The Office is a British sitcom television series that was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two on 9 July 2001. Created, written, and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the programme is about the day-to-day lives of office employees in the Slough branch of the fictitious Wernham Hogg Paper Company. Gervais also stars in the series, playing the central character, David Brent. Although fictional and scripted, the programme takes the form of a documentary (a fictional documentary, i.e. a mockumentary), with the presence of the camera often acknowledged.
Two six-episode series were made, along with a pair of 45-minute Christmas specials. When it was first shown on BBC Two it was nearly cancelled due to low ratings, but has since become one of the most successful British comedy exports of all time. As well as being shown internationally on BBC Worldwide, channels such as BBC Prime, BBC America and BBC Canada, the series has been sold to broadcasters in over 80 countries, including ABC1 in Australia, The Comedy Network in Canada, TVNZ in New Zealand and the pan-Asian satellite channel STAR World, based in Hong Kong. The show began airing in The United States on Cartoon Network’s late night programing block, Adult Swim on 18 September 2009.
The show shares themes with a later series around social satire created by Gervais and Merchant, Extras, namely social clumsiness, the trivialities of human behaviour, self-importance and conceit, frustration and desperation and fame.
Other national versions of The Office have also been produced.
The show is set in a small branch of the fictitious paper company Wernham Hogg (where “life is stationery”), in the Slough Trading Estate in England. Slough is a town immortalised for its lack of appeal by John Betjeman in his poem “Slough” (“Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough/It isn’t fit for humans now…”). The show has no laugh track and is in the mockumentary style, devised at a time when documentaries such as Airport and A Life of Grime were popular.
The office is headed by regional manager David Brent (Gervais) and his assistant (to the) regional manager, Gareth Keenan (Mackenzie Crook), who was also a lieutenant in the Territorial Army. Much of the series’s comedic success stems from Brent, who frequently makes attempts to win favour with his employees and peers with embarrassing or disastrous results. Brent’s character flaws are used to comic effect, including numerous verbal gaffes, unconscious racism, sexism and other social faux-pas.
The other main plot line of the series, and many of the more human elements found therein, come from the unassuming Tim Canterbury (Martin Freeman), whose relationship with bored receptionist Dawn Tinsley (Lucy Davis) is a major arc in the series. Their flirtation soon builds to a mutual romantic attraction, despite her engagement to the dour and laddish warehouse worker, Lee (Joel Beckett).
The theme song for the show is “Handbags and Gladrags” arranged by Big George and originally written in the 1960s by Mike D’Abo, former vocalist for the pop group Manfred Mann.
On 11 August 2009, it was announced that the cast would be reuniting for a retrospective, called “A Night at The Office”, available on BBC Two and online.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this television series: