Sarah Parish on W1A: “I used to feel terrified coming into the BBC”

The actress on her inspiration for the mockumentary's fearsome Head of Output Anna Rampton and getting the giggles on set...

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My character Anna Rampton is scary. Her modus operandi is to frighten people so they don’t realise she’s stupid and doesn’t know what she’s doing. She says things in a definitive way so that people will think she’s right. And it’s got her a long way on very little talent.

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We’re supposed to say that our characters aren’t based on anyone real but of course they are. Actors always take inspiration from people they’ve met. Anna is a composite of several. For instance, she always refuses food and drink when it’s offered to her, in a rude, abrupt manner — I got that from someone I’ve met.

I used to feel terrified coming into the BBC because I associated it with auditions but making W1Ahas cured me. It feels warm and familiar now. You can’t be scared of something you’ve laughed at. People who work in large organisations love this show because they recognise all that silly corporate language and the meetings that go on for hours with nothing being decided because everyone is watching their backs. It isn’t exclusive to the BBC.

My first day on set for the new series, I was told to go to the seventh floor of New Broadcasting House and look for the Queen Vic. I thought the director was taking the p***, until I got out of the lift and saw a meeting room with people working at desks in the middle of Albert Square, surrounded by black iron railings, hedges and a pub sign hanging above the door.

To get into the meeting rooms, you need a swipe card. In one episode Ian Fletcher’s ID card doesn’t work so we end up in an “inspiration space”, which is eight hay bales in a circle with inspirational photos behind each one. I had a lightening bolt, Hugh had a hurricane and Jessica Hynes had a sun. Then in the corner there was a full-sized model sheep. We were supposed to be having a really serious meeting but in this ridiculous setting we all got the giggles. 

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W1A begins on Thursday 24th April at 9pm, BBC2