BIGGEST BUFFOONS ARE BOWING OUT
‘They’re all conniving and fallible, but likeable’
the unlikely heart-throb in their midst. Similarly, in meetings no one wants to put their heads above the parapet for fear of being shot down. ‘People saying less than they mean has become a feature of corporate and public life,’ says John Morton. ‘Your worst night- mare is being caught out by saying what you actually think. You hear this on the Today programme all the time.
‘So they’re trained to stop that happening, then along comes a Trump or a Farage and people say, “My God, he just says what he thinks.” You have that with Hugh Skinner’s character Will. I’ve always seen him as a holy fool who’s quite outside that world, which gives him a kind of odd strength.’
Somehow the hapless senior management team always seems to be firefighting as the Beeb veers from one crisis to another. ‘I have no inside knowledge of the BBC, but I imagine working there is really difficult,’ says John. ‘People are fallible. They do mess up and vie with each other for position. Because we’re all literally invested in it, if they do something that people think is wrong or not good enough we feel personally affronted.’
The show is filmed partly at Pinewood Studios and partly at the real Broadcasting House in London, and one of the comedy’s many joys is seeing how fiction mirrors real life. The real W1A building has several rooms dedicated to BBC legends, but in the show a fictional Frankie Howerd room renders the concept ridiculous as Ian bellows, ‘See you in Frankie Howerd.’ This year many of the scenes take place in the Mary Berry room, which really does exist at Broadcasting House.
Many people at the BBC understandably recognise themselves in the show. ‘The number of executives who come up to me and say, “You don’t know the half of it!”’ says Hugh. ‘That’s the usual reaction. The funny thing is, I’ve never been asked for more selfies than when we film at the BBC. You’d think they’d be too cool for that. The reporter Frank Gardner was buzzing around taking selfies with us in the background.’
David Westhead, who plays Head of News Neil Read, agrees. ‘People like Huw Edwards are running up to get their picture taken with us. It’s bonkers. I got asked to give a speech for a senior news executive who was leaving after 25 years. I said, “‘You know I’m not the real Head of News and Current Affairs?”’ But they said he was just a huge fan of the show. I had no idea who this person was or what to say so I just said, “You’ve been useless for 25 years. Clear your desk now; you’re a disgrace!” He loved it.’
The characters may be ridiculous but they’re deliberately likeable. ‘It’s not a proper satire – in those you get pleasure from watching very unpleasant people outmanoeuvre each other and crash and burn,’ says John Morton. ‘My aspiration is they manage to be conniving and fallible, and yet somehow at least some of them are likeable.’
Fans will indeed mourn the show and its bewildered executive Ian Fletcher. ‘All I can say is that on behalf of all of us in senior, and indeed middle, management, here at the BB and sometimes C it has been a great privilege,’ says Hugh in his best Ian Fletcher voice. ‘If problems are simply solutions waiting to happen we have an enormous amount of solution opportunities at the BBC. So that’s all good.’ All good indeed.
Hugh Bonneville as Head of Values Ian Fletcher with Jessica Hynes as Brand Consultant Siobhan Sharpe