The second episode of Twenty Twelve sequel W1A brings together two related storylines in London and Manchester as decisions are made about who will host Britain’s Tastiest Village.
We pick up where the first episode left off. New BBC Head of Values Ian Fletcher is travelling up to Manchester for an interview with Jenni Murray on Woman’s Hour regarding accusations of anti-West Country bias. He’s accompanied by Senior Communications Officer Tracey Pritchard and brand guru Siobhan Sharpe.
Tracey briefs Ian to exclusively announce Carol Vorderman as the new co-host of Britain’s Tastiest Village to divert attention from the Wingate-gate furore. Siobhan sets up a Twitter account for him “to establish his cultural capital” and starts tweeting celebrities relentlessly on his behalf, despite both his and Tracey’s protests.
I totally am listening. What it is, is you guys are not saying the right stuff.
Meanwhile BTV producer Lucy Freeman discovers that original co-host Clare Balding is still attached to the project, having moved How Big is Your Dog? to accommodate the schedule, meaning someone needs to tell second choice Vorderman she is no longer required.
Despite her best attempts to get someone more senior than her to relay the bad news, both Director of Strategic Governance Simon Harwood and Head of Output Anna Rampton conveniently have other engagements, leaving only Lucy and programme creator David Wilkes. Vorderman cannot stand the prattling Wilkes, so it falls to Lucy.
To further complicate matters, Clare Balding arrives at New Broadcasting House at the same time, having already got wind of rumours linking Vorderman to BTV courtesy of Ian’s tweets. Intern Will fails to stall her, she sees Carol and immediately quits the show. As if things aren’t already bad enough, BTV’s male front-man Alan Titchmarsh also pulls out, leaving them with no hosts at all. Unable to stall any longer, Ian announces Sally Wingate as the new co-host of Britain’s Tastiest Village.
Life in the corporate lane
After last week’s frenetic introduction to the BBC and the various characters which populate this fictional version of it, this second instalment benefits from a more plot-driven story as it shifts the focus to the interwoven debacles surrounding Britain’s Tastiest Village and the mountain-out-of-a-molehill Sally Wingate controversy.
The world of double-speak which the inhabitants of W1A regularly spout may seem nonsensical to many, but to anyone who has ever worked in TV – or indeed for any large corporation – will recognise the proliferation of buzzwords and the political machinations where a meeting concludes with no progress or decisions made, and the burden of accountability has been skilfully dodged by upper management.
There’s not a lot new about this, of course. Many of the situations and characters will be familiar to viewers of Twenty Twelve or other contemporary workplace mockumentaries such as The Office and Parks and Recreation.
Lucy ends up holding the bag when it comes to resolving the fawning, incompetent David’s mess over the Balding/Vorderman situation and passing on the bad news to the latter.
Ian, having been dealt the hospital pass of dealing with Wingate-gate in the first place, ends up being cornered by a question no one can give him the answer to and has to manufacture his own on the spot. His solution of appointing Wingate to BTV may make little sense but it satisfies the principle that any response is better than no response on live radio, while also killing two problems in one go.
Indeed, in the strange, disconnected world that Siobhan occupies, the reality is that being on message and sounding convincing about it far outweighs trivial matters such as genuine merit or, for that matter, actual facts.
Hugh Bonneville continues to shine, conveying his utter incredulity at the situations he finds himself in with a simple flicker of his eyes. Lucy looks like being his sole ally – the last two people trying to do the right thing for the Corporation in the midst of a sea of buck-passing and self-interest. And David Tennant’s left-of-centre narration contains many of the show’s funniest and most biting lines, easily missed in his deadpan delivery.
Is W1A ground-breaking comedy? No. But is it a smartly observed examination of something frighteningly close to reality in one of Britain’s best-loved institutions? Yes. And, like The Office, it’s the fact that many of us have worked with people not a million miles different from these characters that makes the show immediately relatable, to me at least.