Postcode comedy: BBC goes meta with 'W1A' and marks a big birthday by sending itself up
Comedians Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse have been given licence to lampoon the venerable institution
After one of the most damaging periods in its 92-year history, the BBC has finally learnt to laugh at itself. Its star comedians Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse have been given licence to lampoon the venerable institution that is BBC2 in an hour-long satire called Harry & Paul's History of the 2s.
The show, to be broadcast in May to mark the channel's 50th anniversary, features Enfield in the guise of Simon Schama and pokes fun at ambitious BBC2 projects such as the historian's five-part series The Story of the Jews. Schama's distinct presenting style is mocked as Enfield describes "Auntie Beeb" giving birth to a new channel, then BBC eggheads struggling to come up with the name BBC2 before toasting it with self-congratulatory whiskies all round.
In a political minefield for the BBC in terms of the egos of its presenters and programme-makers, Enfield and Whitehouse take apart BBC2's best-known shows and figures. From Jacob Bronowski's landmark series such as the 13-part 1973 documentary The Ascent of Man, the acclaimed 1976 drama I, Claudius, starring Derek Jacobi, The Forsyte Saga, University Challenge and Monty Python through to modern hits such as Lord Sugar's The Apprentice, Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear and The Great British Bake Off, nothing is sacred. Sly digs are made at the supposed left-leanings of the BBC, its obsession with covering the First World War in endless detail and its enthusiasm for broadcasting snooker to viewers watching in black and white.
The comedians also mock the music show The Old Grey Whistle Test (renamed The Old Grey Wrinkled Testicle). Presenter Robert Robinson hosts a show called "Ask the Ugly Family". "From 1964 up to the present day they lampoon every iconic programme and every genre and every major talent," said a source.
Having a laugh: Harry Enfield The show comes as the BBC prepares this week to lampoon its own notorious bureaucracy in W1A, the latest project from the makers of Twenty Twelve, the Bafta-winning mockumentary on the organisation of the London Olympics. A strong cast includes Sarah Parish, and Hugh Bonneville's Ian Fletcher character is again the star, having taken a new role as Head of Values at the BBC.
After a year in which the organisation's reputation has been tarnished by executive-pay scandals and vast amounts of public money wasted on a disastrous technology strategy, the BBC's head of comedy Shane Allen is trying to show that the broadcaster can laugh at itself.
Sarah Parish of the new W1A The BBC has even risked a joke about the Jimmy Savile scandal. In an episode of the BBC1 family sitcom Outnumbered, father Pete (Hugh Dennis) is challenged over filming his daughter at a swimming pool. Asking if he looks "like a paedophile", Pete is told: "Jimmy Savile didn't look like a paedophile did he?" He quips back: "Yes! He looked exactly like a paedophile!"
Danny Cohen, BBC Director of Television, met with Allen to ensure the joke complied with the BBC's compliance guidelines and editorial policy. The episode did not generate any complaints.
Ramona Marquez of Outnumbered John Morton, writer of W1A and Twenty Twelve, said he was "really surprised" by the free hand he had been given. "It does seem that we've not had any interference at all," he said. "I wouldn't have been surprised had people been more wary."
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