Can new Mitchell & Webb comedy help the Foreign Office improve its image?

The producers of Ambassadors on BBC Two were given access to diplomats

The Foreign Office is turning to satire to improve its image after assisting David Mitchell and Robert Webb to create a new BBC comedy series which portrays the fraught world of the diplomatic service.

Set in the oil-rich, fictional Central Asian Republic of Tazbekistan, Mitchell plays the newly arrived British Ambassador and Robert Webb his seasoned second in command in Ambassadors, screened on BBC Two this month.

Created by the team behind Rev, the series writers were given access to senior Foreign Office officials and spent a week with the British ambassador to Kazakhastan to help add authenticity to the comedy-drama.

However Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who was recalled amid lurid headlines about his tenure and believes the series was inspired by his own downfall, criticised the Foreign Office for participating in the comedy, which he called “state-sponsored satire”.

The fictional Tazbekistan is run by the dictatorial President Kairat who presides over a regime with a dubious human rights record. In the opening episode, Mitchell’s Ambassador Keith Davis is tasked with securing a £2 billion helicopter contract for the UK but his mission is jeopardised when a British human rights activist is arrested on trumped-up charges.

The Foreign Office opened its doors to the production team and invited the cast to stage a read-through in one of its grandest rooms. James Wood, co-writer, said: “The stories we were told by diplomats were very closely reflected in the series. We ended up with 200 pages of research. We had an amazing week in Kazakhstan with the Ambassador there.”

Ambassadors, which reflects the Coalition’s rejection of Labour’s “ethical foreign policy” in favour of one based on “security and prosperity”, is a largely sympathetic portrait of “our man” sent to distant outposts.

“They are quietly impressive people working very hard with absolutely no resources,” Mr Wood said. “They have a budget to run the whole world which is the same as Wandsworth Council’s.”

Mitchell, whose character is forced to undertake a 6-day, vodka-fuelled hunting expedition with the President to help win the helicopter contract, said: “You feel that the future of British foreign policy is driven by what the politicians want and Britain’s basic lack of clout rather than the people on the ground being foolish or undiplomatic in any way.”

The ex-Soviet Tazbekistan is “a little bit Uzbek, a little bit Kazak and a little bit Turkmenistan,” said Mr Wood. Ambassador Davis arrives saying he is “trying to put the ship in order” after his predecessor left under a cloud.

However the writers say their story was in no way inspired by Murray, who began an affair with an Uzbek lap-dancer, was accused of “hiring dolly birds” to work in the visa department and was removed from his post by the Foreign Office in 2004, after exposing cases of torture and murder sanctioned by the US-funded regime of Uzbek President, Islam Karimov.

“We were not interested in telling that story,” said co-writer Rupert Walters. They did not need to speak to Murray because David Moran, who succeeded Murray as Uzbekistan’s Ambassador and then took the Kazakhstan posting, became their chief consultant. That Webb’s Deputy Head of Mission has a relationship with a local barmaid was a coincidence.

However Murray said: “The producers, Big Talk, contacted me four years ago trying to buy the rights to my book Murder in Samarkand for a film so I disbelieve then when they say Ambassadors isn’t based on me and my book.”

Murray, who hasn’t seen the series, believes that the Foreign Office has given its backing to the comedy to “defuse the horror of our alliance with Uzbekistan and make it banal, accepted and safe.”

Murray said: “It’s pro-government propaganda, a state-sponsored satire. It is disgraceful and not based on anything the Foreign Office would do in real life. Human rights always have a very low priority compared to military considerations.”

In the opening hour-long episode, which also stars Keeley Hawes and Matthew Macfayden, Mitchell and Webb’s characters debate whether the fate of a publicity-seeking human rights activist is worth jeopardising a helicopter contract which will secure jobs back home and deliver the outcome the Foreign Office has demanded.

Future storylines include the chaos caused by a visit from a member of the Royal Family, a scenario based on real-life anecdotes told to the writers.

The wooded, mountainous state of Tazbekistan was created using locations in Turkey and Egham, Surrey.

Ambassadors, Wednesday 23 October, BBC2 at 9pm

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick