I have recently finished watching BBC2 drama The Hour and I must say I've enjoyed it.
Set in 1956 it follows the professional and personal lives of characters who are working on the new -and eponymous- news programme. My interest in 20th Century history has only increased in the last year and I thought it was good to see something that showed the early history of television journalism -that it was also gripping and had good characters was a major bonus.
Set around the Suez Crisis (when Britain and France collaborated with Israel to keep Egypt from gaining control of the Suez Canal) the programme examined how journalism -especially TV journalism- worked at a time when governmental and institutional controls were so strong. I hadn't previously known that TV news had a gag rule stating that they could not report on anything being discussed in Parliament for 2 weeks. When the possibility of going to war is the discussion then it seriously hampers a news programme to stay silent when newspapers and popular opinion are all over the topic.
The characters -and the actors that played them- were very good. The three main characters, Freddie, Bel and Hector, had excellent interactions and were great to watch.
Freddie and Bel are BBC reporters and have been best friends for years, the relationship between them is comfortable and trusting despite disagreements. Bel is given a job producing new news programme The Hour and she brings Freddie along despite his tendency to do his own thing and buck against authority. The host of the show is the upper class Hector, a charismatic man who makes a good anchor and who is also interested in the work. Hector and Bel start an affair and Bel finds herself in a tricky position both privately and professionally as all eyes are on her. Government man McCain snoops around the studio, determined that The Hour do nothing to make the Prime Minister look bad.
The supporting cast are also well done. From Isaac the eager junior reporter, and Cissy the bright young assistant to wry, worldly Lix and suspicious Government man McCain, all are characters who have their own aims and agendas. While these characters are not always the focus of the drama their actions and views colour the story as much as that of the three leads. No characters and no story exists and isolation, and tying both the big and small events not only to history, but to various individuals is a sign of the high quality of the writing.
As well as the personal and political stories there's also a conspiracy thriller plotline. Freddie's childhood friend, debutant Ruth Elms, comes to him in terror about the recent death of an academic, and then she apparently commits suicide. This personal tragedy sets Freddie investigating, and it turns out to be linked to something deeper and more dangerous. With Soviet spies, MI6 agents, and suspicious deaths the creeping sense of danger in these parts of the programme are skillfully done.
The darker moments are offset by more lighthearted character interactions and the day to day business of 1950s programme making, meaning the the tone of the show is varied without any plot thread feeling overblown or heavy-handed. This mixture of mood and tone, when done well, is the sign of a good drama series.
I heartily recommend The Hour and -for those in the UK - it is still available on BBC iPlayer.
The internets tell me that there will be a second series. I'm quite excited now.