1 9 8 6 – 1 9 8 8 (UK)
13 x 30 minute episodes
An over-the-top spoof on tabloid Fleet Street journalism, in which media baron “Twiggy” Rathbone (Robert Hardy) reinvents his failing newspaper as a tits ‘n’ bums rag, staffed by journalists with dubious working practices and bizarre story ideas.
With circulation and market-share of The Daily Crucible steadily decreasing, the megalomaniac press baron (who heads the global media concern Rathouse International) pushes the paper drastically down market and relaunches it as a scandal-sheet simply called The Crucible.
Former editor Harry Stringer is ‘promoted’ to the new position of managing editor – not so much a move ‘upstairs’ as a move outside (his new office is the building’s lift ) – and is continually agog and ashamed at the treatment being meted out to his old rag.
Rathbone brings in a new editor, Russell Spam, hitherto the editor of an obscure African newspaper. Spam is identical in appearance to Rathbone (Robert Hardy played both roles), leading Stringer to conclude, wrongly, that they are one and the same man.
The Crucible‘s new style of journalism is typified by reporter Greg Kettle, sacked by Stringer but re-instated by Spam. Prone to introducing himself as one of ‘Her Majesty’s Press’, Kettle will stoop to any depth to get his crass stories – He portrays an innocent priest as a Marxist, and consults a medium to obtain quotes from dead capital punishment victims when Rathbone dictates that his paper must argue for the restoration of hanging.
During the first series, Stringer debates constantly whether or not to jump ship. By the second series, he’s out, having gone missing in a ‘mystery aeroplane accident’.
His replacement, Richard Lipton, is a former TV presenter whose private mission to clean up the stinking paper soon amounts to nought when he realises that his job is to be a puppet figurehead.
Robert Hardy was wonderful as the outrageously ruthless and underhanded Rathbone, giving the character a little bit of Murdoch and Maxwell wrapped up together, and then some. Rathbone sucks up to the governing Tory party in the first series but ditches his old allegiances to fawn over the newly empowered Labour in the second – After The Crucible had single-handedly brought down the Conservatives by accusing the Prime Minister of an affair with a Russian diplomat as part of its ‘circulation at any price’ drive.
Hot Metal was broadcast in the Sunday-night spot usually occupied by Spitting Image and was aimed at a similar audience.
Terence “Twiggy” Rathbone
Lt Scott Mackenzie