The BBC’s cutting self-parody, W1A, returned to BBC2 last night with a brilliantly funny hour-long special. Featuring Hugh Bonneville as the BBC’s “Head of Values”, John Morton’s script managed to twist a set-up with the potential to be a series for media ‘luvvies’ into a hilarious spoof of all corporate culture. Morton uses the format of a fake documentary that he used so well in TwentyTwelve to explore the BBC.
W1A is set inside the BBC’s New Broadcasting House and follows a team of incompetent executives and their minions, as they battle to keep the BBC running in difficult times; often with disastrous consequences. Several storylines were woven throughout the episode to keep it neatly flowing, with a visit from HRH the Prince of Wales leading to departmental chaos as the management team quarrel over who should shake his hand first bookending the episode.
A highlight was the scene depicting a meeting with the BBC’s “Head of Drama and/or Comedy”. After two years ‘in development’, the frustrated writer and producer are told that their changes to the lead character are ‘good’ (despite having made no changes at all) and the protagonist is ‘good’ because ‘she is a woman’. Much to their frustration, they are then asked to locate the drama from Scarborough to Walthamstow to make it more ‘BBC’. “Is this a comedy or a documentary” was most probably the cry from many authors who have worked for the BBC.
The success of W1A lies in the believability of the production, the characters and the writing. We can all imagine that somewhere within the BBC, an executive really does believe that it would be a brilliant idea to “BBC” Wimbledon by having the Strictly Come Dancing theme tune played whenever a certain player enters the court. Jessica Hynes plays the almost-Dickensian Siobhan Sharpe (from Perfect Curve, a management consultancy firm employed by the BBC) with great style; the character’s delusion of grandeur and ability to say a lot without actually proposing anything is a masterful blend of writing and acting talent.
There were many elements in this hour-long episode that could be brought up to demonstrate the skill of Morton’s writing; from Fletcher inviting the intern ‘into Frankie Howerd’ (yes, the BBC really has named its meeting rooms after old celebrities), to the scene with the Head of Security boasting about his mobile phone that ‘changes functionality’ yet doesn’t actually work when it’s most needed. The episode did feel slightly padded out in order to fill its extended running time, but next week’s episode marks a return to the half-hour slot, which is probably more suitable for the programme.
W1A‘s second series has got off to a terrific start; with funny, quotable and realistic lines, it really is a masterclass in the mock-umentary form of TV comedy. David Tennant’s narration is neat and on point, while all the cast deliver consistently good performances. The BBC should also be applauded for funding and broadcasting such a potentially damaging programme. If you haven’t already watched it, please head to iPlayer now to find out what you’re missing!