TV Review – The Hour, Getting On, The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity, The Secret of Crickley Hall, Hebburn, Rugby Union

Tango With An Eskimo

The Hour (BBC2) smoothly returned amongst a fug of fag smoke having hopefully sloughed off the laughable spy plot from the last series. Now the old Head of News is safely banged up in jail for treason, his replacement has arrived in the form of Peter Capaldi. He plays a soft-spoken version of Malcolm Tucker in hornrims, using passive-aggressiveness (“There is a certain something. Lacking. An edge. A bite.”) instead of Malcolm’s ‘violent sexual imagery’.

He’s also much given to OCD gestures such as making sure his carved Elephants are in correct alignment, to the annoyance of producer Romola Garai. “He fiddles with things,” she tells whisky-guzzling second-in-command Anna Chancellor. “What is he? What have they sent us?” Chancellor knows, seeing as there’s heavy hints of a past affair.

Garai has to put up with pompous presenter Dominic West as well. He’s constantly late and trying her patience. He tries everyone’s patience, especially his wife, who makes cakes out of cock-eyed revenge. He’s been hanging louchely in the sort of swanky clubs that don’t exist any more (“will you be eating alone sir?”) where you can watch top totty singing songs called ‘You Must Never Do A Tango With An Eskimo’.

No doubt West would claim that this was all essential for research, as he enjoys champagne and prawn cocktails with government ministers and influential coppers. One of the latter gives West a top tip about the current poor standard of bluebottles. “Policing is being woefully under-resourced.” Such things are news, and even West’s not brandy-addled enough to ignore such a pointer.

Meanwhile, reporter Ben Whishaw has been travelling the world. You can tell this because he’s grown a beard as poor as Matt Smith’s in Doctor Who. We all know neither of these people would stand a chance of raising a farthing for Movember, so why pretend by sticking cat fluff to their pretty faces? Whishaw is quick to react to West’s police story and steals it out from under him. West doesn’t seem to mind, “welcome back,” although he might have a problem with a showgirl he slept with turning up with a battered face.

Otherwise it’s a slow start to the series, setting pieces in place and hinting at things far too much when it could be a little more direct. The theme this time round seem to be closer to home: East End gangsters and fascists, rather than Suez and Soviets. Although the biggest threat to our fifties favourites seems to be a fledgling ITV, and their own hard-hitting news programme. Whatever happened to them?

From Peter Capaldi to Getting On (BBC4), which he used to direct. Now directed by Sue Tully it has been quietly walking the wards these last few weeks, constantly reminding you that it’s not The Thick Of It. Whilst it shares Joanna Scanlon (who also co-writes) and the same documentary feel as its swearier sibling it’s nowhere near as funny, despite the droll presence of nurse Jo Brand (who also co-writes). She’s given up the fags and “life couldn’t be any more shit.”

Compassion-averse Dr. Vicki Pepperdine (who also co-writes) is still concentrating on her mysteriously revolting study project, when not taking advice from hospital cleaner Hansley on her divorce. He proved so invaluable that she rewards him with an internship at her lawyer sister’s. Which he can’t afford, because internships are for people who aren’t poor immigrants. Pepperdine would have realised this if she cared about anything.

Pepperdine has always been the most welcome presence on the show because she’s the only one who’s actually funny in her blind aloofness. Otherwise it’s been getting a bit soapy, what with Brand’s desire to pass her exams to be a doctor – an ambition slowly downgraded throughout the series – and Scanlon discovering she’s pregnant.

Surrounding them all are the sadly pathetic geriatric patients, who will undermine any comedy. Even the always unsettling Ricky Grover as a private health bureaucrat in braces can’t raise the mood. The most recent episode was funnier than usual because it revolved around the accidental sending of an anonymous vulva to a Christmas Card competition. Meanwhile, a patient with hypochondriasis is absolutely thrilled that she’s got a tumour. “It means I was right!”

“There was something peculiar about Hitler,” quoted The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler (BBC2) of one of his First World War army comrades. The guy being quoted didn’t know his colleague would go onto be worldbeatingly peculiar, but then it’s peculiar to see a new documentary about the man, when you only have to look at any history channel and see all you could ever want to know about him.

