The much maligned call centre: a 20th century institution that everyone despises, especially the people that work there. Even though it isn't the most glamorous of careers over a million people work in call centres in the UK, that despite their bad reputation, provide the public with all manner of essential services from sorting out your gas supply, providing legal advice to organising a tow truck when your stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Useful they may be but their very impersonal and sometimes labyrinthine set-up can make contacting them a f*cking nightmare.
However, there are call centres and then there is the lowest of the low: the cold-calling telesales call centre. These are the type of organisations who will interrupt in the middle of your dinner and try and sell you PPI insurance or persuade you to put in a personal accident claim for an accident you’ve never had. They are the human equivalent of pubic lice and are about as welcome.
One such parasitic battery farm, going by the name of Save Britain Money, is the setting for new docusoap The Call Centre BBC3 9PM. It is managed by Neville "Uncle Nev" Wilshire a self styled "Napoleon" who is the real life embodiment of everything that was excruciatingly wrong with David Brent. Such are the similarities, after watching Ricky Gervais tweeted:
“I honestly don’t remember writing it but I must have surely. I think it’s my best work but I can hardly watch it”
Nev is a balding blowhard of a boss full of motivational baloney like "Smile When You Dial", "Glide In Your Stride" and " PPPPPP -Proper planning prevents piss-poor performance!". He seems hell-bent on creating an office environment that is a cross between a school playground, a night down the pub and 2AM fumble behind a nightclub.
"I'm like Napoleon. His troops loved him"
Do be fair he has a tough job on his hands trying to motivate the predominately young, dumb and lairy staff from remaining in their jobs when they are routinely abused by disgruntled punters who don't appreciate having an episode of Eastenders interrupted by their requests to buy cavity wall insulation.
"I've been told to f*ck off a lot of times."
Says perma-tanned Jenni.
"An old woman once told me she hoped I get killed. I thought that was a bit much."
Says another staff member who goes by the name of Chickenhead.
Whilst you may be able to excuse the mass sing-along’s during induction meetings "I've sacked two people for not singing", the jokey "banter" and informal ambience as an unconventional means of ensuring his staff stay positive and motivated (SBM motto "Happy People Sell"), his incursions into their private lives are harder to justify.
After seeing that admin assist Kayleigh was recently dumped by her cheating boyfriend, Nev steps in to turn her frown upside down in his own unique way. First of all he parades her up and down the office asking if any of lads fancy her.
"Any single blokes? I've got a desperate female here"
He then organises a speed dating event subtitled GKL (Get Kayleigh Laid) where staff members are invited to get drunk and cop off with each other. Showing that she isn't the best judge of character she selects South African sleazeball Dwayne but before he is allowed to break her heart again Nev wades and threatens to "throw him down the stairs" if he messes her about. Dwayne sensibly cuts his loses and bails.
Nev is easy to caricature and a documentarians dream, just turn on the camera and let it roll. Despite being a colossal d*ck is heart seems to be in the right place and he engenders a remarkable amount of affection from his staff despite his short-comings. There was a brief glimpse into his soul when his laugh-a-minute persona dropped for a moment as he described his bankruptcy and subsequent divorce as a "hurtful" period in his life.
Don't worry though he was quickly back into a swing with some gentle sexual harassment and mild ABH with new staff members shortly after. One of these newcomers is asked how she feels about her new boss after he parades her through the office with shouts of:
"Make way, good looking Welsh girl coming through!!"
"He seems really cool...a great guy...unless it carries on"
Personally, I think Nev’s enforced hilarity would make working at SBM my idea of purgatory but amazingly it was ranked 2nd in the Sunday Times list of "Best Companies To Work For 2013". For now, the bland politically correct tentacles of human resources haven't penetrated as far as Swansea thus guaranteeing Nev's place a micro celeb for the foreseeable future. Tune in next week to see how much "fun" you are missing out on.