The Hour is back! And in a rather marvellous bit of synchronicity, the BBC’s flagship news show is in trouble. The 1956 edition’s problems are rather different from its 2012 counterpart: still reeling from the revelation that Clarence Fendley, who mentored Bel and got The Hour on the air, was a communist spy, those left at Lime Grove have something of the walking wounded about them. But the show must go on...
Bel RowleyBel is still doing lots of striding down corridors, barking orders at people, and wearing the hell out of her pencil skirts. She’s got someone new to impress though – Randall Brown, aka Peter Capaldi, whom we meet lying morosely on a chaise longue in his office quoting Henry VI.
Brown’s replaced Clarence as Head of News, which allows for a nice bit of exposition as he and Bel do some more striding: The Hour is still No.1, but ITV is hard on its heels, with a programme called Uncovered. Bel thinks it’s a copycat; Brown thinks it’s better.
She’s stung by this and by Brown’s observation that the show used to have a competitive edge, a ‘tingle on the back of the neck’ – a Freddie, in fact. Hilariously, the word ‘competition’ seems to set off a sort of Pavlovian response in her and she starts blithering on about school badges and the high jump.
Honestly, Bel needs to stop talking to herself – and I say this as a girl who literally said to herself “Oh Molly, why are you talking to yourself, shut up” in a UNIVERSITY INTERVIEW while the nice gentlemen sat there looking bemused.
After the show, she mopes off to a cocktail party and makes eyes at a Jack Huston lookalike. And who can blame her? Rejected, she shows up for work the next morning – in a red suit that I would give up a toe, or maybe even a finger, to possess – to find that Brown has started conference without her. Undermining much?
The thing with Bel is that despite being a flappy-handed social disaster (who doesn’t seem to have any girlfriends?), she is genuinely so excellent at her work that to see her not doing well is a bit heartbreaking.
She’s trying to do at least three jobs, which always means you end up doing everything craply, but she’s also trying, because she’s a woman in a position of tenuous responsibility, not to let anyone know that her insides are a tangled up, horrifying mess. But we know, Bel! We know! It’s ok!
Hector MaddenWhy, hello there Mr. Madden. Hector and Bel broke it off at the end of last season, and there’s a brilliant sequence at the beginning where Bel is working, typing, and sticking up photos on her cheery storyboard of grisly London murders, intercut with Hector smoking, drinking, and chatting up his adoring public.
He makes the show by the skin of his teeth – and if anyone can tell me how a cab gets from Soho to Shepherds Bush in under ten minutes, I will eat my hat.
Hector’s gone off the rails somewhat too. He’s buffoonish, embarrassed by Brown, stumbling around ‘smelling cheap’, and once he rocks up at the Paradise (back in Soho), his sharkish charm seems to be wearing thin.
There’s a nasty set-up at play here: while his wife is at home downing martinis and scraping his dinner into the bin, he’s boozing with Angus McCain, Julian Rhind-Tutt’s slimy government press advisor and shagging (unless they were just discussing Sputnik) a dancer from the nightclub who turns up the next day with a nastily cut and bruised face.
He thinks he’s onto a story via the police commissioner on cuts to public spending on crime, but the same commissioner also turns up later on in Soho playing cards with the owner of the Paradise – who in turn has an interaction with Hector’s dancer that absolutely reeks.
Hector’s in over his head, and he’s an alcoholic who’s emotionally abusive to his wife. Not even Dominic West’s face can make him likeable.
Freddie LyonQ! No, wait. Extremely similar line in knitwear, however. Freddie’s got his job back, rehired by Brown who met him in Paris – Freddie’s also been in Acapulco, writing for the Village Voice in New York (cue world’s biggest eyeroll), and generally gadding about. Given that he was penniless last season I’m not quite sure how this makes sense, but we’ll move on.
He’s going to be co-hosting The Hour, and proceeds swiftly to hijack Hector’s story about cuts on police spending – I refer you to Bel’s cheerful storyboard of Soho murders.
Lo and behold, Not Jack Huston is waiting outside a press conference, and it turns out he works for Uncovered - while Bel warns him away from poaching Hector, he only has eyes for Freddie.
There are some beautiful moments between Bel and Freddie following his return: they’re dancing around each other, because you can’t just wipe out nine months of silence in that sort of friendship, but they’re also so used to being on the same side and they fit into their patterns – ‘Moneypenny’, follicular teasing – so quickly.
I imagine this will be challenged – further even than Freddie’s beard is managing – by the fact that at the episode’s end, Bel turns up at his house, wine and steak in hand (come round to my house, Bel!), all ready to make up and be friends (AND ALSO TELL HIM THAT SHE LOVES HIM BECAUSE COME ON WE ALL KNOW IT)... to be met by his wife.
Who is French.
And has a pixie cut.
And is just wearing a jumper.
And wielding a chopping knife? Gulp.
Next week’s headlines• Bit of racism in the offing – Sissy’s Nigerian boyfriend has moved in with Freddie, prompting some lovely slurs from the local skinheads, and clips show trouble looming. • Will Hector get the blame for the attack on the dancing girl? Not his style, I think. Though it could finally prompt Marnie to leave him – which is probably necessary to prevent her going the full Plath. • Randall Brown hearts Lix Storm: there are clearly old wounds here, I suspect an affair. I’d keep your name though, Lix. • And Camille! WHAT? I’m excited.