It's a well-known theory that, in times of economic strife, we turn to the happy times of our fairly recent past to cheer us up. I'm convinced that the recent upsurge in interest in hobbies like baking and gardening are a reflection of this. We reach for a kind of nostalgia for our childhoods – or at least the childhoods we imagine we might have had.

But when it comes to the more shocking events of our times – the natural disasters, the wars, the terrorism – we no longer seem to seek reassurance in simple things. Rather we tend to turn to the very last thing that we might imagine. Because, you must have noticed, that over the last ten years, there has been a huge proliferation in the types of television programming that cover subjects such as modern warfare, terrorism, spies, conspiracies, political thrillers and even natural disasters.

Years ago, during wartime and later, throughout the Cold War, the same thing happened. Except that it wasn't quite the same. Because back in those days we wanted nothing but a happy ending. The reassurance that David Niven or Richard Todd, or even Michael Caine would step in at the last minute and save us all from certain disaster. But now? Now, thanks to the unrelenting reality of the 24-hour news cycle we don't find it so easy to convince ourselves that the fairytale heroic ending is necessarily guaranteed. 

Today's dramas are much more complex. Still with thrills and spills and twists and turns, but also with greater uncertainty. Main characters are much more likely to be bumped off, or to turn bad. But more to the point, those characters, both good and bad, will be more nuanced. Heroes will be flawed, sometimes they'll not even be that likeable. But that's appropriate for our times. When life's so confused, it makes no sense to make, or watch, dramas that over-simplify things. In order to make some sense of a world in which danger can come from anywhere and we no longer no which way to point our guns, we need dramas that reflect that situation. With the latest programmes, like the brilliant 'Homeland', really ratcheting up the tension, it's little wonder that we're gripped by these almost-real-life dramas. Granted, programmes like '24' might be pushing reality just a tad. But I find it comforting that there might just be the likes of Jack Bauer out there, taking difficult decisions and doing the unthinkable to keep us safe. It makes for good entertainment too. And when those lines between reality and fantasy are blurred deliberately by television companies, the pay-off is even greater.

One series that did this was BBC's 'Crisis Command - Can You Run The Country?'. A sort of role-playing interactive drama-cum-panel game it required three 'captains of industry'  to act the part of government ministers locked in a bunker during a national emergency. Going only on the advice they were given by experts from the government, military and emergency services, the trios had to make decisions on just how to deal with various crisis as imagined by the producers of the show. Each week a new panel were faced with a new crisis. There was, if I recall,  an outbreak of pneumonic plague in a  Liverpool hospital and a hostage crisis. The scenarios were very well thought out, although the lack of urgency with which some of the 'ministers' made their decisions was very worrying. The first programme alone had my entire family screaming at the television as the three participants (an entrepreneur, a human rights lawyer and a social responsibility consultant) debated the rights and wrongs of various choices they could make when London came under mass terrorist attack. This was, by the way, a couple of years before the awful 7/7 attacks on the public transport system but after the atrocities of 9/11. The scenario began with what seemed like a fairly simple, if large, explosion at a London railway station.

No sooner had the decision been made to send in the emergency services (the wrong decision it later transpired - ministers should have elected to first evacuate only those certain to survive the terrible injuries to avoid over-burdening the local NHS), then the crisis escalated. Power cuts on the underground system left thousands of people trapped in the dark, traffic lights failed above ground leading to complete gridlock across central London. They made, as it turned out, the correct decision to leave those trapped in the underground where they were, since conditions above ground were even more dangerous. And then an airliner unexpectedly, and without permission, diverted towards Heathrow Airport. With so many unexplained disasters happening in one geographical location on one day, it seemed obvious to everyone watching at home that this scenario presented a mass terrorist attack on the capital. Except that not everyone thought it that obvious. The three 'ministers' remained convinced that the events were unrelated. That each might well have been an innocent accident.

When the possibility of shooting down the airliner was raised by the advisors (it remained unresponsive and was in all likelihood under the control of hijackers), the 'ministers' still didn't seem to understand the enormity of the crisis. They didn't even bother to begin to evacuate the centre of the city. They were warned that there was a short window in which military action could be taken. Once the airliner passed over the built up area, it would prove too catastrophic to take any action at all. Even when it became obvious that the plane was in the hands of hijackers, one minister  (and I will name him - Simon Woodroffe, founder of Yo-Sushi and one of the Dragons' Den stars) remained convinced that the airliner posed a threat only to the airport itself. Quite where he had spent the previous five years wasn't clear. Eventually the fighter jets were launched but the 'ministers' continued to debate what to do. There were, after all, the passengers to consider. At home we screamed at them to shoot down the darned thing while they still had the chance, but they waited too long and the plane passed into the no-shoot zone and eventually crashed into the Houses of Parliament where most of the government remained, the 'ministers' having elected not to evacuate them.

You might have thought this would have bucked up the trio's ideas, but no. As advisors informed them that right back at the site of the first incident, the underground tunnel under the Thames might burst in 3 minutes, potentially flooding the entire Tube, Mr Woodroffe refused to allow the two flood doors to be closed because it would trap people in there. While the debate raged about whether the potential loss of a relative few lives was worth the guaranteed safety of thousands more, time ran out and the tunnel burst anyway, flooding the tube system and drowning the very people the 'ministers' had previously left there in relative safety. As the credits rolled, and London lay flooded and burning, Mr Woodroffe at least seemed somewhat satisfied he had made the correct decisions. 

Now I'm not going to suggest that any of this was simple or that, from a moral perspective, shooting down a passenger plane or knowingly leaving hundreds of people to die is something you should do without careful consideration. But as each decision had to be made, it was pretty clear that the unpalatable decision was not just the right one, it was really the only practical one. The fact is that, as much as we'd like to moralise about the rights and wrongs, whether they be the amateur decisions in hypothetical situations, or the choices our elected officials make, when it comes down to it, we want to survive and we want someone in charge to make the decisions that will ensure that survival. We want Jack Bauer, not the man from Yo Sushi! And, while we wait and hope that those awful of decisions never have to be made, we want to be entertained.