W1A, the sort-of sequel to 2012, is a mockumentary about the BBC; specifically, its staff who work behind the scenes in Broadcasting House. It has been going for two or three years, and at first I found it subtly enjoyable but short on real laughs. But it has grown on me. As I pointed out a few days ago:
it’s a sort of cross between The Office and Dilbert with bits of Reggie Perrin thrown in (there’s a pair who say ‘brilliant’ and ‘cool’ which is surely the modern version of ‘great’ and ‘super’:
Most of the characters work in jobs no-one understands, least of all themselves: and top of the incomprehensible heap is Ian Fletcher, formerly Head of Olympic Deliverance, now appointed as the BBC’s Head of Values (or Captain Values, as his colleague Simon likes to call him.) We first see him arriving on his Brompton; it’s not long before Simon gets a better one, thus beginning a running gag about Brompton bikes.
In series two Anna Rampton, previously moderately competent, is promoted to Director of Better, a job neither she nor anyone else understands:
‘The fact is this is about identifying what we do best and finding more ways of doing less of it better.’ This is pure Dilbert; but as the series went on I found myself irresistibly reminded of Theresa May, another woman promoted beyond her capabilities and reduced to repeating meaningless soundbites.
Simon’s Machiavellian antics, previously confined to bikes and buck-passing, reach new heights in this third series when a new post is created and no-one tells Ian Fletcher. When challenged, Simon tells Ian the post was considered beneath his grade.
‘Well, can I sit on the interview panel then?’
‘Sorry, that’s just for the big-wigs.’
‘Great. So I’m too important to apply for the job but not important enough to sit on the interview panel.’
‘It’s a unique position Ian.’
Meanwhile Lucy, the only competent person in the BBC apart from Ian Fletcher, is spending every spare moment being pursued by the intolerable David who keeps bending her ear about his problems and then passing off his ideas as her own.
But in spite of the Dilbert connection I suspect this wouldn’t work in the US because none of the comedy would arise if it wasn’t for everyone being just too damned polite. Siobhan Sharpe of the BBC’s PR company is everyone’s worst nightmare and impervious to – well, anything at all really – but no-one has the gall to tell her so: Simon is a shit-stirrer extraordinaire who dodges every bullet by saying ‘well, I don’t know how these things work and you’ll know how you want to deal with this’ whereas David’s tactic is to go uber-camp: ‘I know! Tell me about it! It’s a nightmare!’ when everyone knows it was his incompetence that caused the problem in the first place. But they’re all too polite to say so – all except Neil, the old-fashioned tell-it-like-it-is head of news who says things like ‘bollocks’ and ‘we’re f***d.’ But alas, his tropes are no more effective than anyone else’s. The last series ends with Lucy and Ian almost getting together… but I’m sure some nightmare co-worker will turn up and put a stop to it, and they’ll be too polite to tell them to **** off.
I urge you to watch this if you can. Series 3 is on i-player and if you have Netflix you can watch series 2 there as well. You can watch it on your syncopatitablet…