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A tentative welcome to the BBC’s latest mock-umentary

Bernadette Angell is not convinced

This week W1A, the BBC’s new supposedly satirical drama-documentary series about itself, was launched on BBC1. It is produced by the same team – and involves some of the same actors – that came up with Twenty Twelve, an equivalent spoof on the organising of the London Olympics, written and directed by John Morton, which became an unexpected cult hit a couple of years ago.

In particular, Twenty Twelve’s Ian Fletcher (Head of Delivery), the trusting-but-bemused character played strictly deadpan by Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville, has re-emerged as the BBC’s new ‘Head of Values’ in W1A.

The nation’s television critics currently appear divided.

Some see W1A as a BBC masterstroke in its campaign to protect the licence fee, a decision on which is scheduled to be made in 2016 – after all, if the BBC can laugh at itself, surely it is worth supporting?

Others take the view that, on its early showing, the new series is too derivative of its predecessor and therefore inferior – a ‘one trick pony’ in-joke which, albeit funny first time around, has now outlived its welcome and purpose.

More than three decades ago now, when I worked in a large television company, over a period of about six months I wrote a supposedly-amusing management theory book entitled How To Manage in ITV – loosely based upon my own experiences close to one of the major seats of power – that never saw the light of day.

It was intended as much as a spoof upon management theory books as the world of television. The idea for the project sprang from observing the quirks of our managing director, e.g. his practice, after returning from his annual three-week holiday, of taking everything in his in-tray and placing it straight in his out-tray, this on the basis that, by now, anything crucial would have been dealt with already … and everything else would be inconsequential.

My book included chapters such as ‘How to manage your board’ and ‘How to achieve success’.

The advice contained in the former included the imperative that senior television executives, instinctively hopeless at being decisive, should only ever be given enough information to make the decision that you want them to make for the good of the organisation. If you presented them with alternatives – or indeed, the arguments on both sides of an issue – they’d only become confused.

As regards ‘getting on’, my advice was that the first thing any aspiring executive should do is avoid gaining any expertise in anything. Anyone who acquires expertise is automatically pigeon-holed, which is a disadvantage in two ways.

Firstly, in the sense that any specific expertise makes you too valuable to be moved to anywhere else. Secondly, there comes with it an inevitable assumption that the subject matter of your expertise is all you’re ever going to be good at.

Ergo, only those that steadfastly remain ‘ignorant generalists’ have a chance, let alone a destiny, of making it to the top.

Personally, largely based upon my own experience outlined above, I’m in the camp that is sceptical about W1A.

Whilst I enjoyed ‘spotting’ the familiar character-types and surreal organisational situations, it does come across as hopelessly self-indulgent and out of touch with the real world.

Just like the BBC, I suppose.





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About Bernadette Angell

After cutting her journalistic teeth in Boston USA, Bernadette met and married an Englishman, whom she followed back to London. Two decades and three children later, they divorced. She now occupies herself as a freelance writer (credits include television soaps and radio plays) and occasional amateur gardener. More Posts