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Time's up for The Hour?

WE'VE reached the halfway point in The Hour and a sense of "Mmm, I dunno," has begun to take hold. As in, "Is it working?" "Mmm, I dunno."

The first episode was excellent, introducing us to the chief characters and brilliantly painting drab, seedy post-rationing London in muddy brown and greys.

Last week's episode was good too, if a little choppy in places, as the Suez crisis, which had previously been background noise, shifted to the forefront with handsome-but-shallow Hector (Dominic West) explosively interviewing a Nasser sympathiser, aided by some last-minute prepping by smart-but-scruffy reporter Freddie (Ben Whishaw).

I can't be the only viewer, by the way, who's noticed a distant echo of the 80s American movie Broadcast News in the romantic triangle involving Freddie, Hector and Bel (Romola Garai).

Anyway, the mysterious killer/spook Kish (Burn Gorman, late of Torchwood), who was lurking in newsreel footage of the murdered debutante (if you haven't seen any of this, there's no point in trying to keep up), has been seconded to The Hour.

He's supposedly been working for the BBC World Service for eight years and has been parachuted in to act as a translator of Arabic, but no one can find evidence of him having worked on a single programme.

So that's where we were last week -- and so far, so engrossing. But last night's episode . . . well, mmm, I dunno. Freddie and Bel decamped to the countryside for a weekend of game shooting at the lavish estate of Hector's rich, elegant wife.

Intriguingly, though Freddie doesn't shoot, him being a working-class hero and all that, he's adept at disassembling, cleaning and reassembling a gun, which suggests he might have to take up arms at some future point.

Heart-throb actor Adam (Andrew Scott), the fiance of the murdered debutante, gets drunk and too talkative, suggesting the marriage was a convenient arrangement to cover up both the deb's pregnancy and his own homosexuality.

When Freddie gets a call from his frightened father, whose house has been burglarised and ransacked, he's driven back to London by the PM's advisor, the slimy McCain (Julian Rhind-Tutt), who drops some veiled warnings/threats.

There's more of the same back at the BBC, when Freddie encounters the half- Russian Kish (another clue there?), who's spent the weekend trying to get his hands on the incriminating newsreel. "You don't know anything about me," he tells Freddie, "but I know everything about you."

Cue a chase through the corridors of the BBC, followed by the most unconvincing stairwell scuffle I've seen, after which Kish, having dropped a few more hints, throws himself over the banister to his death.

The halfway point is a crucial time for a drama serial and it's hard to tell which direction The Hour will take. There's still enough going on to grip the attention, but I hope we're not in for an anti-climax.

In An Abuse of Trust, veteran investigative journalist Roger Cook, less portly than when we last saw him and sporting a distinguished grey beard, updated the horrific story of paedophile teacher Derek Slade, which he'd broken on his BBC radio show Checkpoint back in 1982.

Though convicted of physically and sexually abusing pupils at a private school in Sussex, Slade reinvented himself, at one point stealing the identity of a long-dead boy whose name he'd spotted on a gravestone, and continued to abuse children at schools in Africa and India, before being caught.

It was a shocking, if depressingly familiar, story, yet it was good to see Cook, who changed the investigative TV journalism by confronting the bad guys face to face, often at great personal risk, back on our screens.

Dispiritingly, however, the programme was buried on BBC1 at 10.35pm (11.05 in some regions), which tells you all you need to know about how TV's priorities have changed since the era of The Hour.

The hour ***

An abuse of trust ***


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