BBC Orders Comedy Poking Fun at Itself

BBC/Jack Barnes
Hugh Bonneville in "Twenty Twelve"

Hugh Bonneville will star as the fictional "BBC head of values" in "W1A" from writer John Morton, who also wrote London Olympics comedy "Twenty Twelve."

LONDON – The BBC is turning to one of Britain's best-known TV satirists to take a look at the U.K. public broadcaster itself.

BBC Two controller Janice Hadlow and Shane Allen, controller of comedy commissioning at the BBC, have ordered W1A, writer John Morton’s follow-up to hit comedy series Twenty Twelve, a satire tied to the London 2012 Summer Olympics.

The show from BBC In-House Comedy will see actor Hugh Bonneville's Twenty Twelve character Ian Fletcher, the now ex-head of the fictional "Olympic Deliverance Commission," take up his next big job -- the again fictional post of "head of values" at the BBC.

W1A is a reference to the London zip code for the BBC headquarters. Bonneville not only starred in Twenty Twelve, but is also known for his turn in Downton Abbey.

The script tasks Bonneville's character to clarify, define or re-define the core purpose of the BBC across all its functions and to position it confidently for the future.

The show promises close-to-the-bone satire as the real life BBC continues to do those things under the watchful eye of BBC director general Tony Hall.

Although not a sequel to the Olympic Games satire, it does share some of its DNA with Twenty Twelve and even follows the progress of Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes), a PR guru in that show, the BBC said.

"It isn’t a demolition job on anybody or anything, and it isn’t one giant in-joke, and this isn’t a game of guessing who is supposed to be who," Morton said about the new show. "If it is satirical, then it’s satirical about an environment, an ethos, and the absurdities of modern corporate life itself. The key principle is to operate at a level of reality just to the left or the right of fact, to create stories that haven’t actually happened, but that could happen or might have happened."

Mark Freeland, head of BBC In-house Comedy, described Morton's show as a "a kind of love letter to the BBC," but "a letter that gets mislaid, because the remote computer system is not working and head of recovery [at the] BBC is stuck in a blue sky brainstorming session in a meeting room that's been double booked and, anyway, the bean bags have gone missing."

W1A is written and directed by Morton, who also wrote People Like Us, produced by Paul Schlesinger and executive produced by Jon Plowman, the team behind Twenty Twelve.

There will be an initial run of four 30-minute episodes scheduled for 2014 on BBC Two.

A spokesperson for BBC boss Hall quipped: "In a divergent, 360 degrees, flexi-content, on-demand marketplace, this is just the kind of connected proposition that the BBC is prioritizing … what is it … ?"