BBC’s satirical offering W1A is just A1

BBC’s satirical offering W1A is just A1 Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville) and Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes) in the new series W1A. Photo: BBC

Humour is a very subjective thing, and with something I think is funny, others may remain untickled.

That being said I find W1A (BBC 2, Friday nights) hilarious. But then it is a send up of the media so I’m in my zone and with my tribe.

The target of the satire is political correctness, hipster culture and self-absorption in the media, especially in the BBC. Hugh Bonneville plays Ian Fletcher, the BBC’s Head of Values, and is one of the more grounded characters (relatively!). Sarah Paris is rigidly po-faced as Anna, the new ‘Head of Better’. Last week she explained her role thus: “This is about establishing what we do most of best and finding fewer ways of doing more of it less.”

In their efforts to promote diversity and inclusiveness, and cost cutting at the same time, they find themselves in several awkward situations. In a recent episode they put a cross dresser onto the Match of the Day panel, but this character was useless as a commentator and they had to move him/her on without causing offence. A sports quiz didn’t appeal and they ended up pawning him/her off on Top Gear.

The staff meetings are cringe inducing – in last week’s episode one of the suggestions for slimming down operations was to move flagship current affairs show Panorama to Twitter!

Some of the language is crude, but most of that comes from one character, grouchy Neil Reid (David Westhead), Head of News and Current Affairs, who seems to be the only one to see through all the rubbish. In last week’s episode he got exasperated with the new live subtitling software, which produced gems like this: “President Tramp promises a big day on Notional Security saying he will build a well along the border with Max Sicko.”

Throughout, the deliciously ironic narration by David Tennant enhances the comic effect no end.


More serious media issues were highlighted on Unreported World – Ireland’s Big Decision on Channel 4 last Friday. It was flagged as the documentary team hearing from both sides in Ireland’s upcoming abortion-related referendum. I wasn’t hopeful, and when we were told at the start that presenter Shaunagh Connaire was pro-choice my spirits flagged.

What followed was most disappointing – pro-lifers were portrayed as coming almost exclusively  from a religious perspective, sometimes showing graphic pictures of aborted babies. One pro-lifer didn’t help by saying he was on the street to “torment” abortion supporters. Really?

On the pro-choice side there were also some strident campaigners, but also two women who had babies with life-limiting conditions, and though in the end their babies had died naturally they were for repeal of the Eighth Amendment that protects these babies.

We got the nine-year-old daughter of one of the women interviewed outlining the reasons for repeal, and a midwife from the Rotunda Hospital arguing along the same lines, but no medical people from the pro-life side.

Like pretty much all programmes on abortion we didn’t hear much about what abortion actually is, but the truth did slip through from a doctor. “Angry” and “sad” about women being “forced” abroad, she described how a woman, having gone to a clinic in the UK, gets “an injection to stop her baby’s heart”. Predictably, through the rest of the programme, it was all ‘foetus’ talk.

A young girl from Youth Defence was impressive, and one young couple did briefly get a chance to make a case on how the Eighth Amendment is protective of babies with disabilities, but apart from this the programme was so lopsided it’s a wonder it didn’t just fall over.

Meanwhile on the drama front, RTE 1’s thriller Acceptable Risk is thankfully free of the usual ‘adult content’, and is passable entertainment, but the script is a bit stiff and the acting lacklustre in spots.

After last Sunday’s episode I’m getting increasingly irritated by the main character – actress Elaine Cassidy deserves better.

Liar (UTV Mondays, TV3, Thursdays) is more adult and edgy, though relatively restrained in presentation. Ioan Gruffudd plays a charming doctor accused of rape, with Joanne Froggat all nervy as his alleged victim. It’s very tense, disturbing and intriguing as we wonder who is telling the truth, but by last week’s episode we were in no doubt.

The show acknowledged the assistance of various rape crisis agencies, so was there ever really any doubt about the guilty party?


Pick of the week
Digital Catholics

EWTN, Monday, October 16, 9pm

Sr Helena Burns encourages Catholics to engage with media in a responsible manner guided by Church teaching.

Abortion On Trial

BBC 2, Monday, October 16, 9pm

50 years after the UK Abortion Act, Anne Robinson brings together a group of people with conflicting views.

Lucy Worsley: Elizabeth I’s Battle for God’s Music

BBC 4, Tuesday, October 17, 9pm

Conflict over religious music occasioned by the Reformation.

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