As a child I acquired a book from my father titled ‘How TV Works’. It was published by Granada Television in 1960. Despite the book being obsolete by some thirty years I was absolutely fascinated by it.
The book romantically described the wonders of the youthful medium, technologies far too complex for ‘the layman’ to understand, and predictions as to how television may develop in the future, ‘There is, for example, the possibility that colour television broadcasting may be introduced in the next decade or so, and the certainty that at some time before the end of the century this much more complicated broadcasting technique will be in general use.’ I still treasure the book, now fifty-two years old and falling to pieces. The book was one of several little nudges that inspired me to pursue a career in television production.
‘How TV Works’ also instilled in me an affection for that pioneering black-and-white era of television. This geeky sentimentality is one of the reasons I love the BBC’s drama series The Hour. The drama centers around the newsroom of a BBC current affairs programme of the same name, set against the grim post-war backdrop of 1957 London. It has all the hard-drinking, chain-smoking excess of Mad Men but The Hour’s central characters possess an unshakeable integrity when it comes to their work; Don Draper’s team have somewhat less scruples. The closest parallel to Draper is The Hour’s frontman, Hector Madden (Dominic West). Madden’s persona, both on and off screen, is charismatic, endearing, and almost dangerously charming. He was privately educated, decorated during the war, and has friends in high places; he maintains impeccably waxed hair and rarely seems to be without a cigarette or a whisky. Like Draper, Madden is graced with almost free-reign in his work, a seemingly untouchable character. However, his private life is a shambles, he’s a womaniser hiding a failed marriage, and he constructs his life like a house of cards. Although Madden can fill any room with his presence the true ‘hero’ of the show is Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), a driven young correspondent with none of Madden’s more shallow traits. Freddie resents the ease with which Hector has been helped up the ladder in his career via nepotism and chummy social connections. However, the two men are an ideal combination; Freddie does the legwork of investigative journalism whilst Hector uses his self-assured authoritative persona to deliver the stories to middle-England.
Not only is The Hour wonderfully written and performed it is also beautifully produced, in my opinion it’s so visually attractive I almost want to lick the screen. Some people moan about the BBC license fee, but c’mon – watch some of their drama and you’ll see it’s well spent. But hey, I’m one of those guys who gets very emotional about lighting-styles, depth-of-field, colour-grading, and the properties of the grain in an image. Let’s be honest, I create daytime TV ads for budget consumer goods. Understandably, I’m deeply envious of anyone who can close-off entire London street in order to recreate the 1950s down to the smallest detail, all for a single five-second establishing shot. But that attention to detail is what makes The Hour such bloody brilliant viewing.