fri 23/08/2019

W1A, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

W1A, BBC One

W1A, BBC One

John Morton turns his withering wit on the BBC

Ian Fletcher (centre) with his new BBC colleagues (from left) Simon, Siobhan, Tracey, Will, Lucy and Anna

If anybody is daft enough to argue that the television licence fee isn't worth it, then just usher them before this superb mockumentary, brought to you by the team behind Twenty Twelve.

Now that the Olympics are but a pleasant memory, London 2012 head of deliverance Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville, again mastering the art of suppressed exasperation) has been appointed as head of values at the BBC. It's a job - as David Tennant's languid commentary informs us – that was created in the wake of “recent learning opportunities at the Corporation” (a beautifully subtle reference to the Jimmy Savile scandal, and surely the only tasteful joke you'll ever hear about it).

There wasn't a wasted opportunity to deliver a clever, sly or laugh-out-loud gag

Ian had splashed out on a new folding bike to celebrate his appointment, which provided some physical comedy throughout last night's opener of four episodes, which were filmed in New Broadcasting House. It's a place where form comes before function and Ian has to wander around between constant meetings looking for a vacant hotdesk in the vast open-plan office, mostly unsuccessfully.

His boss is the passive-aggressive director of strategic governance Simon Harwood (Jason Watkins), who does have an office and who informed Ian that the “Ginger Rogers to his Fred Astaire” will be his ex-colleague Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes), the terminally clueless PR and “brand consultant” who takes selfies in meetings.

Ian's first task - after attending an all-too believable “digital handshake” session (induction training to you and me) where the expensive technology failed - was to handle an accusation that the BBC has an anti-Cornish bias. To this end Ian was working with senior communications officer Tracey Pritchard (Monica Dolan), who begins every sentence with “I'm not being funny or anything”, and the steely-jawed head of output Anna Rampton (Sarah Parish).

Meanwhile, elsewhere, it's a different day altogether, as Tennant's commentary had it. Anna, together with producer Lucy Freeman (Nina Sosanya), was trying to persuade Carol Vorderman (appearing as herself) to front the BBC's new flagship show, Britain's Tastiest Village - “sort of Countryfile meets Bake Off with a bit of The One Show thrown in just in case” - which will revolutionise Sunday evening TV.

The scene was priceless. Vorderman delivered her lines with great aplomb, setting up a running gag in the series involving her, Alan Titchmarsh and Clare Balding. Hail to the celebs – and several real-life BBC employees, who are also mentioned in passing - for being such good sports to be guyed so mercilessly. One blink-and-you'll-miss-it sight gag, involving Alan Yentob and Salman Rushdie, was a particular delight.

Writer John Morton (who also directs)  has created another TV masterpiece in which there wasn't a wasted opportunity to deliver a clever, sly or laugh-out-loud gag. W1A doesn't have to be factual (although I'm told some aspects of it could be a documentary about working at the BBC) but it certainly rings true about so much that irritates in modern working life – the dim-witted intern Will (Hugh Skinner) who can't carry out the simplest of tasks, the meaningless language (offices are called “interactive spaces”), colleagues who appear never actually to do any work, and the fact that everyone is permanently attached to a tablet.

Watch it twice, three times, to ensure you appreciate every wonderful line, every wonderful sight joke, every wonderful piece of acting from a cracking cast. Superb.

Comments

absolutely superb comedy, you're so right, Veronica. specially the cameo scene with Salman and Alan. but Morton was pushing that one a bit far? has anyone ever seen Yentob without a phone in his hand? kind of interferes with the arm-wrestling, no?

I was an obsessive fan of Twenty Twelve but rather like later series of The Thick of It I am not so sold on this as yet. Even though the dialogue is always about the jargon of the work place that is ubiquitous and not confined to the BBC I can't help feeling this is another example of the Beeb and TV in general feeding off itself and patting itself on the back for being a good sport (Yentob included) This is all part of the new transparency but I doubt it will have any effect on departmental memos or independent producers being able to get an honest response from commissioning editors.

WOW! what insider knowledge! few people know that Sting is so thick with Yentob! either they've opened up every cabinet in the corporation, or someone's leaking? and it wasn't me... another brilliant episode.

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