TV Writer Joel Bishton believes W1A, a mockumentary style show which encompasses British humour at its finest, to be a hidden gem

Written by Joel Bishton
2nd Year History student. Interested in nerdy film, tv and musicals
Published

2014 was a difficult year for the BBC. They had appointed a new Head of Values who was forced to address charges of ‘institutional anti-West Country bias’, the challenges of finding a presenter for ‘Britain’s Tastiest Village’ and the details of having his own pay revealed by the Daily Telegraph. Of course, this isn’t our BBC, but the BBC of W1A, a mockumentary parody that started ten years ago in 2014. 

W1A is technically a successor to Twenty Twelve (though you don’t need to have seen it), a mockumentary about the people who actually ran the 2012 Olympics. Created by writer-director John Morton, it starred Hugh Bonneville as baffled middle manager Ian Fletcher trying to run the Olympics while dealing with his subordinates’ mistakes. One of those making the mistakes was Jessica Hynes’ Siobhan Sharpe, the human embodiment of vacuous PR talk and creator of various phrases such as ‘let’s nail this puppy to the floor’ (rest assured, there’s no violence against puppies in the show). 

W1A starts with Ian arriving for the first day of his new job as the BBC’s new Head of Values, meeting and being assisted by idiotic intern Will Humphries (Hugh Skinner) and Director of Strategic Governance Simon Harwood (Jason Watkins). The grandly titled ‘Way Ahead’ Taskforce he sets up also includes the borderline sociopathic Anna Rampton (Sarah Parish), the extremely Welsh press officer Tracy Pritchard (Monica Dolan), with occasional contributions from Siobhan and her PR company. He then must help the BBC navigate through all the usual scandals like a cross-dressing ex-footballer who wants to become an MOTD pundit.

But at its heart, it is a show about the peculiarly British tendency towards inarticulacy

This all (hopefully) makes it sound funny, maybe in a slightly Metropolitan Elite way. But at its heart, it is a show about the peculiarly British tendency towards inarticulacy. It is about two love triangles, which would be quickly solved if those involved said how they felt. But they don’t. It is the same in the set piece meetings. Morton gives you enough to understand why everyone’s saying what they’re saying, and the close ups help you understand what everyone wants to say, but won’t. #

These meeting scenes are one of the reasons the show continues to be relevant ten years on

These meeting scenes are one of the reasons the show continues to be relevant ten years on. It is as much a parody of baffling management speak as it is one of the BBC. It works as an inoculation against taking talk about ‘learning opportunities’ and ‘brand synergy’ too seriously. In that way, it is as much about every office as it is about BBC management. 

However, it is still bracingly relevant to the BBC. Every time I see a story about the BBC, I think of the joke that, to be impartial, the BBC needs to be harsher on itself than anyone else. Though it’s not been through that bad of a time lately, it will again, but it also gave us W1A. So, I’ll always have Ian’s last speech (for me, the best defence of the BBC ever). Oh, and the idea of Tony Hall in the TARDIS.

 

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