Belfast Telegraph

Hugh Bonneville: Anyone who has ever been part of a club or committee gets W1A

W1A is back - but it's the final curtain for the self-mocking fly-on-the-wall sitcom. As it draws to a close, Gemma Dunn gets Hugh Bonneville's take on the show's huge success

Series three might mark the end for comedy satire W1A - but don't expect news of its final hurrah to bring down the show's ever-optimistic Head of Values, Ian Fletcher.

"(His) bedside reading is currently 'The Sinking of the Titanic and Other Psychological Conditions' and 'Optimism in a Post-Truth World'," Hugh Bonneville quips of his upbeat alter-ego. "So he is very much keeping a positive outlook while at the same time testing the emotional lifeboats."

But before he brushes up his resume, Fletcher and his loyal team - Anna Rampton (Sarah Parish), Simon Harwood (Jason Watkins) and Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes), to name a few - have a job to do first.

With cameras rolling and the revolving doors flung open to New Broadcasting House once more, viewers will follow the infamous execs during and post Charter Renewal, reacting to the BBC's new mission statement of doing 'More Of Less'. It's a process Head of Output, Rampton, describes as being about 'putting what we do best front and centre and about identifying better ways of doing less of it more'.

"We are lucky to have the cameras back at an exciting time for the BBC," Fletcher, formerly the Head of the Olympic Deliverance Commission in BAFTA-winning mockumentary Twenty Twelve, said earlier this year.

"In a period where we're looking to identify as many Creative Efficiency Opportunities as possible we've been faced with some tough choices, but the good news about that is that in lots of ways tough choices are actually easier than easy choices because there are fewer options to choose from so that's all good."

Does that mean things will run a little more smoother for the stars of the BBC Two hit, which famously pokes fun at the broadcaster itself?

"I think that would be an overstatement", says Bonneville, (53). "But often within overstatements are kernels of truth and frequently at the nub of a kernel can be found the essence of possibility. Options are there to be explored for Ian. Some will be more positive than others, but ultimately he has a sense of loyalty to those on the bridge with him."

He lists the "escalating crisis within the mind of Anna Rampton" a great thread to follow.

"We know her as an ice maiden, but somewhere inside there is a 14-year-old panicking to get out," reasons the Downton Abbey actor.

"The lengths she goes to put herself in Ian's path, particularly when he has his cycling outfit on, is very funny. And I love the fact that in the denouement she tries to present Ian's destiny as a fait accompli."

Flitting between fiction and reality, Bonneville has had five years to perfect Fletcher's quirks (including the now famous folding of his Brompton Bike), but when it comes to the dialogue, even he admits to struggling.

"It's very hard to learn," he says of the repetitive language, written and directed by John Morton. "We've all sat there in breaks from filming, and I think I can speak on behalf of all of us, we're panicking going over and over and over and over the lines. Because even though it does come across as naturalistic and perhaps even improvised, it is not.

"We all want to support what John has orchestrated, and if one instrument goes 'twang', then the whole thing sounds wrong," he explains. "So we all feel a great responsibility to do it right for Sir."

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The cast of the comedy satire

Is it those such ingredients that have earned W1A - named after the postcode of the BBC Broadcasting offices - a cult following?

"I think it's very simple: if you've sat on a church board committee or a FTSE 100 board, the dynamics of those meetings are recognisable," retorts Bonneville.

"Or even round a dinner table at home. I think the character tropes are very recognisable and John skewers them with brilliance."

He adds: "Some people misconstrue it as a satire about the BBC. It's not, any more than Twenty Twelve was a satire about the Olympics.

"It's actually just a framework for seeing characters who are on the whole incapable of achieving what's in their job description.

"Some of the characters are idiots, some are endlessly doing battle with idiots, and I think we can all identify with those situations, whether we're on the fundraising committee for the village cricket pavilion or in President Trump's cabinet."

Do the executives they're portraying agree it's a true depiction?

"You don't know the half of it, is usually the reaction when they see it," confides Bonneville. "I remember when we did Twenty Twelve, Seb Coe pretty much saying, 'Did you have microphones in our meetings'?

"I don't know about anybody else, but there's never been more selfies taken than in the BBC building," he continues, with a smile. "(People) who you would think would be too cool for school, but when we were filming here, everyone was (doing it)."

But while we know what's next for the London-born star (Bonneville will reprise his role of Mr Brown in sequel, Paddington 2), what will become of Fletcher? A post in the NHS or Metropolitan Police, perhaps?

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Hugh Bonneville

"I don't know," Bonneville says candidly. "I did have a conversation some time ago with John about maybe the team go over to sort out American politics. But then it just got too ludicrous and I don't think you could.

"I think maybe Ian Fletcher cycles off into the sunset."

If that's the case, does he have a parting message for his fans?

"Well, all I can say on behalf of all of us in the senior and indeed middle management here at the BB and sometimes C," Bonneville says, effortlessly returning to form. "Is it's been a great privilege and if, if, if problems are simply solutions waiting to happen, we have an enormous amount of solution opportunities at the BBC and we embrace them as well as we can. Erm, so that's all good."

The third and final series of W1A is on BBC Two on Monday at 10pm.

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