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The Day, the Hour, and the Times

The last few weeks have largely been concerned in the thinning of the contents of my flat, a task still not done, but there has still been time for some television. Possible spoilers for those wary of such things.

I'm not sure at all whether Torchwood: Miracle Day has yet offered a peg on which I can hang a review. It's entertainingly, haphazardly bonkers, still largely existing in Russell T Davies's world where humanity is largely reactive to events of which it can't make sense, carried along on waves of emotional response and amplified by hyperbole; but the effects of the American writers' room system might yet conciliate those hungry for strong plots. I rather liked episode two's sense of confinement, a contrast to episode one's more expansive canvas; and thought Gwen's co-ordination of the manufacturing of an agent to cure Jack's cyanide poisoning using only the materials available on the plane a bravura performance by Eve Myles, though others have differed, and loudly.

The Hour was worth spending in the company of Romola Garai, Ben Whishaw, Anna Chancellor and colleagues. The advance publicity, initially concentrating on the proximity of the Suez crisis to the time period of the series, and then stressing only the 1950s trappings and encouraging comparisons with Mad Men, has obscured The Hour's own take on the conventions of 1950s British institutions, some of which were connected by channels not always clear to the most clear-sighted of their own staff. Consciousness of class and race is pebbledashed rather than finely woven into the texture of the series, but one does not trip over boulders. The tendency of post-war Britons to blame resistance to collective or personal ambition on 'them' looks as if it will be central to the narrative, and it's relevant to the depiction of the BBC of the 1950s as a war zone between those who thought broadcasting should concentrate on reassuring the masses, and those who thought it should inform them about the complexities of their society so they could right wrongs. The Hour seems like a cross between the more hard-hitting instalments of Panorama, which I think took a turn in that direction in the late 1950s (having initially been a more whimsical 'charivari of the air'), and the real-life BBC innovation in current affairs television, Tonight; though the appeal of Dominic West's Hector Madden as its host is more 2011 than 1956, given that his real-life counterparts were Richard Dimbleby and Cliff Michelmore. Indeed, Ben Wishaw's Lyon's dubbing of Romola Garai's Bel as 'Moneypenny' draws attention to how The Hour, unlike Mad Men, is set in a society where glamour does not obscure seedy underpinnings, because seediness is all there is and everyone knows it. The murder of Professor Darrell is carried out with savagery rather than brutal efficiency; espionage can't hide in dinner jackets and casinos here.

Meanwhile in the US, HBO are a few episodes into the fourth season of True Blood. The new series has provided yet more opportunities for various vampires and werewolf males to show off their physical prowess for the series' fairy everywoman, Sookie Stackhouse, to the exclusion of some of the more interesting relationships such as the father-daughter ties between vampire Bill and his progeny Jessica. Still, much of it enjoyably beyond postmodern, particularly when Katherine Helmond from Soap turns up as a Bon Temps matriarch just before a revelation of great-great-great-grandincest which would have delighted those who watched the Tates and the Campbells back in the day, but which is played much more intensely and seriously than anything I distantly recall from that show. There are strong hints of more vampire politics to come; Fiona Shaw is a hardworking addition to the cast as a not-particularly-skilled witch being used by a force from another time; though the prettiness and enthusiasm of Lindsay Pulsipher, with or without her dress, doesn't make up for the change in character Crystal seems to have endured since last season. Still, the actions of felines are difficult to predict, and how much more so when they are werepanther queens.

The main soap opera of the week, though, has been the ongoing drama emanating from News International, which has a long, long run ahead of it. The most remarkable moment on Tuesday for me was not the foam pie incident, or Rupert Murdoch's frailty, but Murdoch's opinion that the least corrupt country was Singapore, because he thought they paid their elected officials more than any other country. This would seem to be at odds with the war against the public sector his newspapers and television channels can be accused of waging across countries and continents, though it is not necessarily the case. Murdoch's denials and his explanations, and the demonstration of a personality which understood and expressed emotion, in contrast to his semi-robotic son, made me consider that Murdoch rules his business through the projection of a persona as much as anything else. However, the business is so large and so venerable that many of his staff are now imprinted with a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of the original Murdoch populist commercialist instinct, which is both now degraded like a multi-generational video recording, and out of tune with the times it has itself helped bring about. Phone hacking has been treated by reporters as a new way of rifling the contents of people's bins, when it is more akin to breaking into someone's bureau and taking their letters before they have been thrown out. The original Murdoch would have known the limits of this method, but his devolved clones did not.


