Ivory Tower: our Whitehall-based sitcom contributes to the national effort
Somewhere in cyberspace…
John: Hello, can you hear me?
Permanent Secretary (BEIS): Yes, we can hear you and see you.
PS: Yes, put a top on please.
John: Sorry, back in a minute.
Director General (DfE): As I was saying, we are being told that we are on a war footing. We are facing a national crisis and we will need to play our part.
PS: Which is?
DG: Every school child in Britain has been sent home to live with their parents in isolation for an indefinite period of time.
Director: It sounds like the worst Christmas ever.
DG: That’s why we are convening this joint committee of BEIS and the DfE for operation Magic Roundabout.
John: I’m back.
PS: We can see that John, did you read the guidelines on appropriate dress for video conferencing?
DG: The death of creation?
John: They are a band. Will I go and change?
PS: No, let’s just get on with it. So, the schools are closed but not the universities?
DG: The universities closed themselves.
Helen: Mostly, it’s a very confusing picture. The secretary of state’s advice hasn’t helped things.
Michelle Donelan: Hello can you hear me?
PS: Yes, minister and we can see you.
Donelan: Hello can you hear me?
PS: Yes, minister.
Donelan: Can you hear me? Wretched thing.
PS: There seems to be something wrong with your mic.
Donelan: There seems to be something wrong with my mic.
PS: We’ll just carry on while you sort that out minister.
Donelan: Just carry on while I sort this out.
DG: So, children are missing months of school and cooped up in doors. We have been tasked with coming up with a diet of educational programmes—especially science, Dom is very keen on that—to keep the nation’s spirits up.
Director: Probably better off with a Game of Thrones box-set.
PS: My knowledge of broadcasting stops with Essential Classics on Radio 3. This is why we have special advisers. Helen, John, any thoughts on this?
DG: Yes, could the death of creation help?
John: Err… probably not.
Helen: It is going to be extremely difficult to produce new programmes under the current circumstances. We may have to settle for what’s in the BBC archive.
Donelan: Hello, can you hear me?
PS: Yes, welcome back minister. We were just saying we will need to turn to the BBC.
Donelan: Hello, can you hear me?
DG: Try switching it on and off again minister.
Donelan: Look, I’m going to try turning it on and off again, see if that makes a difference.
PS: Sorry, Helen carry on, the BBC?
Amanda Solloway: HELLO AMANDA HERE CAN YOU HEAR ME?
PS: Yes minister, no need to hold the mic so close, we can hear you.
Solloway: Not sure if you can hear me, got very weak broadband here.
DG: In Derby?
Solloway: I’m in the House of Commons. Anyway, I’ll crack on and say my two-penneth, hopefully it will come through.
Director: Is someone recording this for the Christmas bloopers video?
Solloway: Just to say, remember we are at war…
PS: I’ve been saying that minister.
Solloway: With the BBC, so whatever you do don’t ask that lot up at Great Portland Street to do anything. Ah, think I’ve got it, what happens if I press this butto…
PS: Minister, I think we’ve lost you. Are you there?
PS: Minister? Ok, we are currently two ministers down. Helen, you were saying.
Helen: Only, the BBC make educational programmes. It’s part of their public sector remit.
DG: Nothing on ITV? Sky? Netflix?
John: No, it’s got something to do with this licence fee thing and the Open University, apparently.
Helen: We have the capacity to put BBC 4 on during the day as a schools and universities channel. It would be available through Freeview.
John: It was the most successful public awareness campaign in the history of the UK.
PS: BBC 4? Glad I’m not the only one who’s watching Mary Beard.
John: No, the digital television switch over. It had 95 per cent compliance by the deadline. No one wanted to miss Match of the Day or Britain’s Got Talent.
DG: We could do with a bit of that compliance now. Have you seen the supermarket shelves?
Director: The supermarkets are reporting record profits. They are just about the only ones who are.
PS: The old BBC archive is all very well, but I thought this generation didn’t watch television.
John: That’s right a multi-platform consumer strategy will be essential.
Director: Sorry, you’ve lost me. Are you talking about the supermarkets again?
John: We need to offer content on YouTube, streaming sites, Snapchat, and TikTok. We need to think about full-spectrum gamification.
Director: Are you speaking Mandarin?
