What can one say?  Mad Men, Matthew Weiner’s award-winning show for AMC which painstakingly illustrates life as it was in Madison Avenue, left BBC4 last week.  ‘Mad men’ was how 1960s ad men referred to themselves — working in Madison Avenue and being, well, a bit mad.

Season Five — and all subsequent repeats — will air exclusively on Sky in the UK.  A shame, although, as anyone who has lived through the 1960s knows, the better half of the decade — up to 1965 — has already featured.

Incredibly, I still meet people on both sides of the Atlantic who ask, ‘What’s Mad Men?’ and ‘Who is Don Draper?’  Sometimes they even work in marketing or public relations (PR).  Then, there are other marketing-PR types who have watched a few episodes from the first series and have told me, ‘I don’t get it.’

It’s a mystery to me why people wouldn’t ‘get’ the show.  It’s quite evident, episode to episode, year on year, what it’s about.  The plot is straightforward, although some of Don Draper’s segments have a rather dreamlike quality now and then as he attempts to escape from the reality which he has created for himself.

What the show does — unintentionally — is illustrate two Calvinist tenets: total depravity and common grace.  One could probably make an additional case for God’s sovereignty, but that would be weaker, at least at this point.  And, as we do not intend to have Sky in the mousehole, I shall just have to wonder.

Mad Men is scrupulously faithful to the era in what people do, say and wear.  Authentic advertising — which I recall from my childhood — is used.  You can read more about it at the link.  Should you start watching it now if you’ve never seen it before?  Unlike many drama serials, time moves on and it’s best to watch from the beginning to understand the full import of the characters, their changing world and life at the agency.  Nonetheless, you’ll be able to follow on quite well, particularly after you read the rest of this post.

For those who have — or haven’t — seen the show so far, what follow are a few highlights, with help from YouTube.

Signature tune and title sequence

Even occasional viewers love the signature tune.  The title sequence, reminiscent of Saul Bass’s work in 1950s and 1960s film, marries perfectly with it.  Both carry a deep sense of foreboding.  The steady viewer wonders what will happen to Don Draper, who features in the sequence.  Each series gets us wondering, ‘Will Don dip out of the agency?  Will something happen to him?’  See for yourself (feel free to click ‘watch on YouTube’, as embedding wasn’t allowed on this and a few of the other clips below):

The haunting melody, ‘A Beautiful Mine’ by RJD2, is taken from Enoch Light’s ‘Autumn Leaves’ from Persuasive Percussion 1966 (Command RS 895 SD, 1966).  Definitely worth a listen for the  gorgeous piano:

Who is Don Draper?

Don begins the decade as Creative Director at the Sterling Cooper agency.  But, he has a past and was born Dick Whitman to a poor family.  The first series explains how he came to adopt his new identity at the end of the Korean War.  Series Four takes us back through his transition from salesman in a fur shop to advertising executive.

Incredibly, Don never went to university, which he announces in Series Four.  Yet, he married a girl from one of the Seven Sisters colleges and became a successful, upper-middle class businessman — eventually, he becomes a partner in the agency — with an inherent ability not only to manage people and situations but to be classically understated and well-mannered.  These last two characteristics have given rise to hundreds of column inches over the past few years clamouring for the renaissance of this type of 1960s man.

In this AMC trailer, Don shares his bon mots on our instinctual love of freedom, women and their husbands, the lure of good advertising and more:

In this next clip, Don uses the risky tactic of negative persuasion to win over a lipstick manufacturer. (Don’t try this at work!) Don explains the atavistic attitude of a woman towards her man (‘total ownership’):

This next clip is a must-see.  In it, Don meets with Kodak representatives who want to market their new slide projector ‘wheel’.  Don persuades them — with a pithy but insightful speech — that they should call it the Carousel.  He discusses nostalgia, which he says is like a time machine taking us to the place where we wish to return again and again, going around and around. And, herein lies the appeal of Mad Men. Don illustrates his talk with slides capturing his own family life:

Don’s (ex) wife Betty

Betty is a wooden, cold woman who, strangely for that time period, can’t manage to ever say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.  After getting her Bachelor’s degree at Bryn Mawr, she becomes a model in Manhattan, which is where she and Don meet.  They have divorced and she has remarried by the time Series Four begins.

Betty has no regard for anyone but herself.

In an early episode, Betty takes exception to her neighbour’s pigeons after he threatens to shoot their dog. ‘My Special Angel’, sung by Bobby Helms in 1957, plays in the background:

You might enjoy seeing the faithful recreation of an early 1960s supermarket in this scene between Mrs Draper and one of her neighbours:

She is an unloving mother, although many of us growing up at the time will remember hearing some of these things:

Don’s colleagues

Despite their many failings, Mad Men‘s Sterling Cooper agency crowd has a certain ethos about it.  Some characters have better deportment than others, nonetheless, the work atmosphere recalls a time when people were treated as individuals instead of cattle.

In this clip the odious Pete Campbell tries to get Don fired.  Bert Cooper — yes, that’s Robert Morse — displays common grace, forgiveness and wisdom.  As parents said back then, ‘No one likes a tattle-tale’:

Here is a television clip of Morse from 1967.  He appeared as the mystery guest in an episode of What’s My Line? hosted by John Daly:

Office manager Joan introduces young secretary Peggy — who quickly becomes a copywriter through her own merits — to life at Sterling Cooper.  Womanly extremes at play here:

Senior partner Roger Sterling explains why men drink — ‘it’s what men do’ — and why his generation does it better than Don’s:

And, finally, Roger and Joan discuss war, forgiveness of one’s enemy and moving forward.  Roger served in the Second World War and Joan’s husband is about to leave for Vietnam:

Needless to say, churchgoing comes up rarely in conversation.  From flashbacks in Don’s life, we know he was raised in a Bible-believing home — given his family’s circumstances, they were probably fundamentalists.  In any case, he rejected Christianity as a boy.  Betty has no beliefs. Their daughter finds this strange; in one episode she asks why the family doesn’t attend church on Sunday.  Betty gives her a brusque answer. The only other mention I recall is that Roger Sterling’s daughter gets married in an Episcopal church;  we find this out when he and his ex-wife are discussing wedding plans.

Would they have been better off going to church?  I don’t know.  I’d like to say yes, but most of the show’s characters, especially in the Creative department, would have remained unregenerate. Bert Cooper would have remained a humanist. I could see only Roger and Don as Christian possibilities, and Roger would have ended up more of a social Episcopalian, going for friendship.  With a bit of work, Don probably would have become Reformed.  He would have made a good Calvinist — intellectual, insightful and reflective.  Not that other denominations aren’t, but please accept my apologies for being biased, having read so much Calvinist literature over the past couple of years.

I’ll miss Mad Men, certainly.  This is part of the reason I put this compilation of clips together, to have something to come back to later.  But my aim was also to get you interested in Season Five, should you be able to see it.

Thanks for watching.