Posted by: Susan (lil_shepherd)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2011 07:39 am (UTC)

From what I hear about the Singapore Government (much as I am actually in love with Singapore after a two day stop over ten years ago) I have lost any respect remaining for Murdoch's judgement. It seems to me that he bases all of said judgements on money, and his ethic values anything how much it makes.

Posted by: didiusjulianus (didiusjulianus)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2011 10:57 am (UTC)

And rifling through someone's person bin shouldn't be (and probably isn't) legal either, so perhaps all these things are actually very much the same? I don't know.

Posted by: didiusjulianus (didiusjulianus)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2011 10:57 am (UTC)


I have no idea what a Person Bin is ;)

Posted by: Susan (lil_shepherd)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2011 11:42 am (UTC)

I'm missing an 'on' out of that last sentence of mine, but I guess our sense is clear in both.


Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 24th, 2011 10:51 am (UTC)

It's not legal, though the ethics are very, very different given that the items have been disposed of. Still wrong, though.

Posted by: didiusjulianus (didiusjulianus)
Posted at: July 24th, 2011 01:12 pm (UTC)

But what does this actually mean? If it's in MY bin on MY land (or indeed just in front of it where the council told me to put it, as I'd say at that point it has become their responsibility and owned by them as waste) and it's MY stuff and it's sat there simply waiting for it to become the property of the council instead (a direct transfer), it's still theft of private information in my book, pure and simple. So I would say that the ethics, while perhaps slightly different, are not that far apart at all.

Now, if I (not the wind, not the dustbin persons etc.) were to have simply tossed it in the street or hedgerow, that might take the ethics in a somewhat more divergent direction.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 24th, 2011 10:50 am (UTC)

Money; worship of newspapers too; and a belief that he has a grasp of universal popular taste which has sadly been proved true too many times, but not always, thankfully.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2011 09:52 pm (UTC)
Worcester College

I thought about returning to Torchwood, but decided against it, partly because DWM implied it would be full of gratuitous sex and gore (I have no problem with sex in fiction per se, but I don't like it when it serves no purpose. I can't stomach gore at all), but mainly because I suspected it would become too depressing for words and was worried about the usual RTD writing; your mini-review reassures me I made the right decision.

I didn't watch The Hour, but my sister and my Mum did and queried a female TV news producer in the fifties (and also hid their eyes from the gore!). I said I thought Verity Lambert was the first BBC producer, but checking I see she was only the first drama producer. What are your thoughts?

Murdoch rules his business through the projection of a persona as much as anything else

I confess that personal problems mean I have not really been following the news, but one cartoon I saw during the week had Murdoch as The Wizard of Oz, projecting a vast image of himself, with Cameron, Clegg and Miliband as the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion (I can't remember which was which) discovering the old man behind the curtain.

(And mention of Murdoch inspires the use of the userpic that features 'his' library. Perhaps he ought to mention that, given that saving a library is seen as the ultimate heroic deed at the moment.)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 24th, 2011 11:13 am (UTC)

Radio Times described Romola Garai's Bel Rowley as inspired by real-life 1950s BBC executive Grace Wyndham Goldie; but 'GWG' was a generation older, and had joined the BBC as a talks producer in 1944 after having been a teacher and a contributor of reviews to The Listener. She moved to television in 1948, says the ODNB.

There hasn't been a Murdoch fightback involving his endowments of libraries and professorships; perhaps this is because it would antagonise shareholders in News Corporation who think the money should have gone to them?

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: July 24th, 2011 01:42 pm (UTC)
Worcester College

perhaps this is because it would antagonise shareholders in News Corporation who think the money should have gone to them?

Perhaps, or perhaps Murdoch fears an LSE/Gaddafi-style backlash, with universities and colleges dissociating themselves from him.