Heavy Tar, Hector Madden, and The Hour

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.

How TV Works book cover, Granada Television 1960

‘How TV Works’, Granada Television 1960

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, Granada Television 1960

Granada TV’s cutting-edge facilities, circa 1960

‘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.

The Hour Series 2

Bel, Hector and Freddie – The Hour (image copyright BBC Television)

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.

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14 responses to “Heavy Tar, Hector Madden, and The Hour

  1. Having just seen the last thrilling episode, i am hoping that Abi will let Freddie live into the series 3… Please ! Drama at its very best with a great cast not least Romola, Ben and Dom. There must be another series in this. Well done.
    Doug C

    • Well-said Doug! Yes, I really feel The Hour deserves a third outing. The cold-war/space-race era is the perfect backdrop for the team to continue honing their investigative journalism in a pioneering medium that’s still making its mark. The BBC v ITV rivalry is a really nice touch, but perhaps somewhat obscure to viewers without much knowledge of TV history?

    • I agree! Please, BBC, have a third season of this amazing series! And announce it soon, as I can’t wait to see what happens. I do want Freddie to live, too!

  2. Tightly scripted, stunningly well acted and in every way a quality production. Congratulations to everyone involved and let’s have more like this please. Last night it had my stomach in knots. Utterly gripping.

  3. This has been the most outstanding piece of television. The tension in last night’s episode was almost unbearable, and was only matched by the searingly painful scenes between Capaldi and Chancellor as they discovered the death of their child and Hector’s realisation of Marni’s infidelity as she describes her joy at being pregnant. No scene was overwritten or stated the obvious. With actors like these you don’t need words to express what they’re feeling- their body language says it all. Please tell me there is to be a series 3.

  4. An excellent series that is compulsive viewing. It demonstrates the BBC can still do first-rate drama to rival anyone. The casting is flawless. I and countless others will be deeply disappointed if another series is not planned. Thank you for this top quality entertainment.

  5. Hi Tony, yes – it’s worth every penny of the license fee, and every penny shows on the screen. Superb casting for all characters, and also worthy of thanks to the enlightened commissioner who gave it the go-ahead.

  6. Just watched it. Brilliant, captivating and very well acted by all of the cast. Come on BBC let’s have third series!

  7. Having just read a rather strange piece about The Hour on TV-ooh (very misguided), I have to say I agree with everything written here. Absolute class on many levels. The first series was brilliant, and I think this has surpassed it. God bless (and save) the Beeb!

  8. I was a latecomer to the Hour, but since discovering it, I’ve been reccomending it to all my friends. Brilliant series, with a meticulous attention to detail across the board – please make a 3rd series BBC!

    • Hi Helen, I totally agree, the final Series 2 episode was immensely gripping. I’m hanging on a cliff-edge to find out whether Freddie is going to be okay. There are so many more potential stories to tell, and the sixties are just around the corner! I like Mad Men, but I really think The Hour has the edge. Sadly, like so many brilliant shows it has been under-appreciated. I’d love the BBC to commission The Hour Series 3.

  9. Just discovered the show recently and went to iTunes to download Season 1 and then caught up on Season 2. Fantastic show. Terrific cast all around and excellent production values…please give us a third season!

  10. “Well aren’t you clever Marnie, getting what you want.” And with that hug it looks like Hector may have a soul after all. The Hour is my favorite show and after the that finale it would be criminal to have no follow up. Oh Freddie, quoting Lincoln during torture, you are so exquisite. This Yank is transfixed.

    • Yes, without a doubt they too are my favourite parts of the closing episode – Freddie remaining committed to his ideology and staying gallant right to the last; Hector showing what we suspected all along, that he wasn’t all that different to the rest of the cast, he too had emotions running far deeper than his professional persona revealed.

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