Friday, 21 March 2014


“So that’s all good.”

Even though it finished way past our bedtime, having so loved Twenty Twelve, we eagerly tuned in to its follow-up, W1A.  Former head of the Olympics Deliverance Commission Ian Fletcher has got himself a new job as Head of Values at the BBC. He’s a bit of a hero now that the London Olympics were actually a success after all.  W1A is all part of the BBC’s attempt to show us that it can, despite its stuffy traditionalist reputation and recent news headlines, laugh at itself. Nonetheless, thankfully Ian Fletcher's role of Head of Values doesn’t mean “Showing the world we’re no longer a bunch of paedophiles” but rather “Show Cornwall we’re not prejudiced against it.” I say thankfully because the former is hardly a sound basis for a comedy show.

I love Hugh Bonneville’s bewildered buffoon character, wandering round trendy officeless office space with his badly folded bike sticking out under his arm, with no idea where to sit or how to get a coffee. It’s so different from his “nice but imperious” role in Downton Abbey. The ocean of hotdesks with rude “Don’t even think about it” messages stuck on every unmanned monitor reminded me of my freelance days competing for a computer, coming into work stupidly early (for a media employee) to make sure I could get one. And I loved the background joke of the terrible live subtitles being transmitted in the presentation Ian Fletcher had to attend. A little nod to my former profession going rapidly down the shitter.

I have done subtitling work for the BBC, but contracted out to another company and not directly employed by them. After accidentally sending us every episode of Fawlty Towers, from then on the Beeb only sent us their absolute dross to subtitle: Bargain Hunt, Ready Steady Cook, Wipeout, Esther. They originally palmed off The Weakest Link to us too, but then it became a hit and we hardly ever saw it again.

I did get offered a job at the BBC once, in their Pronunciation Unit, based at Bush House on The Strand. The Pronunciation Unit (if it still exists) spend their lives making phrase book style databases of how to say the names of everyone in the world ever, so that newsreaders and other presenters don't look stupid when talking on the television or radio.  It was rather a shock to be offered the job, since the interview was really hard (with numerous interruptions from a persistently ringing telephone in the office).  I also had to do a test that involved identifying foreign languages from transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet and I think I got nearly all of them wrong.

But the Pronunciation Unit was situated in a virtually windowless basement surrounded by dusty cramped book stacks, about as far removed from the trendy, light and open plan world of W1A as you could get, and it all just felt a little too dark and airless to me, since I am prone to claustrophobia. So I turned the job down and I’ve never been entirely sure it was the right decision. It’s always been one of those “What if...” moments. Ultimately, I thought I would miss subtitling just a bit too much. I think they were surprised at my rejection, given the kudos attached to working at the BBC back then and the job offered a rare gem to a BBC employee, namely a permanent rather than temporary contract. Perhaps W1A will finally show me just how right I was to send my career path, for what it’s worth, elsewhere.

I don’t think that W1A will be as funny as Twenty Twelve, if only because the events portrayed at the BBC are unlikely to then happen on the news the following week. (Though Lord knows the BBC could use some news that makes us laugh for a change.) Plus the wonderful Olivia Colman is no longer in it. But the PR bullshit, pointless meetings, random voiceovers by David Tennant and surprise cameos (Alan Yentob and Salman Rushdie arm wrestling?) will no doubt prove very entertaining indeed.

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