BBC1’s latest Sunday-night drama The Last Post, about a British military base in Aden in 1965, feels like a programme on a mission: that mission being to avoid getting shouted at by either the Guardian or the Daily Mail. To this (possibly doomed) end, it goes about its business very gingerly, with an almost pathological devotion to balance, and a safety-first reliance on the trusty methods of the well-made play, where each scene makes a single discrete point and the characters are as carefully differentiated as the members of a boy band.
The first episode opened with the base’s new captain landing at Aden airport with his wife. ‘It must be a hundred degrees,’ she said scene-settingly as they descended from the plane. ‘This isn’t Aldershot, is it,’ he helpfully added. Then, as they waited for their driver, we caught up with what was happening on the base itself, where the popular outgoing captain was engaged in the kind of farewell that Henry Blofeld might have considered a bit protracted. He joshed with his Scottish sergeant (the Salt-of-the-Earth One). He commiserated with Lt Ed Laithwaite (the Conflicted One) for not being appointed his replacement. He had sex one last time with Ed’s wife Alison (the Drunken Slutty One — played with some relish by Jessica Raine, who appears to have her hand sutured to a vodka glass for the role). When the new captain (the Uptight One) arrived, it was clear that he was the equivalent of one of those fast-tracked graduate officers in cop shows, whose main job is to be regarded with deep suspicion by his underlings.
But to the annoyance of all concerned, possibly including the programme-makers, there was also the pesky business of colonial politics to deal with.