TV review: Press 1 for stale coffee and feral staff

Nev, the Welsh David Brent, celebrates with an overjoyed Kayleigh in The Call Centre. Photograph: BBC/Betina Skovbro

Nev, the Welsh David Brent, celebrates with an overjoyed Kayleigh in The Call Centre. Photograph: BBC/Betina Skovbro
Nev, the Welsh David Brent, celebrates with an overjoyed Kayleigh in The Call Centre. Photograph: BBC/Betina Skovbro
lucy-bellerby-byline-photo-bwLucy Bellerby is a call centre casualty. She knows the pain. She’s been there


bellers-on-the-box-logo-230Reader, I’m a call centre alumni. I’ve temped (twice) at one of the UK’s biggest insurance providers, whose name shall remain anonymous; but suffice to say their adverts manage to undo all of Paul Whitehouse’s work in The Fast Show in 30 idiotic seconds.

So The Call Centre (BBC3) takes me straight back to those days in “customer service” (read: sitting behind the photocopier and texting my mates). I can smell the stale coffee, feel the slightly sticky keyboard. When I close my eyes I see a plastic cup full of my used staple collection; a tribute to the utter, crushing boredom.

Still, my experience was nothing like as depressing as this programme. Nev, the Welsh David Brent, storms around the office throwing words like “rejuvinize” and “effectivate” at po-faced lasses.

Although he is relentlessly cheery and actually quite sweet in a warped way, most of the employees spend their days looking miserably out of steamed up windows, as they slowly but surely crush their headsets into their palms. It’s no wonder as the pay is horrendous, and they have to repeat the phrase “did you know you could be owed for missold PPI?” 8,000 times a day. Then there’s the false cheeriness; forcing employees into team-building events like a mass sing-a-long of The Killer’s Mr Brightside at 8am is enough to break anyone’s spirit.

There’s lots of exterior shots of the building, and I’ve become fairly convinced that the programme is filmed inside Peep Show‘s GNB offices. I keep expecting to see Mark Corrigan hiding under a desk crying or nailing a sausage to an office door; but even his charming brand of pessimistic self-flagellation would be a welcome relief in this office.

There will be a few people watching The Call Centre tutting and sniffing at the employee’s bad behaviour, but let me tell you this: you don’t know man. You weren’t there. Those places turn people ferral, so until you’ve had Nev breathe down your ear about the spoons being knicked from the kitchen area, keep your trap shut.

Them were't days… Alex James on What A Load Of Buzzcocks. Photograph: BBC / Talkback / FremantleMedia UK / Joel Anderson
Them were’t days… Alex James on What A Load Of Buzzcocks. Photograph: BBC / Talkback / FremantleMedia UK / Joel Anderson

I’m on a nostalgia trip again this week, and this time it’s all about the Buzzcocks. I’ve had Never Mind the Buzzcocks fatigue for the past few years, ever since Simon Amstell left and took his deadpan wit with him. But Never Mind The Buzzcocks – What a Load of Buzzcocks (BBC2) look back to the show’s first year in 1996 reminded me how brilliantly, astonishingly funny the show used to be. I wasn’t technically allowed to see the show for years, but my dad used to let me sneak in and watch it when my mum wasn’t paying attention; I think he was secretly dead proud that my sense of humour lent itself to bequiffed blokes making digs about Michael Jackson.

It’s one of the few things on TV to ever make me laugh out loud; and I doubt there’d be half as many snarky jibes in this column every week if it wasn’t for the influence of the show. Although I am slightly worried that if I ever have to repent my sins and the priest asks “but why were you such a cow about people on telly?” my excuse of “Mark Lamarr told me to” won’t really cut it. One of my all-time dreams is still to infuriate Preston from the Ordinary Boys so much that he storms off a panel show, which, God, I think you’ll agree is not only reasonable but wholly necessary.

1996 panel shows seemed to be graveyards full of Britpop casualties, see-through effigies wandering around trailed by the smell of lager and Zoe Ball’s post-Brit awards vomit. What glorious days they were; I’d pay good money to see Richard Ashcroft try to mime the intro to D.I.S.C.O in front of a bemused and drunk Justine from Elastica. But until I win the lottery (or a tenner on a scratchcard, eh Richard?) I’ll have to settle for polishing my claws in this column.