Belfast Telegraph

TV View: The Call Centre, Jeremy Kyle

By Jow Nawaz

The programmes to watch... and the ones you really want to miss.


I WAS talking to a friend recently who worked in a call centre. He has more qualifications than there are letters of the alphabet, but like many young people now is reduced to receiving minimum wage and dog's abuse over a phone nine hours a day.

He basically told me that, excepting a whole half-an-hour lunch break, he was literally plugged into a desk in an open-planned bank of drones, in some kind of re-enactment of The Matrix, only with added customer service. And when he went to the toilet, it was timed.

Yes, timed ladies and gentlemen. Heaven forbid you exceed the allotted three minutes ...

Why am I telling you all this? Well, because I was watching The Call Centre (BBC3) the other day. And two things struck me -- like a drunk ex-girlfriend of mine. One, there's a hell of a lot of this cheap, distorted reality programming on TV these days, and secondly, it's almost like some kind of sinister revisionism of the current sorry state of things.

In decades, if not centuries, from now, these programmes will be one of the principle documents of how life was in the early 21st century.

And rather than witnessing underpaid, desperate people being treated as telephonically trained battery hens, we'll get call centre boss Nev Wilshire cheerfully chirruping "some say I'm barking orders, others say I'm barking mad!" And voiceovers brightly intoning: "There are a million people in the UK working in call centres, with an average age of 26. Call centres are the factories of our times!"

Like it's the best news the narrator has ever heard. Programme-makers would argue that watching eccentric call centre honcho Nev lead his dysfunctional troupe of phone-chimps brings us closer to the human interest.

But I'd say, after a hard day's work, since when did we start to enjoy watching other people going to work?

That's bad enough, but surely the Beeb wouldn't devote an entire series to estate agents? You obviously haven't seen Under Offer: Estate Agents (BBC2), then. "There's more of them than ever before," says the jovial, plummy narrator.

Guess what? There's nothing redeeming about this essential pointless and parasitical industry that some deluded types see as the canary for economic development.

"The wealthy professionals aren't buying properties," comes the voiceover, and really, you're wondering who actually cares. Estate agents Ed and Eileen are two mildly distasteful people who sell posh houses to other mildly distasteful people for a living. Like Anne the teenage millionaire Venezulean (the south American equivalent of Sabrina the teenage millionaire witch) who's looking for properties in Chelsea for her uncle within the range of 1.1-1.3. That's millions, by the way.

"A typical estate agent is posh and blonde, I'm Irish and a redhead," says Eileen in her shiny BMW, failing to mention that she's also posh.

Throw in a wacky soundtrack to suggest that that they're slightly bonkers and loveable and you've got a cosmetic makeover that's only slightly less ridiculous than the new hair of that local actor whose name escapes.

It's all down to commissioning editors, of course. They've whittled docu-soap down to two basic kinds.

There's "in the workplace" -- be it estate agents, call centres or barristers' chambers.

The other is where people who do a trade are made to compete against each other in said trade, to find out who's the best sewer, allotment digger, hair-cutter, animal husband, butcher, baker, candlestick maker. I'm personally looking forward to the great British colonic irrigation-off.

When programme-makers seem to be in a desperate race to the bottom, it's surely only a matter of time.


The programme Porn: What's The Harm? was hilarious for two reasons. Firstly, like salacious teen drama Skins before it, you just knew certain kinds of people (ie men) were tuning in simply because of the stern warning "contains some sexual content".

Secondly, like a lot of these jaw-droppingly inane "fact finding" programmes on BBC3, it was asking a question "Jameela Jamil wants to find out if it's true that children are being exposed to more pornography than ever before", that everybody from the age of 18-80 knew the answer to.

The answer was "yes", by the way. I looked it up on the internet. The hugely annoying Jameela -- last seen grilling One Direction on T4 -- "drilled down" into the murky world of porn, helped by the likes of porn experts such as Grime artist Skepta, with something approaching a look of grim determination.

It was a new low for the barrel-scraping BBC3, who've probably all but given up pretending that they care any more, but a useful reminder of just why the BBC was right to swing the axe at this rather silly channel. Speaking of which, they're taking their time aren't they? Next week. Crocodile Wrestling: What's The problem?


Oily misery-farmer Jeremy Kyle is many things to many people. Usually it's a range of unprintable expletives. But you have to feel for the sneering inadequate, when he got a slap on the wrist from Ofcom this week.

After years of belittling, condescending and prodding for the cameras anybody overweight from an estate, it was a little rich that he suddenly got spanked for calling a 17-year-old a "silly, anorexic slapper".

Especially as it was decided that the teenager's distress was "potentially offensive" to viewers because of her age and background.

The 21-year-old he labelled a dumb, skinny slut the week after was perfectly fine, though.


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