Mad Men, BBC4
Just Read with Michael Rosen, BBC4
How Reading Made Us Modern, BBC4
Sixties advertising folk have marital problems, but children in Wales discover a new world between the covers
Sunday 15 February 2009
Time is catching up with Don Draper (Jon Hamm) of ad agency Sterling Cooper, in Mad Men. At 36, his blood pressure is 160 over 100, he's smoking two packs a day, and when he checks into a hotel for a night of room service with Mrs Don, her Valentine's Day basque and stockings fail to do the trick.
It's 1962. Chubby Checker is doing the twist again, Pepsi has stolen a march on coffee, there are little white sandwiches with flags on, and the creative team is feeling twitchy about Youth: an Ant and Dec combo has been smuggled in, one half of which wears a white polo-neck cable sweater.
Meanwhile, it's not going well in Room 804: Don and the missus (January Jones) think some vichyssoise might fix it. No, two shrimp cocktails. No, something with avocado. That's a laundry crisis in the making. What with this and Mrs Don's breakdown ("I know that when the smoke comes out I have to stop" – very sound) it's no surprise he's reading Meditations in an Emergency.
Mad Men won the Best Ensemble award at the Screen Actors Guild last month. That could just mean the acting is uniformly banal. If there was an award for Best Lampshades it would triumph again. Will Polo Neck get the coffee contract? Will Mrs Don's new fan belt outperform the basque? Will the Xerox machine stay in the corridor? Phew! No wonder Don's blood pressure is up.
"Don't do that stupid smirky thing," said Matt Di Angelo to Adrian Lester in the penultimate Hustle. "I'm smiling," replied Lester patiently, in the manner of one explaining an unfamiliar concept to the young. Looking pleasant is the default mode in Hustle, which took on two new characters and a lot more Robin Hoodery in the series that ended last week. Pity Kelly Adams, squeezed into Jaime Murray's Louboutins, her mouth sucking permanently on an invisible lolly, her voice set on Whine. Outclassed by Lester and Robert Glenister, if either she or Di Angelo, as her irritating brother, make it to the next series, that will be the work of Hustle's new charity arm.
For one terrible moment last week it looked as though hustler-in-chief Lester and Adams would get it together. No, no, no, the nation screamed. Sexual tension is everything. You wouldn't catch Steed snogging Mrs Peel. One button unfastened and the whole pack of cards comes down.
"Can we have another one?" are the magic words that show a child has crossed the gulf between learning to read, at school, and reading for pleasure, at home. In Just Read with Michael Rosen, the energetic Children's Laureate set about transforming the pupils' view of books at Springwood Primary in Cardiff. Over 10 weeks the largely reluctant readers developed a voracious appetite for new stories – from the local library, where loans to children went up by 700 volumes in a month, from sales at school, and from the school's own revamped library.
Advanced but bored reader Lauren was re-enthused purely by being read to by an adult. This simple pleasure is apt to be dropped as soon as the child can read by themselves. But Daniel had a television for company at bedtime, and went back to books only when he was read to again. Head teacher Brian Meacher recalled reading to the class daily, until the national curriculum came in. "Parents should keep reading to their kids until they push them out of the door and bolt it behind them," said Rosen. As one whose idea of preparing 11-year-olds for exams was to read them Right Ho, Jeeves, I know he is right. Information, inspiration and cuddles in a single package – jackpot. Springwood's library will lend 15 titles at a time, no fines, no damage charges. Lucky the children don't live in the Wirral, which has announced the closure of 15 libraries.
Dr Johnson said it was better to read anything than nothing, recalled Professor John Mullan, taking the scenic route through the 18th century, via Jane Austen's Chawton and Gough Square, in How Reading Made Us Modern. The Bill of Rights and first lending libraries put learning within everyone's reach (Wirral council, please note), if not the power that comes with knowledge. Flash forward to 21st-century Alton, and a women-only book group, curled up with Sebastian Faulks, Mullan looking on. A shame that craze came 30 years too late for Mrs Don.
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