More of interest was Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity (BBC4). Jim Al-Khalili told us about Thomas Edison’s self-defeating efforts to prove his patented direct current was much better than the rival alternating current. In the spirit of recent US elections, he did it with a series of attack ads. He had an associate tour the country electrifying hundreds of animals of increasing size with AC to prove it was dangerous until they got to the infamous elephant, supposedly ‘condemned to death’.

When Edison and colleagues finally got to prove how dangerous AC was on an actual human, the state justices saw that it was perfect for executing criminals similarly condemned to death. But what made Edison a true Mitt Romney was the exotic figure of Nikola Tesla and his titular Coil, who proved that alternating current was safe by running it through his body and channeling lightning bolts. Tesla was a very odd man. He fell in love with a pigeon and had an obsession with the number three, constantly counting up to it. Has no-one thought he was simply waltzing through life?

I’ve been in two séances in my life; one in a spooky old theatre, one in a spooky old nightclub. Both times I spoiled the mood for my more earnest contacters-of-the-dead by laughing throughout. Perhaps I’m not the target audience for The Secret of Crickley Hall (BBC1), a modern ghost story which lands firmly on the ‘ghosts are real’ side of the non-debate.

In the first episode, Suranne Jones lost her son. To spin a ghost yarn out of something so unbearably real to a lot of people might be thought tasteless, but the makers aren’t afraid to go there. Fortunately, she has two other kids and she unwisely takes them to the eponymous Hall when her husband gets a job “up north”. Seeing as she has dreams about a spooky Hall you might have thought she had been forewarned. “What’s that smell?” she sniffs, looking around the place. It’s the smell of… fear!

Time to get the checklist out. Creepy cellar with a door that can’t be closed? Check. Whispered voices? Check. Ominous ticking clocks that stop when you look at them? Check. Creaking floorboards? Check. Pub landlord telling creepy tales? Check. Spooked animals? Check. Ghostly children? Check. An avuncularly sinister David Warner? Check. “He’s sad,” says the youngest child.

Maybe we can find out why he’s sad, as we flashback to his teenage years in the war, where he meets sweet, innocent tutor Olivia Cooke. She has arrived at the same Crickley Hall, but it’s a children’s refuge run by an impossibly baleful Sarah Smart, constantly giving the Jack Nicholson look and stretching out lines like “Every… footstep… carries… in this place.”

She’s also got an equally nuts brother played by Douglas Henshall, whose idea of managing such a facility is to reinterpret the bible unto breaking point and deliver beatings wherever possible. Cooke discovers this latter fact and is shocked to her core. Imagine, corporal punishment in the 40s! The very idea. As the modern-day local vicar points out, “it’s just a house that never… worked.” Phantasmal piffle.

“Do you think chips know they’re chips?” pondered Vicki in Hebburn (BBC2), whilst contemplating her fried potato delight. As played by Lisa McGrillis – channeling Cheryl Cole and the Fat Slags – she has been the standout cast member of this otherwise rather dull Geordie comedy. When you have Jim Moir (AKA Vic Reeves) and Gina McKee (otherwise starring as a fire-breathing journalist in Secret State) as the mam and dad arguing over peppermint tea, you know things are a bit boring.

Also boring is Rugby Union, because it’s so unintelligible. It’s a game constantly interrupted by the referee whistling for no apparent reason, whilst a co-commentator explains what just happened whilst sounding like he’s improvising a jazz poem. “That’s twice England have been split with Tom Young’s right hand side losing his binding.” International Rugby Union: England v Australia Highlights (BBC1) was on last weekend, and the annoyance that the dastardly Aussies won was tempered by the fact that I hadn’t a clue how or why. “It wasn’t just that they went off their feet, they went from the side and the back of the ruck.”

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

One Response to TV Review – The Hour, Getting On, The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity, The Secret of Crickley Hall, Hebburn, Rugby Union

  1. Very good.Thank you very much

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