How sick are you of reading articles about the inferiority of British TV drama, when compared to recent outpourings from the Yanks? Very sick indeed. And how much do we applaud the news that the BBC has announced the imminent filming of The Hour, a hard-hitting new series which will blow 24 out of the water, deep-six The Wire, crucify Six Feet Under and make The Sopranos look like pretty small potatoes? Very much indeed is the answer.
Like Mad Men, The Hour is set half a century ago but, rather than concerning a 1960s advertising agency, it takes place in a London TV newsroom in the 1950s, when on-screen newsreaders were a new phenomenon. There is, we're told, a "love triangle" between the "charismatic host", a "young female TV producer", and an "outspoken journalist", plus a "hard-drinking foreign correspondent", just to scotch any rumours of stereotyping. I can't wait. Just imagine the potential for Mad Men-style sexism, racism, hard drinking and vintage frocks...
Scene 1. The Hour newsroom, 1955. Newsreader Bernard Baker is rehearsing his script.
Bernard: "Here is the news. Because of the national rail strike, the Government has declared a state of emergency. Because of the strike by Fleet Street maintenance workers, there will be no newspapers for a month. Ruth Ellis has been hanged in Holloway Gaol. And a border collie called Timmy has won the Most Charming Pet Prize in Solihull."
Hector The Producer: Bernard, love, don't look down so much when you're reading. I'm sure your wife loves seeing the top of your head, but the rest of us aren't so keen.
Bernard: I can't help it. They should invent some screen auto-thingy that has the script running along it.
Hector: Also, I think we're in danger of overdoing the gloom. Move the border collie up the list, and say Ruth Ellis has been "severely chastised" or something.
He reaches for a biscuit. Enter Roger, abrasive, silver-haired studio boss.
Roger: Your third chocolate bourbon before lunch, Hector? I'd go easy if I were you.
Hector (coldly): Help yourself, Roger, why don't you? The Thermos is over there.
Roger (pouring): Who's the new popsy in the horn-rims? Makes the typing pool look like the Riviera.
Hector: Actually, Myrtle Wickham-Smythe has joined the Corporation from Cheltenham Ladies College and Newnham, Cambridge. She is a brain in a liberty bodice. She is more than a match for you, Roger.
Roger (cockily): We'll see how she feels after her second Earl Grey in Lyons Corner House at 7pm.
Hector: You swine.
Enter Cora: young, feisty Assistant Producer (News). Curly hair, gingham shirt, beige slacks.
Cora: Hector, I've been through Bernard's script, and I can't see any sign of Princess Margaret announcing that she's not marrying her Group Captain. We must have it in tonight's programme.
Hector: I think it unwise. We don't want repercussions from the Palace.
Cora: For God's sake, Hector. The announcement's come from the bloody Palace.
Hector: Yes, but still. [Taps nose.] Can't be too careful, you know.
Cora (heatedly): You're ridiculous. You represent a craven, outmoded, forelock-tugging England which will soon be swept away by the forces of youth, as represented by Tommy Steele and the Ban the Bomb movement.
Roger (suavely): My dear Hector, won't you introduce me to this young firebrand?
Hector: Roger, this is Cora Maguire, a young, feisty Assistant Producer (News) who takes no nonsense from anyone.
Roger: Delighted to meet you, my dear. What a marvellous bust you have there. Can I interest you in some gala pie at the Stockpot?
Cora: I'll get my coat. [Aside to camera] Next stop, Panorama...
A lesson in 'conflagrating' from the King of Bollywood
Newly mangled words department, No 157. The "King of Bollywood", the white-bearded, gravel-voiced, heftily bespectacled Amitabh Bachchan, is suing a tobacco manufacturer who has used a voice that sounds a bit like his to advertise its wares. Mr Bachchan, who lends his noble presence to flogging suits, watches and even the state of Gujarat, drew the line when his voice was used to extol the virtues of gutka, a delicious-sounding compound of crushed betel nut, spices and chewing tobacco. "For someone that does not smoke or propagate smoking or any kind of intoxicant by keeping away from endorsing such products," he fumes on his blog, "it is most disgusting to find someone conflagrating the law of the land and the law of ethics, if ever they possessed one." Conflagrating the law? It's a brilliant conflation of "flouting" the law and doing it "flagrantly". But will it catch on? You bet.
The haunting image of a young huntress
What is it about Huntress with Buck, David Chancellor's image of a redheaded girl on a horse holding the horns of the buck she's killed – the picture that won this year's Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, and is on show at London's National Portrait Gallery – that so disturbs?
Is it the look of dull neutrality on the face of 14-year-old Jodie Slaughter from Alabama (on her first hunting trip in South Africa), as if she were doing nothing more interesting than taking out the rubbish on her bicycle? Is it the contrast between the little madam's foot, trainered and safe in its stirrup, and the stiffened legs of the dead animal around the horse's neck? Is it the memory of the magnificent stag, the Emperor of Exmoor, that was killed last week by just such another dead-eyed, incurious "hunter"?
Or is it, in fact, the air of fathomless disgust that hangs over the horse, as it bears its double burden – one dead, one loathsome – home to camp?