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New BBC series delves into unseen world of the British Foreign Office

Sir Simon McDonald

Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Under Secretary and Head of the Diplomatic Service

The Open University has partnered with the BBC to co-produce a three-part documentary, which explores the strange, secretive and fascinating world of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Inside the Foreign Office begins on Thursday 15 November at 9pm on BBC Two.

Filmed over 12 months, the fly-on-the-wall series follows diplomats, ministers and senior secretaries, as we gain a privileged insight into some of the most sensitive jobs in government. From UN negotiations to preventing forced marriages, each episode looks at a different role of the FCO, going under the skin of the glamorous appearance to the hard-hitting and fast paced reality.

Human drama and enigmatic workings

Dr Edward Wastnidge

Dr Edward Wastnidge, Lecturer in Politics and International Studies and Dr William Brown, Senior Lecturer in Government and Politics are the academic consultants for the series, and have been advising the producers of the series.

Dr Edward Wastnidge, who recently presented his research on Middle Eastern politics in the House of Commons, said: “The series contains plenty of human drama, as we delve into the enigmatic workings of the Foreign Office. We can see that it is not all glitzy receptions, as the documentary reveals the grittier side of international relations. It’s particularly interesting to see the tension between civil servants and elected politicians; with civil servants having to put their own personal political feelings aside to serve the government of the day.”

Dr William Brown commented: “It’s the human beings behind the job that make this programme remarkable – their personal dedication to support individuals goes above and beyond.”

Keeping Power and Influence

Episode one examines diplomatic efforts to prevent wars by helping fragile countries prosper. In the weeks leading up to the landmark UN General Assembly, we see as Ambassador Matthew Rycroft negotiates with his Burmese opposition following the sudden expulsion of Rohingya Muslims from Burma.

Brave New World

With Brexit on the horizon, episode two follows top officials as they strengthen relationships to increase trade with Europe and the rest of the world. Boris Johnson is seen travelling the world, as he is advised on tactics to build support – shortly followed by his dramatic departure from the position, and the quick turnaround as Jeremey Hunt is bought in as the new Foreign Minister.

Brits in Trouble Abroad

The final episode focuses on a handful of incidents from the 20,000 serious consular cases the FCO deals with 50every year, including a British man who believes his vulnerable elder brother is being duped into marriage by his Philippian girlfriend, and a young British citizen of Iraqi heritage who is being forced to marry her cousin on her 18th birthday.

Find out more

Read Dr William Brown’s jargon buster to understand some of the titles and phrases used by the Foreign Office.

Dr Edward Wastnidge explains the Foreign Office’s modern day roles and responsibilities.

Listen to a discussion chaired by Dr William Brown, examining how Britain is responding to rapidly changing global politics. It features experts Tom Cargill, Executive Director of the British Foreign Policy Group, and Dr Victoria Honeyman, lecturer in politics at the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds.

Programme Credits

  • Commissioned for The Open University by Dr Caroline Ogilvie
  • OU Academic Consultants: Dr William Brown and Dr Edward Wastnidge
  • OU Media Fellow: Dr Alison Penn
  • OU Broadcast Project Manager: Caroline Green
  • OU Digital Content Producer: Freyja Taylor-Law
  • BBC Commissioning Editors: Clare Sillery and Emma Loach
  • BBC Executive Producers: Shona Thompson and Jonathan Smith
  • BBC Series Producer and Director: Michael Waldman





About Author

Hannah is part of the Media Relations Team at The Open University, working with the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies. With experience both agency and in-house, Hannah has worked on campaigns for a number of large corporate companies and brands, including RBS, NatWest, Travelodge, Audible, AA and the Royal Academy of Dance. She has completed a Masters in Publishing Studies from Oxford Brookes, and enjoys photography, reading and going to the theatre.

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