W1A (BBC2 Wednesday, 10pm) wouldn’t have worked if the BBC was still in Television Centre. The visual would have been all wrong. But the gift for creator John Morton is the geography of New Broadcasting House. Although fluidly open-planned and hot-desked inside, outside it’s in the shape of a cul-de-sac. Into this marvelous metaphor peddles Ian Fletcher formerly of Twenty Twelve.
Like that series (which worked on the hypothesis we were going to mess up the Olympics), this arrives under the carapace of a shared joke; that made-up job titles, gafflebag and bureaucracy are all abundant in the corporation. I grimace at that kind of presumptive thinking, so I don’t feel W1A toils hard enough for its laughs. While it’s absolutely an easy and entertaining watch – Hugh Bonneville’s Ian is good company, and the cast in general are excellent – it often feels like the kind of light repartee people exchange when there’s no expectation of real humour.
A lot of the dialogue comes in loops: “Say again?”, “Cool”, “Yes no”, “That’s all good.” They circle around and around. It underlines the banality of corporate-speak, but it comes to feel like the kind of real-life catchphrases that have long since had the wit pummeled out of them (“Interweb” or “That London”, maybe). But I’m not calling W1A lazy. Some of the elements are superbly honed. Syncopatico, “Your virtual PA” is a brilliantly observed unnovation 1, with Ian’s later remark that he’s put a “path-finding document” in the “shared priorities folder on Syncopatico” perfectly weighted to sound just like the kind of guff many of us have to say in meetings.
That’s the thing about W1A. It floats along on this kind of nonsense, a base level of white noise. Sometimes it tunes in on a really cogent, really strong line. At others, the satire gets lost. Say again? We’re not quite syncopated.
Arena: Whatever Happened to Spitting Image? (BBC4 Thursday, 9pm) is a good documentary that arrives coached inside a not-so-good one. Before watching, please remove both layers of packaging – the one that sets up the hour as a train journey, and then the one that presents it as a sort of TV novel, complete with Plater-esque chapter titles.
Once they’re discarded we’re left with one of the great stories of British television, because the making of Spitting Image is full of terrific characters – Sir Clive ‘ZX’ Sinclair, BBC2 font-meister Martin Lambie-Nairn, comedy producer John Lloyd and caricaturists Fluck and Law all coming together in an unlikely union. Those who appear in this programme talk well and scabrously about their experiences, from the stricken Lloyd recalling nights spent weeping in his bath, to Law wryly pointing out “there wasn’t a shortage of Thatcherite entrepreneurs” queuing up to back the show.
And there are plenty of hilarious details too, such as Tony Hendra (“The Bubonic Plagiarist”) taking Willie Whitelaw’s head off to America to have a mouth animated onto it. It’s the last time either he or the Deputy Prime Minister’s noggin are seen again. Then there’s the establishment of the world’s first puppet-making sweatshop at Shoulder of Mutton Alley, Lime House. Plus the final destination for Maggie Thatcher’s puppet: it’s now part of a permanent exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.
That’s it from Line of Duty (BBC2 Wednesday, 9pm) which exited, as it did first time around, in captions. It’s a strange way to go, as if we’ve come along at just the wrong time to catch the finish. Now it’s all in the past tense. Dryden “resigned from the police force”, apparently. Denton is “currently serving a life sentence”. No more drama, just written reports.
A third series will follow, and where once Keeley Hawes had to counter questions about how daunting it is to succeed Lennie James’ DCI Tony Gates, I’m guessing someone else will next be tasked with talking about measuring up to DI Denton. A tougher job, in truth.
It’s a strange set-up, this show, the spotlight forever nudged onto the guest role. Notional lead Steve Arnott is not the most demonstrative of characters. Similarly, Kate Fleming. Did we ever really concern ourselves with her marital problems? So, she’s sleeping in the car nowadays. That’s a shame, but she’s not the story. When Denton asked, “Who are you two to judge me?” she did have a point. They’re like satellites orbiting something with a much stronger gravitational pull. Who they fix to next time will be the thing. I’m confident. Those final moments aside, Line of Duty has been superb and I’m certain Jed Mercurio and company can do it again.
Sudoku in the UK. The Crystal Maze. This website. And Only Connect. The common denominator here is David Bodycombe. All have benefited from his beneficence – for many years he’s web-hosted OTT. The Sport Relief edition of Only Connect (BBC4 Monday, 8.30pm) marked the last time he is to appear as Question Editor in the closing credits. Which made me sad. I like to wait for his name and wave at it. But an instalment in which misplaced apostrophes are the answer to one of the puzzles seems a fitting point to leave.
Sic transit gloria mundi, David.
- © Zeppotron ↩