thu 25/07/2024

W1A, Series 3 Finale, BBC Two review - the satire gets to the end of its joke | reviews, news & interviews

W1A, Series 3 Finale, BBC Two review - the satire gets to the end of its joke

W1A, Series 3 Finale, BBC Two review - the satire gets to the end of its joke

Funny but flat, the BBC mockumentary struggled with engagement

Sunshine on Reith: 'W1A' casts light on a beleagured BBC

Repetition can help clarity. It emphasises significance, and shines a light more directly onto something hidden. It can guide us gently into an area we might have otherwise circumvented, and urge us to stare at something for long enough to see beyond, and transcend previous, long-held opinions.

It can also, of course, become very tired very fast and that was, sadly, the case with the third series of John Morton’s BBC mockumentary sitcom. It was, to be honest, struggling to find new things to say as early as series two.

The joke, and there really has only ever been one, is the doublespeak and confusion within a big organisational structure. The interchangeability of “Yes” and “No” in meetings, more often deployed together as a conversational beat rather than as any kind of meaningful reply, is used constantly as a signifier of the lack of plain speaking. However, the fact that so few of its characters existed outside of this conceit means that they have never developed past being funny – but unescapably flat – caricatures.

W1AThe acting has been routinely excellent, with Jessica Stevenson’s monstrous PR guru Siobhan Sharpe and Hugh Bonneville’s fantastically flabbergasted head of values Ian Fletcher (pictured left) heading a cast whose sense of comic timing is simply stunning. But the characters were rarely given anything to do outside of driving a very simple and spine-straight storyline. 

Throughout this series, we have followed the progress of the “More of Less” initiative, which aimed, “to identify what the BBC does best and find more ways of doing less of it better”. We’ve seen the YouTube inspired “BBC Me” project and the slow decay of chat show concept On Your Bike into an extended selfie slot, before gaining traction and becoming a TV bicycle resolutely not made for two, but with both Amanda Holden and Claudia Winkleman desperate to ride it. This has all been largely played out in rigid, halting meetings with people agreeing, parroting and talking cock without being called out on it. So far, so familiar.

In the final episode, there seemed to be a conscious shift towards a more character-led narrative. Whether it was done in a last-ditch attempt to imbue emotive resonance or just as the easiest way of tying up loose ends is unclear, but the launch of “BBC Me” was clearly WIA’s Office party. However – and it’s a big however – while Hugh Skinner (Will) and Ophelia Lovibond (Izzy, both pictured below with Rufus Jones) are fine actors, their "will-they-won’t-they?" moment lacked the poignant engagement of Wernham Hogg's Tim and Dawn. Similarly, Izzy slapping Jack (Jonathan Bailey) packed much less punch than David Brent telling Chris Finch to “Fuck off”. W1A

If we were expected to relate to the characters on an emotional level, it was too little, too late – in truth we barely know them. Funny is fine – and W1A is certainly funny – but it only takes us so far on its own. Still, it was a pleasant relief to see Ian Fletcher deliver an impromptu speech that made sense and said something broadly meaningful about the BBC which remains a fine, though possibly unwieldly institution and, lest we forget, is still the best value £145 any of us spends in a year.


If we were expected to relate to the characters on an emotional level, it was too little too late - in truth we barely know them


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article


Many folk I've spoken to within the BBC say the same thing: for them, this isn't comedy, it's pure, painful documentary. And the flatness is inherent in the material and the gibberish spoken by people going nowhere. Rigid with embarrassment for the first couple of episodes - I hadn't seen previous series - I eased up and found myself laughing at the folk caught in work stereotypes of their own devising. I know people like this in a superficial, professional capacity, inasmuch as one can ever know them; don't you?

Yes! Brilliant! Not tired as Barney suggests but a continually and deftly executed critique of modern corporate life - there is no character development because that's exactly what people in organisations are reduced to by the often vacuous meanderings of corporate initiatives, envisonings, and engagements. To me the repetition of the themes between the series re-emphasises the wheel spinning repetition of corporate life. Large institutions need to be completely re-engineered because the series' set pieces are played out every day in real life corporate meeting rooms.

Being a retired civil servant I can assure you this corporate, gobbledygook, management-speak pish is rampant there too. Most younger managers can't find their arses with both of their hands. W1A had me in stitches. Brilliant as Jason would say.

There should be a new series but not in the "beeb" but like twentytwelve became w1a, it should be the main 2 headhunted for the Brexit project. Anyone who has been in c-suite project meetings will have seen every episode is what they see at work every day. W1A never got boring as it continually nailed real life. Subtly adding to the chaos. W1A could be boring to those not in that world - just as I never saw the need for more than one episode of the Royle Family.

"Brilliant." "Yes. Very strong."

I love this show. We watch from Canada and think it’s “brilliant”. It’s just a bit of fun and relatable humour that I appreciate. I truly hope we get a season 4!

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters