950s New York) and the heavy drinking – but The Hour seemed to have much more in common with Paul Abbott's gripping political thriller, State of Play.

The Hour's giddy, sometimes heavy-handed hokum encompassed the Suez Crisis, shadowy government forces, a Tube station slaying, boozing, sex, a country-house shooting party and a host of terrific performances. The slight, pained-looking Ben Whishaw (fast morphing into a young Tom Courtenay) excelled as the quick-witted and self-righteous reporter Freddie; Dominic West was smarmy and slimy as the anchor and ladies man Hector; Julian Rhind-Tutt was ideal as a slithery spin doctor; and Anna Chancellor stole the show as Lix, a hardened, often blotto foreign correspondent. The Hour has been, by a country mile, the most enjoyable drama series on TV this year, welcome respite from Sarah Beeny or Kirstie Allsopp berating us for our lack taste or sense.

I have one reservation, however. In Mad Men, characters and plot-lines are permitted to breathe. In fact, in some episodes of Matthew Weiner's drama barely anything seems to happen. When something big does occur – the grisly lawnmower accident is a prime example – it is unsettling; shocking, even. But, of course, everything is happening (sexual politics, presidential assassinations, infidelity, racism, homophobia) in Mad Men. It just happens at a slower pace.

This was the major problem with The Hour, as with many recent British dramas and adaptations. Six episodes were not enough. The giant leap in the plot from episode five to six was baffling. Character development was missing. Why didn't the BBC give this compelling series 13 episodes? Is it really so unconvinced of audiences' attention span? One of the reasons critics wail about how good American (particularly HBO) dramas are is because such series are given time to work on their characters – see The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Bored to Death, Weeds, The Wire, Breaking Bad and so on.

This was a major problem with Channel 4's recent adaptation of William Boyd's Any Human Heart, too. Boyd's sensational 503-page novel, which traces Logan Mountstuart's extraordinary, Zelig-like life from 1906 to 1991, was reduced to four measly episodes. It meant that key moments in the man's life were erased, most notably the first 50 or so pages of the book, in which Logan makes "a dare" with his two best schoolfriends which has a profound impact on their lives, informing their relationships and choices. Why was this cut? Presumably, because of budget concerns and the absurd presumption that TV audiences will not tolerate a lengthy series.

Patent rot. In 1981, Granada TV produced the epic Brideshead Revisited. Evelyn Waugh's 400-page book was furnished with a ravishing 11-part series. In 1984, Granada gave Paul Scott's grand Raj saga The Jewel in the Crown a 14-part series. Both were deliriously successful and are highly regarded today. Could Channel 4 not have given Boyd's masterpiece similar exposure?

It feels wasteful. Similarly, Steven Moffat's exquisite Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, was permitted only three episodes last year. A new series is due in 2012. Why has this Bafta winner been given so little airtime?

The Hour has been granted a well-deserved second series. Let's hope the BBC has the courage for a longer run. The Hour clearly has the acting chops and the perky dialogue to pull it off, and it isn't as if such series come along every month.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk