The Call Centre – TV review

Hugs on tap, lots of friendly banter and your PPI sorted – if only all bosses were more like Nev from The Call Centre

A while back my then girlfriend dumped me (so far so true; from now it gets a little less so, if I’m honest). I came to work, but I was so miserable that I wasn’t getting much done. Fortunately my boss, Alan Rusbridger, takes a close interest in all our personal lives. He noticed and gave me hug. “SWSWSWN” he said, which means Some Will, Some Won’t, So What, Next!

He’s brilliant like that – he has loads of little sayings and slogans to keep us motivated. He makes us sing, too. Often, instead of morning editorial conference, we’ll have a group-bonding singsong of the Killers’ Mr Brightside. He sacked a couple of people for not singing once.

Anyway, back to me. I’d make someone a lovely boyfriend, he says, then leads me through the newsroom. “Any single girls in here?” he asks. “I’ve got a desperate male who needs to get laid, I mean to go on a date.” Oh Alan, you are awful (brilliant). He’s not going to stop until he’s found me someone either. “You, are you single? Do you fancy Sam here? No? What about you, no not you … not that we’ve got anything against gay people here, or even gingers,” he adds, suddenly remembering Guardian values.

But it seems that no one in the newsroom – female, male, ginger, anything – fancies me. So he only goes and organises a special speed-dating evening, even though he’s editor in chief of a busy 24-hour news organisation. That’s how much he cares. Anyway, I did meet someone, which Alan claims as a victory for himself. And now he’s always asking us probing questions, about how it’s going, and what we’ve got up to, and whether we’re good snoggers. Plus he hugs us, and everyone else …

Actually, my transferral of what’s going on in this documentary – The Call Centre (BBC3) – to what’s (not) going on at my at my own place of work isn’t perfect. My editor and I are both male. As is Nev, CEO of Save Britain Money in Swansea, and the star of The Call Centre. But Kayleigh, the broken-hearted employee whose love life he’s taking such a keen interest in, isn’t, and she’s much younger than he is. As is his other favourite, and favourite huggee, Hayley, who does the tea trolley. Now maybe they’re all such good friends that this kind of horseplay and banter is fine, but I’m finding it a bit icky. I find my own hypothetical situation uncomfortable, and it’s far less awkward. What if Alan was to adopt the Nev approach to recruitment – leading graduate trainees through the newsroom saying: “Good-looking student journalist coming through, shall we give her a job?” Would that be OK? I don’t think I’m too politically correct or proper, and I like a joke in the office as much as anyone else, but I don’t think that would be OK, would it?

Anyway, I obviously am a whingeing Guardian git, because no one else has a problem with Nev and his behaviour. All of his staff – even Kayleigh and Hayley, in fact especially Kayleigh and Hayley – clearly adore him, think he’s hilarious and inspirational. Save Britain Money is ranked second in the Sunday Times best companies to work for 2013. It’s clearly an amazing place to work, even if they are making nuisance calls to people about bloody PPI claims.

As television, it’s not ground-breaking; it does the same kind of thing The Armstrongs did several years ago. Remember? That programme was about Coventry’s third-biggest double-glazing company. SBM is Swansea’s third-biggest call centre. This does get added relevance from the rise of the UK call centre, and the fact most us are bombarded by calls about bloody PPI claims. It’s certainly interesting to see what these calls look like from the other end of the line. (I’d actually have liked more on the work, and the training, and the pay, and how long they last on average, and where they get the phone numbers – my phone number! – from, and what you can do to stop the calls. Perhaps all that will come.)

But mainly it works – and it does, it’s very entertaining – because of Nev, whether you think he’s appalling (me), or brilliant (everyone else). He’s like Swansea’s David Brent (Daffyd Brent?). I’ve still applied for a job there. Well, I don’t think the real Alan Rusbridger is that fussed about my love life, and he never gives me a hug.

• This article was amended on 5 June 2013. The original said Save Britain Money was based in Cardiff. It is in Swansea.

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• This article was amended on 4 November 2016 to correct “10 years ago” to “several years ago”.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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