From John Morton, the writer who brought us Twenty Twelve, comes W1A, in which Hugh Bonneville reprises his role as Ian Fletcher, now the new Head of Values at the BBC, tasked with thinking big thoughts and finding a ‘Way Ahead’ for the corporation.
The centre of Bedlam
Guided by David Tennant’s deadpan narration, we follow Ian as he arrives for his first day at his ill-defined new job.
You’re aware that you’re at the centre of something genuinely important and the really exciting thing is to think that part of my job is going to be trying to establish where that centre is and also exactly what it’s in the middle of.
But he soon discovers he has arrived at the centre of Bedlam, a sprawling maze of bureaucracy and very busy, very important people running around being very busy and doing very important things.
He’s soon tackling important issues such as the perils of hot-desking, getting a proper coffee, finding a meeting room in which Alan Yentob isn’t arm-wrestling with Salman Rushdie and having to deal once again with the clueless, buzzword-spouting brand guru Siobhan Sharpe from Twenty Twelve.
Along the way, we’re introduced to a dizzying array of new characters. Among others, there’s Simon Harwood, the insouciant, buck-passing Director of Strategic Governance.
Anna Rampton is the bullying Head of Output who has green-lit Britain’s Tastiest Village (“Countryfile meets Bake-Off with a bit of the One Show thrown in”), the brainchild of the endlessly wittering David Wilkes, and on which producer Lucy Freeman has the misfortune to be working.
And then there’s Ben and Jerry (yes, really), whose surnames Rosenstern and Guildencrantz will raise a laugh with anyone familiar with Hamlet.
Ian soon finds himself embroiled in a minor crisis which rapidly becomes a self-flagellating PR catastrophe when a BBC news report accuses the corporation itself of institutional anti-West Country bias against a regional TV presenter who isn’t even from the area.
His Communications Officer’s solution? Send him to Manchester to be interviewed by Jenni Murray on Woman’s Hour. What could possibly go wrong?
A parody born out of love?
This first episode made me laugh. A lot.
In making BBC management look like utter buffoons, W1A walks a fine line. But its self-parody is lovingly created rather than malicious, and razor-sharp in its observations.
It makes for excruciatingly awkward viewing in the best traditions of The Office, but there is also a laugh – and a meeting room named after a dead comedian – around every corner.
From live subtitles that spew out nonsense (“one unified sister than changes the gain”) to ridiculous jargon (New Broadcasting House’s offices are ‘interactive spaces’), what makes W1A so funny is that you just know that fact isn’t a million miles removed from fiction.
At the centre of it all is Hugh Bonneville, who conveys both futile optimism and bemused incredulity with a flicker of his eyes and a suppressed sigh as he realises that the one thing he is in the middle of is, in the words of Oliver Hardy, “another nice mess”.
It remains to be seen whether he’s able to find his way out of it.