First Night: The Hour - who can blame the BBC for wanting a little escapism

4.00

In Abi Morgan's Fifties drama the pressure to break big stories even as resources and budgets are shrinking struck some awkward resonances

It’s been a distressing and gruelling couple of weeks for anyone working in BBC Current Affairs. One could hardly blame them if, after days of coverage in which they provided the leading headlines, they decided to get away from it all with a bit of period escapism last night.

But you just have to hope that they didn’t turn to The Hour for distraction. Because the uncomfortable correspondences began about two seconds into Abi Morgan’s Fifties’ drama about the pioneering days of television, returning for its second series.

As Bel, The Hour’s producer, clutched her head in frustration her colleague Lix made a suggestion: “If it all gets really too much I say we get the next train to Morocco. Apparently it’s the most marvellous place to get lost”.

With more than one senior executive having proved tricky to reach in the last few days that line will have stirred a rueful response from some BBC foot soldiers. 

Like another BBC flagship current affairs programme, The Hour has a new boss: “Ten minutes, ladies and gentlemen”, shouts Bel, rallying her colleagues to go on air, “We have a show starting and new Head of News to impress”. This is Randall Brown (Peter Capaldi), a news executive with an unusually philosophical approach to his job.

“All good art dies after a revolution”, he tells his uncertain team, “It is only when one is fighting to overcome any kind of oppression that real work, good work happens”. Bel isn’t convinced that Randall is right for the job but Lix tries to reassure her: “The thing is darling the powers that be must have some method to their madness”, she says (a line which may have been the cue for another hollow laugh). 

Obviously there are places where the parallels won’t hold. At the end of the last series The Hour was in trouble because it had courageously talked truth to power at the height of the Suez Crisis, not because it had got a sensational story completely wrong.

It would also be pushing it a little to detect an echo of Exposure’s gallingly effective inheritance of the Jimmy Savile story in the arrival -- in the drama -- of a worrying new ITV rival called Uncovered (even if the similarities of the names of the programmes is intriguing).

But a plot built on the pressure to break big stories even as resources and budgets are shrinking couldn’t help but strike some awkward resonances. “You try running stories with a kick while levelling out those that cause too much of a ruckus”, complained Bel, after she’d met one of her ITV competitors at a party. Karen O’Connor, Newsnight’s acting editor, presumably knows what that feels like.

More seriously there is a sense that the romance that drives The Hour -- the race-to-deadline, uncover-the-dirty-secrets mystique that is a feature of all journalism dramas -- might not be entirely unrelated to the short cuts and mistakes that have left Newsnight and the BBC so damaged.

What you see on screen here is a fantasy of journalism, rather than the real thing, a world in which the incriminating proof is dropped into your hand by an obliging source and the Minister stammers at your probing question, rather than turning round and pointing out the errors.

It’s a fantasy in which a story can excitedly described as “Dynamite!” and nobody stops to think that dynamite can explode in your face. And for the many excellent BBC journalists currently having to live with the consequences of what happened on Newsnight that may be the most uncomfortable parallel of all. 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum