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TV Delights – Hot Metal

Hot Metal tv show/series, metal badge logoAn occasional column for the connoisseur who yearns for TV as it was, should be, but never will be…


During the 1980s the British Fleet Street tabloid war began to spin out of control. In the battle for circulation supremacy, more and more fantastical, sometime lurid, oftentimes jingoistic, stories accompanied by mis-leading and sensationalist headlines appeared influencing what the rag buying public believed. It was based on this that in 1986 writers David Renwick and Andrew Marshall penned this sometime surreal, often bizarre but outstandingly clever and still wickedly funny comedy

When media magnate Terence “Twiggy” Rathbone, figurehead of conglomerate “Rathouse International”, re-launches his newly-acquired ‘Daily Crucible’ newspaper as a tabloid, factual news is replaced with complete nonsense. To aid him in the transformation, he brings in previously unknown editor Russell Spam, whose job is to deflect the complaints of the ‘old guard’, introduce as many circulation increasing gimmicks as possible and re-employ base reporters such as Greg Kettle; the sort of journalist who thinks nothing of using a psychic medium to interview victims of capital punishment.

Robert Hardy (All Creatures Great and Small) takes on a dual role – firstly as Twiggy Rathbone, and that of Russell Spam, the new, brilliant but sensation seeking editor, who considers that the lowest common denominator is probably too high a benchmark for the newspaper’s intended audience. However, are they in fact the same person? They certainly look alike, which creates the first mystery of the debut series.

Geoffrey Palmer (Butterflies) plays the increasingly frustrated ex, but now ‘promoted’ to Executive, Editor Harry Stringer, who sees his integrity being maligned at every turn. John Gordon ‘terrible hair’ Sinclair (Gregory’s Girl) takes on the role of Bill Tytla, rookie and hungry reporter whose dogged determination means no actual news-worthy story remains untold, which creates the running thread of intrigue throughout the first series.

Also in the mix is guttersnipe journalist Greg Kettle (Richard Kane), who intimidates his victims by announcing himself as a representative of “Her Majesty’s Press”, concocting stories such as intimating that a harmless priest is both a militant Marxist and a werewolf, that Elton John’s poodle is having a gay affair and that a psychiatric out-patient is actually ex Soviet President, Nikita Khrushchev.

A second series followed in 1988 with Richard Wilson (One Foot in the Grave) playing failed TV host, Dicky Lipton who’s seen as a perfect foil by Rathbone after former Executive Editor, Harry Stringer, mysteriously vanishes in the Bermuda Triangle. Caroline Milmoe (Terry Duckworth’s wife, Lisa, in Corrie) played the hungry rookie role this time round. Like Godfather 2, this series was arguably the better, with Wilson’s brilliant po-faced consternation a counter to Editor Russell Spam’s constant attempts to enforce the now even more preposterous and absurd “news” stories of Greg Kettle and Co.

Make no mistake this is a situation comedy that was a work of genius. Brilliant one-liners follow set piece after set piece of out-and-out hilarity. However, despite its intent to make us laugh, the script also reminds us of just how influential the media can be over people and beliefs and how they’ll present mundanity as sensationalism and thus as “real news” if it boosts circulation.

Hot Metal has, to the best of my knowledge, never been repeated – probably because the writers hit a nerve with certain media megalomanias, who might also own certain TV stations. Out now, however, on DVD, this is a must-see for anyone who despises how news presentation has become.

Fountain News DigitalThis article was originally published in:
Fountain News Digital – November 2010 (Issue 1)

We are re-publishing all articles from our past newsletter, Fountain News Digital, and you can view all completed newsletters here. There were nine issues published in total between 2010 and 2012.

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