W1A: Twenty Twelve sequel 'goes for the jugular' at BBC

Mar 13, 2014

Hugh Bonneville returns for spoof: has BBC shot itself in the foot or is self-parody a clever move?

A SEQUEL to the Olympics spoof Twenty Twelve is due to start on the BBC next week – but this time it is lampooning the corporation's own management.

Ian Fletcher, played by Hugh Bonneville, is back, along with his unfoldable foldable bike, in a new series called W1A. In the first episode we discover that Fletcher did such a great job of organising the London Olympics that he has been head-hunted for the role of the BBC's 'head of values'.

Once again, he comes up against Siobhan Sharpe, played by Jessica Hynes, who has been appointed 'brand guru', with her incessant buzzspeak, while Sarah Parish plays Anna Rampton, the bullying 'head of output'.

W1A was written and directed by John Morton, the man behind the Bafta-winning Twenty Twelve, and was commissioned by the BBC. It was also filmed inside the BBC's headquarters, is named after the Broadcasting House postcode and relies, for the most part, on jokes about apparently fictional BBC managers.

So is this a foolhardy move by the Corporation or a piece of inspired self-awareness, asks Benji Wilson in the Sunday Times?

After spending a day with the cast, Wilson says he was left confused. "Either I had witnessed a triumph of corporate noblesse oblige, the BBC being so sure-footed and broad-minded that it is prepared to pay for a series that goes for its jugular; or this was an already embattled cultural monolith shooting itself in the foot. I'm still not sure."

Media bigwigs are not renowned for self-deprecation, notes Wilson, but he nevertheless concludes that commissioning /W1A/ could be seen as a brilliant stratagem. "In other words, by allowing themselves to look stupid, BBC management are actually being rather clever," he says.

Christopher Stevens of the Daily Mail agrees that real-life BBC executives might "feel more than a little anxious about a satire set in their own offices". But writer Morton insists the top brass have left the actors to get on with it, and that senior managers have not even asked to see a script, let alone demanded cuts or rewrites.

James Rampton in The Independent says it is "certainly bold of the BBC to let itself be mocked in this way".

However, he notes that the programme-makers are adamant that W1A is not intended as a "full-frontal attack" on the BBC, maintaining that the characters could exist in any mega-bureaucracy.

Bonneville suggests that far from being a demolition job, the BBC may benefit from the series. "Just as Twenty Twelve was not satirising the notion of the Olympics, so W1A is not satirising the notion of the BBC," he says. "It's a strong organisation that allows people to take the mickey out of it in this way."

  • W1A begins on BBC2 at 10pm on Wednesday 19 March

Sign up for our daily newsletter