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
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern