Tune in, switch off - Swinging back to the Sixties

24th April 2009 at 01:00

Now I know what Mad Men is about. In the middle of one recent episode, Don Draper, king of boardroom and bedroom, plays the gentleman by looking away as his estranged wife, Betty, undresses for bed. The only things smarter than the clothes in this show are the garments underneath. Set in the early Sixties, it has the feel of the original programmes around then such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

It's all surface smiles, subterfuge and lipstick. But never on the collars: they are whiter than white. In fact, every scene is scrubbed up like a Sixties soap powder advert. There's not a Brylcreemed hair out of place: this could be The Truman Show.

The couple have decided to separate, but are keeping up the pretence of marriage for Gene, Betty's father, who's had a stroke. But Gene keeps mistaking Betty for her dead mother. He even spices up breakfast by trying a little grotesque groping on his daughter.

Betty finds it so hard to keep up the pretence that she jumps out of bed in the middle of the night to fall on the irresistible Don. She confesses to divorcee, Helen, that she needs Don so much: "Sometimes I think I'll float away if he's not holding me down." Well, actually, I noticed she was on top for this scene. Or was it just the fantasy of an addled ad man?

Don assumes the sexual position she adopted means they're back together, only to be told he should leave because: "We were just pretending." If that's pretence, I'd like some please.

This acclaimed BBC Four series about Madison Avenue advertising executives, with egos the size of their bonuses, has degenerated into melodrama about dysfunctional families. Young executive Pete Campbell has a mother he hates and is scared of planes after his father's little accident: "It's statistically unlikely for two in the same family to go in the same way," he's reassured. That's like the man who takes a bomb on a plane to narrow the odds.

Pete's also neurotic about the unnaturalness of adoption. Broody wife Trudy has the perfect response: "We're not related by blood and you love me." Look out for more incest in series 16, a few decades on. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The effect of all this on the children is symbolised in 10-year-old Glen Bishop, who runs away from home for three days before being calmly taken in by Betty. She washes his clothes and makes him a sandwich. When Glen's mother, Helen, appears, he says he hates Betty.

More revolting were the relationships in the final Horne Corden programme, especially the passionate kiss in their Superman parody. But I rather enjoyed it - the comedy, not the kiss. The Jesus sketch could almost have been written by Richard Dawkins: a satire on young evangelical Christians, though clever, it was on the wrong side of offensive. Let's hope they steer clear of incest in their next series

Ray Tarleton is principal at South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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