W1A is a BBC comedy about the inner workings of the BBC. It’s an exercise in self-flagellation that sometimes borders on indulgence, but mainly shows that Auntie can laugh at herself now and again. The corporation’s worst excesses are all up for lampooning: the dithering middle managers and their ridiculously opaque job titles; the hap-handed approach to marketing; Jeremy Clarkson.
It’s hard to imagine another broadcaster having the guts to do something similar. Sky would never commission a satire about Rupert Murdoch and his minions. Aussie Rules, Hack and Splash, Where The Sun Don’t Shine – all titles they’re welcome to, if they ever decide to do it. Which they won’t.
The Beeb is home to plenty of emerging talent, and even some of the minor roles in W1A are played by recognisable faces. Joel Fry (Game of Thrones, Plebs, Trollied), Sara Pascoe (Campus, Mock The Week) and Nina Sosanya (Last Tango in Halifax, Teachers) are all part of the supporting cast.
Hugh Bonneville is excellent as the BBC’s exasperated ‘Head of Values’, Ian Fletcher. And David Tennant narrates the whole thing, which is a nice bonus.
Familiar faces often pop up in the background too – the show is filmed at the real Broadcasting House in London. The One Show presenters had a little cafeteria cameo in last week’s episode.
3. Management speak
Indecision and evasion is the name of the game for the bosses in W1A. Everyone’s more concerned with not making a mistake than actually putting their head above the parapet. They have it down to a fine art – every question elicits either a ‘Yes no’ or a ‘No yes’ response, and every idea is ‘brilliant’, no matter how ludicrous it sounds.
The trying-so-hard-to-be-cool-it’s-painful marketing team, led by Siobhan Sharp (Jessica Hynes), also has its own noncommittal language – it’s all ‘totally’ and ‘yeah cool’ and ‘I’m good with that’. Here the show pokes fun at East London types with their wacky clothes and blue-sky thinking. And as someone who lives near Shoreditch with a messy beard and a head full of crap ideas, I’m hurt. Too close to the bone – a bit like my man leggings.
That was a joke by the way. Just to be clear: I don’t wear man leggings. Skinny fit, yes. Meggings, definitely not.
For a show that’s written months in advance, W1A has a canny knack for topicality. The new series kicked off with the team dealing with a presenter problem. They bleep out his surname, but references to ‘Jeremy’ and ‘Top Gear‘ make it pretty obvious who they’re talking about.
Apparently, there’s a limit to the amount of times he can say ‘tosser’ on telly, and he’s gone past it. This actually comes across as quite tame compared to punching a colleague in the face and muttering the n-word on camera.
Anyway, poor intern Will has to watch four years’ worth of Top Gear back to back, noting every mention of the word ‘tosser’. That’s a punishment I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. The prisoners at Guantanamo would be spilling the beans pretty quickly if subjected to that. Innocent or not.
1. Jessica Hynes
The show wouldn’t be nearly as funny without Jessica Hynes’ turn as dim-witted marketing consultant Siobhan Sharp. She usually provides the highlights, and last week was no different.
Tasked with revamping the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon – or making it ‘not so white’ – as Sky lurk in the wings, she first hosted a brainstorming session at her company’s HQ. This basically consisted of a table tennis match – literally batting around ideas.
Their plan, which took all of two minutes to come up with, was to rename the tournament ‘Win-bledon’, invite people like Alan Sugar and David Attenborough to umpire the games, and give each player a song that the crowd could sing every time they won a point.
Siobhan presents this to the BBC management team by waving a massive foam hand around and singing the Strictly Come Dancing theme tune on a loop – this would be Andy Murray’s music, by the way. Da dada da da da daaah, da dada da dah.
As Siobhan would say: “Yah. Totally, like, way cool.”
If you want a little taster, here’s her proposal to rebrand the BBC:
You can watch W1A on Thursdays, 10pm, BBC 2.