Lost Gems: Hot Metal (1986-1988)

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Hot Metal

Anyone who was around in the 80s will remember the fun Rupert Murdoch brought to the newspaper industry here in England. The move from Fleet Street to Wapping, his acquisition of The Times, his fights with the unions – I’d go on, but it would only depress me.

Such ‘fun’ was actually ripe for satire and David Renwick and Andrew Marshall, who’d written a previously vicious and satirical sitcom, Whoops Apocalypse, decided they would do the same for the Murdoch press. Made by LWT, Hot Metal (the name given to printing presses by the industry) ran from 1986 and 1988 and followed the fortunes of The Daily Crucible, the world’s dull newspaper, after its acquisition by Terence “Twiggy” Rathbone (Robert Hardy). Its editor, Harry Stringer (Geoffrey Palmer), gets ‘promoted’ to managing editor and a new, more exciting editor found: Russell Spam (Robert Hardy – again. The running gag is, of course, that everyone thinks they’re the same person, until they’re spotted side by side; but metaphorically, Spam and Rathbone are two sides of the same coin, just as say Kelvin MacKenzie and Rupert Murdoch were).

Spam then takes the paper downmarket, turning The Crucible as its now called into a sensation-seeking red top. He’s helped by journalist Greg Kettle (Richard Kane), who intimidates his victims by claiming to be “a representative of Her Majesty’s press” and produces stories such an allegation that a vicar is a werewolf. Throughout the first series, there was also a running plot involved cub reporter Bill Tytla (John Gordon Sinclair) gradually uncovering an actual newsworthy story that went to the very heart of government.

Come the second series, Stringer has left after vanishing in a mysterious aircraft accident, to be replaced by former daytime chat show host Richard Lipton (Richard Wilson), while John Gordon Sinclair has been replaced by Maggie Troon (Caroline Milmoe). In all, 12 episodes were made as well as a Comic Relief special in which Rathbone moves into satellite TV (just like Rupert Murdoch) with the aid/opposition of the returning Stringer.

It was a delightfully funny, delightfully vicious satire of the industry that’s as relevant more than two decades later as it was at the time. There’s not much of it I can show you right now bar these two bits from the first episode and that Comic Relief special, but enjoy – it has a great theme tune by Alan Price, best known for his work in the pop group The Animals as well as the various Lindsay Anderson films O Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital. Happily however, you can get it on DVD.

  • Adam

    Oh, I loved that show. It seems to have been over-shadowed by Drop The Dead Donkey in the collective media satire memory, but I still blame it partially for me ending up as a journalist….

  • It showed up on PBS over here in 1989, and I still have the videotape it was on. After this long, I’m afraid to have a look at it for fear of losing it to the shelf-life age of the tape. Absolutely brilliant!