Culture House Daily

First look at the BBC’s BBC mockumentary W1A

20 March 2014

So, OK, here’s the thing with W1A: it’s just as brilliant as 2012. So that’s all good.

By which I mean the two most memorable characters from the BBC’s Olympics mockumentary – Siobhan Sharpe and Ian Fletcher, whose catchphrases bookended the paragraph above – are back in the BBC’s BBC mockumentary. Last night’s first episode saw Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville) appointed as the corporation’s new Head of Values, reunited (against his will) with brand expert Sharpe (Jessica Hynes). Their first crisis was who should present Britain’s Tastiest Village, after Clare Balding had to pull out due to filming commitments on ITV’s How Big Is Your Dog?

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John Morton, the writer of both series (I mean W1A and 2012, not Britain’s Tastiest Village and How Big Is Your Dog?), is beyond great. He’s in the ‘makes it look so easy you think you could do it’ league. His characters are so perfectly formed that you assume they really exist, and all he’s had to do is follow them round and take notes.

Mind you, you could say Morton had a head start with W1A: he’s presumably more than a little familiar with the BBC’s internal workings, something that would make him simultaneously the luckiest and unluckiest man in the world. Several of last night’s jokes weren’t actually jokes. Fletcher, for instance, had to go on a course before he was allowed to work in New Broadcasting House. Real members of staff at the real BBC have to do this. Really.

Auntie is also beyond satire when it comes to her jargon. When I worked there in the late 1990s, the TV commissioners said they wanted their programmes to have ‘the smell of now’. We pitched them a TV version of a radio show I was involved with: they took 9 months to make a decision. By which time the smell had gone off somewhat.

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Show comments
  • anncalba

    Mildly amusing. I smiled once or twice. Satire – no, way too soft centred. The idiocies at the BBC are ripe for some real, biting, make them squirm satire, do you really think our beloved state broadcaster is going to allow that?

  • Liz

    Media people writing about media people making shows about media people.

    We’re paying for this.

  • James

    “Clare Balding had to pull out due to filming commitments on ITV’s How Big Is Your Dog?”
    Ok, I laughed at a joke that was on the BBC. I don’t think this review has inspired me enough to actually watch the show though.

  • John Lea

    Can TV producers please stop churning out inferior clones of The Thick of It? The format has worn thin. Ditto: panel shows: can the BBC please abolish them, they are everywhere and dreadful!

  • TRAV1S

    A smug show, too clever with itself. May be a great in joke for those inside the media bubble. Just goes to show how out of touch the the Beeb are with the general public. And to think they have banned It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.

  • Colin56

    Life imitates art: a report in the Times today tells us that the carpets and decor on two floors in New Broadcasting House, not yet two years old, are being replaced because ‘they did not feel like creative spaces’. Apparently, the Head of TV has nothing better to do than to ‘assemble[d] a committee of employees to bounce around ideas for giving their floors a “unique sense of identity” … the committee recommended giving the sixth floor a “Welcome to Television” theme, while the seventh will be modelled on an “outside streetscape” …’

    It truly is beyond parody, even the timing is jaw dropping. Btw, I rather enjoyed W1A – wincing and squirming at the so totally lifelike jargon-strewn script, even Fletcher being shown how to fold his trendy new Brompton! What fun these people can have with other people’s money!

  • Gwangi

    Watched this last night. Disappointing, perhaps because so predictable; also, it’s now a self-consciously smug show that milks its catchphrases and characters for all it’s worth.
    It could have been called ‘Milking it’ instead of W1A. I laughed twice. Far too many pauses where the script is screaming at you: YOU WILL LAUGH NOW AT THIS HILARIOUS PIECE OF SATIRE. But really, it’s feather-light stuff – which is why the BBC allowed it, of course.
    2012 is still the benchmark. I could watch that DVD again now, and I know I’d laugh my head off.
    W1A feels like sixth formers being oh so naughty in an end of term review. i.e. not funny.

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