W1A (BBC2) – Review

“You’re aware that you’re at the centre of something genuinely important, and the exciting thing is to think that part of the job is establishing where that centre is, and what it’s in the middle of.”

It’s hard to parody something that’s already a parody of itself, so W1A (BBC2) – the BBC’s bizarre and surreal piss-take of its own corridors of power – must be viewed in context.

Because the sad truth is that the real-world BBC is far more bizarre and surreal than this fairly tame spoof, and the only real piss-take in the equation is the way the real Beeb behaves while claiming to serve its hard-working license payers.

BBC2’s continuity announcer accidentally introduced W1A by calling it a “new drama.” A Freudian slip, no doubt, by a BBC staffer on the brink of insanity.

Noel Edmonds went on Newsnight this week and announced that he wants to buy the BBC. Remind me, was that in the spoof version of the corporation or in the real-world BBC? It’s almost impossible to tell.

I’ve worked for the BBC many times, in many different roles, so I suppose I should have found W1A  hilarious. However, it was so close to the truth that all the programme actually succeeded in doing was to remind me of the anger, frustration and helplessness I felt while working there.

Most of the meetings really are a ridiculous waste of time. Many of the managers genuinely are pointless, poorly informed, time-servers who are only interested in protecting their own interests. Verbal communications skills are virtually non-existent in many Social Media-obsessed staff, and the curse of hot desking means it’s impossible to hold a meaningful conversation or concentrate on anything at all in your own space.

W1A is written by the same team who brought us the brilliant Twenty Twelve. David Tennant’s back as the deadpan and slightly puzzled narrator, and Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville) moves from Head of Deliverance at the Olympics to becoming Head of Values at the BBC. Jessica Hynes also returns as Siobhan Sharp, the air-headed PR guru.

There are many new faces as well, notably Jason Watkins as the slimy and grinning Head of Strategic Governance, and Hugh Skinner as Will – the intellectually challenged intern who seems to struggle with even the most basic of tasks. Will’s epic mental battle in delivering two cups of coffee to their recipients was one of the highlights of the first episode. I suspect his character will rise swiftly through the ranks and will probably end up as Director General if the show runs long enough.

Just as David Brent was far too painful to watch if you worked in an office, W1A may be a little too much for many BBC staff to endure. Alan Yentob and Salman Rushdie arm-wrestling in a meeting room? Remind me, was that in W1A, or did I see it on this week’s Newsnight?