ATELEVISION programme, of itself, doesn't say much about the country from which it comes: but a programme that is hailed by the media as a flagship drama of the national broadcaster might, it can be argued, offer a fair representation of prevailing cultural standards. That's why 'The Hour', the execrable new series on the BBC, is worth watching, if only for a few minutes, most especially as a companion to the astonishing revelations that, yes, there might well be corrupt officers in the London Metropolitan Police.
'The Hour' is set in the BBC in 1956 and is infused with all the believability of a children's programme. In it, the bright new star of a current-affairs programme refers excitedly to the impact that Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy are making in the US -- though of course, this is years before they actually became national figures. No doubt each might have got a passing mention in the many newspapers in 1956, but not so as to justify excited comment in newsrooms. Only a childishly inane hindsight enables a scriptwriter to have such foresight.
A man is found murdered. The young reporter bribes a policeman to see the body. The lining of the dead man's suit has been sliced open. He reports excitedly to his colleagues; this is MI6's work -- and even more suspiciously, MI6 was refusing to make any public comment on the matter.
How is such rubbish possible? Firstly, MI6 did and does foreign intelligence-gathering only. MI5 does domestic intelligence. Getting MI6 involved in internal security is rather like making London Transport responsible for the British Overseas Airways Corporation. Moreover, to have a journalist expecting MI6 to make a comment about anything at all in 1956 is ludicrously anachronistic. The location of MI6's headquarters was unknown, it had no public face or press office and commented on nothing. It was what it was: a wholly secret organisation.
These crippling deficiencies seem to have escaped every single layer of the BBC management supervising this series, probably because they wholly lack the intellectual equipment to perceive them. Quite as bad was the attempt to emulate the cool of the American 'Mad Men', which is both super-cool and has a superb, era-relevant script. But most of all, 'Mad Men' has Jon Hamm. Whereas the sheer hamminess of 'The Hour' makes it not so much Hamlet without the Prince as the Prince without the Hamm.
It's simple. The English do cool like the Vatican does limbo-dancing or Jamaica does snooker. And any group-memory would have told the English that they are the land of 'Carry On', not of cool. Americans do cool. Cool is a walk; it is a look; it is a silence. It is not compatible with the Birmingham accent, bank holidays and rain at Lords. A group memory would mortifyingly remind the English that Cliff Richard was once hailed as their Elvis, which indeed he genuinely thought he was, and God help us, still does.
Moreover, the English failure to have a group memory does not lock them into an endless 'Groundhog Day', in which, after all, the protagonist remembers every single detail of the cycle in which he is trapped. No, this very English film is 'Hedgehog Day', in which poor Miss Tiddlewinkle is unfailingly flattened into a spiky pancake as she waddles across the road, time after time after time.
NOW I've said this many times before, and I'm saying it again: you can only be surprised by such things if you repeatedly forget your own history. How else is it possible that English politicians are astonished by corruption in their midst when their hero, Winston Churchill, in 1923 accepted a secret £5,000 bribe -- a quite staggering sum -- from Burmah Oil? How else can cash-for-honours come as bolt from the blue, when Lloyd George specialised in it? How else can the English be astonished by allegations about the Met, when the term "bent copper" is as old as "Bow Street Runner"? How else can the English be remotely surprised by revelations of journalistic corruption, as if they had never set their eyes on their own tabloids?
And now, what do I see but a Commons Select Committee on News International, being conducted by Keith Vaz, none other. Excellent! For his attempt to fast-track passports for the Hinduja brothers a decade ago led the Commons Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Elizabeth Filkin, to declare witheringly that he had been guilty of collusion "over many months ... to prevent me from obtaining accurate information about his possible financial relationship with the Hinduja family". And now this fine fellow sits in judgment of Rupert Murdoch. Now, less Hinduja, and more hallelujah.
Amnesia-themed vice is the great national dish of the English: this magical elixir unfailingly enables them to see old sin as completely new. It is why English history endlessly repeats itself, and in only slightly different forms. It is why eruptions in Ireland always take the English by surprise. It is why they then invariably -- and even gratefully -- accept the one-sided Irish version of history: for -- the poor dears -- they have almost none of their own.