It’s charter renewal time at the BBC, and who else is best to head up the charge than Ian Fletcher? Well known for his successful delivery of London 2012 Olympics, Fletcher brings a wealth of experience in blue sky thinking, paradigm shifting and tiger teams. Fortunately, this statement, although concerningly believable, is not true. In fact, it is the background of the continuously hilarious BBC comedy W1A, starring Hugh Bonneville as Ian Fletcher himself.
Hot on the heels of Twenty-Twelve, a mockumentary set around the team responsible for Olympic deliverance, W1A brings the special style of irreverent comedy which is only rarely seen delivered to such perfection. For most people, watching W1A is hilarious and awkward in equal measure. Watching through parted fingers, it is difficult not to cover your eyes as the viewer not only recognises the situations but their own personality, perfectly caricaturised on screen. Set deep inside the upper echelons of the BBC, W1A follows the leadership team as they deal with “Charter Renewal”, “More of Less” and “The Way Ahead”, all interspersed with day-to-day catastrophes and public relations disasters.
Perfectly formatted as a mockumentary, narrator David Tennant delivers voiceover in a perfect manner, applying the appropriate understated disdain for lines such as “Director of Strategic Governance Simon Harwood has convened a down and dirty damage limitation session”, “New Broadcasting House is virtually empty except for those people that are still there” and “If it hasn’t exactly been a good day for producer Lucy Freeman, for Ian it’s been worse than good and it’s about to get worse than bad”. By moving the show along without actually saying anything, the narration is the perfect backdrop for this show all about nothing being achieved.
However, whether the team are in Frankie Howard, Mary Berry or Eric Idle (all honest-to-god names of meeting rooms at the BBC), the morning meetings are truly the location for comedy gold. Discussions about improvements, closures, new ideas and celebrity disasters all take place in these rooms. Alongside the unbelievable situations are the unreal team. Ian Fletcher, often the true “normal” of the group has to negotiate around the exasperated head of news Neil Reid (David Westhead), the disordered senior communications officer Tracey Pritchard (Monica Dolan) and the aloof and uncompromising head of broadcasting, Anna Rampton (Sarah Parish). However, the true stars of these meetings are elsewhere. Also seen on Twenty-Twelve was Siobhan Sharpe. A marketing genius from PR company Perfect Curve, Siobhan appears to have very little clue about what the BBC actually does, while still managing to land on her feet. Easily one of the most quotable characters, she is responsible for such gold as “Let’s nail this puppy to the floor”, “We don’t sell crab cakes in a sausage factory” and “So instead of calling it ‘BBC’, you call it ‘BBC?’ like, with an up at the end, a question mark”. Played by Jessica Hynes, Siobhan is truly an example of business bulls**t in human form, with one-liners and soundbites a-plenty.
Another special mention needs to go to Will Humphries. Originally an intern, Will, played by Hugh Skinner, is incredibly confused, entirely well-meaning, but overall, a little dim. Presenting with a look ranging from confused to pained, Will has some spectacular ideas, but no real method of implementing them. Quite often, the world runs ahead of Will, leaving him left behind in a bit of a daze. However, with the highly skilled Izzy Gould (Ophelia Lovibond) looking out for him, he is not usually able to cause too much harm. Peculiarly, he manages to find himself at the centre of multiple dramas and successes, again, with absolutely no clue how he found himself there, or, more importantly, where he actually is.
W1A is a solid 3 seasons of gold. As a viewer, you will see colleagues, managers and customers, all painted perfectly on screen. You will see meetings where nothing is achieved, and even meetings where the result pushes progress back. You will see small problems turned into potential catastrophes, office politics turning into utter confusion and individuals in positions of authority, despite having neither willingness nor aptitude. You will see love stories, stories of betrayal and stories of friendship. However, most of all, you will laugh until it hurts, you will speak to others and tell them how “Steve from accounts is just like Tracey from W1A” and you will see yourself on screen. But you will never admit to it, that’s going too far.