There was a piece on Radio 4′s Today programme yesterday on the lack of good novels about the business world. It was the last item and the BBC can’t be bothered to stick the recording on their website so I can’t listen to it again or direct you there.
It got me thinking though. The same could be said for TV drama, at least in the UK. There are very few fictional programmes about business. In fact, unless you are a police officer, very few TV dramas are set in the sort of workplaces in which most of us spend much of our lives. Even where work is a feature of the plot, it is usually incidental. The day-to-day drama of the office, factory or call-centre is rarely the main substance. Work might provide the context to explain why the characters know each other but usually the action happens elsewhere. Take the recent BBC series, Sorted, about a group of postmen. As the programme’s web site says:
The sorting office is where the boys come together at the start of every day. They’re a tight knit group, but with their shift finishing in the afternoon, there’s plenty of time to see what they get up to away from the Post Office.
Exactly my point. The show tells us very little about what happens during the working day.
The excellent Clocking Off had a few more plot-lines about the workplace, such as arguments about promotion and a catastrophic business failure but, as the title suggests, most of the stories took place outside the factory.
You would think that corporate politics, hostile take-overs, illicit office affairs, sharp business practice, bankruptcy, promotion battles and general workplace back-stabbing would provide plenty of material for fictional drama. Have a look at the sort of issues people raise on Personnel Today’s Work Clinic or on Lucy Kellaway’s Problem Page. There’s enough in there for a whole TV series.
The only television drama I can remember which centred around business and workplace issues is The Brothers. I was too young to watch it but I remember my parents being glued to it every Sunday night. Apparently, it featured boardroom battles, takeover bids and the owners’ loss of control when they took their company public. It even featured a thoroughly objectionable investment banker, played by Colin Baker in his pre Doctor Who days.
More recently, the hilarious but cringe-making sitcom The Office took the world by storm. Perhaps one of the secrets of its success was that, unlike most TV programmes, it reflected a lot of what people saw in their working lives. All the same, The Office was just too close to reality for some. I remember the one where they went off-site for a team-building day. Watching the team sit round a flip chart, while David Brent wrote inane slogans and unachievable action points on it, had me sitting with my head in my hands, groaning. A friend of mine, who is an HR manager, refused to watch it while her husband, a builder who has spent very little time in corporate offices, found it fascinating and was a huge fan.
Perhaps that’s why so few TV dramas, or novels for that matter, are set in the workplace. We might like our entertainment to be gritty and realistic but setting it around the dramas of the factory or office would be just that bit too much like real life for many of us. Entertainment is, to a large extent, about escapism and, for a lot of people, work is what they are escaping from.
Still, it’s a pity that a situation in which there is so much drama and so many good stories should be ingnored by the fiction writers and TV dramatists. Perhaps that should be my next project – a drama set in the corporate world.
Coming soon – “Consultancy – an everyday story of blaggers, bullshitters and big bucks”.
Hmmm. Needs a bit of work, I think.