PS: I’m the mandarin speaker here. Sorry, just my little civil service joke.
DG: Which sadly, we’ve heard before. John, can you say in layman’s terms exactly what you mean?
Solloway: Just don’t touch anything else, leave it now. HELLO, IS ANYONE THERE?
PS: Yes minister, you are coming through loud and clear.
DG: Hello, minister.
Solloway: I still can’t hear them. All I can see is that insolent permanent secretary smirking. His lips are moving but I can’t hear a word. What if I press this icon with the upside down phon…
DG: I think we’ve lost her again. John?
John: There is a lot of educational content out there across the different types of social media used by school children and university students.
PS: Like Facebook?
Helen: No, young people don’t use Facebook.
DG: But I thought everyone was trying to steal the data of voters from Facebook.
Helen: Yes, voters not young people.
PS: Best not mention the whole Facebook thing. Going to be a bit awkward explaining it to Dom.
John: For example, the kids could use Duolingo on their phones to learn a language.
Director: No one learns languages in this country. Except Latin and even then you’d have to go to Eton for that.
Helen: It would be quick and easy to put together a YouTube channel with celebrity presenters helping out the national effort.
PS: Like Jamie Oliver and Joanna Lumley?
John: No, like DanTDM, KSI, Thatcher Joe, Lizzie D, Tanya Burr…
Director: I think your mic is broken John, it’s coming through as Mandarin again.
Helen: They are YouTubers.
Helen: They have their own channels with millions of followers.
DG: Really? You mean like ITV 4 or something?
John: No, they usually just post a video talking to their followers about things of interest.
PS: Like what?
Helen: Make up tips, vegan recipes, relationships, video games…
DG: Seriously? And people watch this?
John: Millions of kids tune in to watch other kids play video games, yes.
PS: This country is in more trouble than I thought.
Solloway: Right, I think this should work now. ARE YOU THERE?
DG: Yes, minister we can hear you and see you.
Solloway: Excellent, now bring me up to speed.
Director: The Permanent Secretary was just saying he thinks the country may be in more trouble than we realise.
Solloway: Absolutely, the shops are bare, the pound has tanked, the economy is in the bin, and you can’t travel abroad. It’s just like Brexit.
DG: We are still in the transition period minister.
Solloway: Sorry, you are breaking up, it’s the rubbish broadband here. Did you say we are still in a transmission period?
PS: No, we are in the transition period minister. A no-deal Brexit could make this all a lot worse.
Solloway: It’s gone again. His face keeps freezing, all I can see is a permanent rictus grin.
Director: He’s always like that, comes with speaking to politicians.
Solloway: I heard that.
PS: Sorry minister, we are losing you again. Bye. Oh dear she seems to have dropped out of the meeting.
DG: I think we need more information here. What do the vice-chancellors say?
Helen: Will this affect my bonus?
DG: And what do the unions say?
John: Close all universities now.
Director: Which is more than they managed to do in 14 days of strikes.
PS: What does the Number 10 Nudge Unit say?
John: It’s early days for the science and we are learning as we go along.
PS: About the coronavirus?
John: About behavioural economics.
DG: I’m not sure we are any further forward. Let’s try to draw together some actions. Hold on, what’s this light flashing? “Your daily time limit will end in 10, 9, 8…” What does that mean?
Helen: You must have the free version of Zoom. You need to upgrade to the paid service.
DG: Paid serv…
PS: Hello? I think we’ve lost her. I’ve only got the free one as well…
Director: Hello? Permanent Secretary? What’s this? Your daily time limit will end in 10, 9, 8… Damn! John, Helen, I’m about to be cut off, I want to see a full plan…
Helen: Director? Are you still there?
John: I think he’s gone.
Helen: What was the last thing he said.
John: Didn’t catch it, something about wanting to see a full moon
Helen: Odd. Ah well, nearly lunch time, what you having?
John: Coco Pops, I ran out of bread on day 2. What about you?
Helen: Quinoa salad. I’m almost out.
John: It’s not all bad news, then.
Helen: Will we speak later on WhatsApp?
John: Sure, see you later.
Helen: Bye. [They leave the session]
Michelle Donelan: Hello? I’m back, can anyone hear me? “Session ended”, what does that mean?