Ian faces newspaper scrutiny into his salary. Siobhan takes on the task of refreshing the BBC logo. Lucy helps a terrified writer pitch a script idea. And Will is absolutely useless (again).
There may be trouble ahead
A month into his new role, things aren’t getting any easier for Ian Fletcher.
In his fortnightly Way Ahead task force meeting, he tries to get everyone to write down one word which describes what the BBC means to them, with unusable results. He opposes a proposal to move Songs of Praise to radio, to which Head of Output Anna Rampton, who would much rather replace it with Britain’s Tastiest Village (if it wasn’t floating in the ether with no hosts), replies:
The fact is there’s no jeopardy, no appointment to view – it’s not even a competition.
And then Tracey Pritchard gets wind that the Daily Telegraph is planning to run a piece about BBC executive pay, quoting Ian’s salary. But no one – least of all Tracey (she’s only the Senior Communications Officer, after all) – is willing to help Ian draft a statement in response, let alone spot any issue with him writing an official statement on behalf of the BBC in support of himself.
The Telegraph runs the article, quoting his salary, questioning the value of the BBC having a Head of Values and, worst of all, accusing him of misusing funds in his old Olympic Deliverance role.
Brand BBC consultant Siobhan Sharpe is tasked with refreshing the BBC’s logo to make it more like an app. As Siobhan herself says:
You want to upsize your footprint? You’ve got to get different shoes.
It’s possible she may actually have been speaking in English.
Working with her team at her agency Perfect Curve – an ideation architect, a trending analyst and a viral concept designer, naturally – Siobhan warns them:
We screw the pooch on this one, we’re sucking nothing but sauerkraut.
Google Translate, anyone? It sounds painful.
Nevertheless, they come up with the brilliant idea of … losing the letters ‘BBC’. O-kaaay.
The bumbling writer and the bumbling intern
Producer Lucy Freeman brokers a meeting for up-and-coming writer Dan Shepherd with Anna and Head of Genuine Comedy/Drama Matt Taverner. Dan is, to put it mildly, a complete wuss who couldn’t sell a drink to a man dying of thirst. His pitch for his series Home Truth: “It’s just about ordinary people trying to live their lives as well as they can.” Lucy presses Anna and Matt for specific feedback, but receives only the vaguest of non-committal blandishments as Anna and Matt agree that they “have a clear sense of where we are”. Whatever that means.
Simon Harwood‘s PA Izzy sets Will the intern the apparently straightforward task of matching up personalised invitations with the corresponding envelopes. He fails, saying “It’s like sometimes I just don’t think.” Only sometimes, Will?
And Head of News and Current Affairs Neil Reid has to issue an apology after a junior member of staff mistakenly put a picture of Sting’s wife Trudie Styler instead of Syrian First Lady Asma Assad in a middle-of-the-night bulletin. He then has to issue an apology about making an apology after Sting complains to Alan Yentob.
Yet again the buck stops with Ian. He is getting no help from his team in helping him to define the BBC’s purpose. And when he asks for help from Simon and Tracey to fend off the Daily Telegraph article they bat the ball back into his court as he discovers that they stand four-square behind him. A long way behind him. Behind a bomb-proof shelter.
As last week, it feels like he and Lucy are alone in swimming upstream against a tidal wave of colleagues blessed with sloping shoulders who refuse to take responsibility for anything, let alone making an actual decision. Lucy’s attempts to actually do her job are admirable – Anna and Matt far less so as they sit perched firmly on the fence refusing to give either real encouragement or clear critique. She might as well try to nail jelly to the wall. It would certainly be a less futile exercise.
These behaviours and others – meeting attendees idly doodling in their pads or casually checking their phones – will all be instantly recognisable to anyone who has ever worked in the public sector or for large corporations. The same goes for the gobbledegook spouted by Siobhan – “Guys, you don’t sell crab cakes in a sausage factory” – which makes sense only to herself.
Siobhan aside, the best lines continue to go to narrator David Tennant, who upholds the modern tradition of having voiceover artists with strong regional accents stating what we can already plainly see in a mildly anarchic fashion:
By ten o’clock, New Broadcasting House is virtually empty – except for those people who are still there.
The humour in the narration is easily missed, but frequently brilliant.
However, this episode suffered from having too many fragmented storylines going on – it felt like the writers were trying to cram in as many jabs at BBC/media cock-ups as possible without being overly concerned with linking them together – and a lack of development for some of the minor players. Lucy is blossoming into the most successful newcomer, but Will, Simon and Tracey in particular still suffer from being one-note cookie-cutter characters who desperately need something different to do.
Unfortunately, with only one episode remaining and Ian and Siobhan apparently at its centre, that’s unlikely to happen. Four episodes simply isn’t enough to flesh out an extensive ensemble which is almost all new to viewers. A shame. As Ian himself might say, W1A is all good but with a little more room to breathe it could be so much better.